Oldtimer's Take: The City Championship

The USC-UCLA rivalry has been called many things, but the best description is probably, "The City Championship." Fans of USC and UCLA have to live with the consequences of the game for the next 365 days.

I was born in July of 1947. That was the year some UCLA students kidnapped George Tirebiter, the Trojans beloved dog and mascot, and sheared the letters UCLA into his coat. They then dropped Tirebiter back on the USC campus. Girls on the USC campus knitted Tirebiter a cardinal and gold sweater for the UCLA game that Saturday. USC beat the Bruins 6-0 and won a trip to the Rose Bowl.

1947 was also the year the movie Captain from Castile starring Tyrone Power, Jean Peters and Cesar Romero debuted. The movie featured the music of Alfred Newman and the victory march, "Conquest." Alfred Newman is my favorite movie composer. He bestowed the song to the USC. The Newman family were all song writers and Randy Newman is Alfred Newman's nephew.

The USC -UCLA rivalry has been called many things, but the best description is probably, "The City Championship." Fans of USC and UCLA have to live with the consequences of the game for the next 365 days.

I thought I would share about just two games in the series that began back in 1929 with a 76-0 victory in front of 50,000 people at the Coliseum. I'm going to share the game that was my grandpa's favorite, my dad's favorite and then mine. Most people's home movies are of vacations in Yosemite. My families' home movies were of football games and the Rose Parade. We went to the Rose Parade every year, because it was right on the way to the Rose Bowl game.

My grandpa's favorite USC-UCLA game was in 1939. Howard Jones had a big comeback year in 1938, and USC had topped it off by beating an unbeaten Duke football team 7-3 with four straight complete passes by fourth string quarterback Doyle Nave in the final two minutes to beat a Duke team that had not given up a point all year.

The war in Europe had started in 1939 and my dad was getting ready to go to the Island of Ohua to prepare roads and build shore batteries for the Army. The Navy was getting ready to transfer the Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor.

USC had tied Oregon to begin the 1939 season and then won seven straight. On December 9th, the Trojans played UCLA and Jackie Robinson for the conference championship.

USC had run over UCLA in their first few meeting in 1929 and 1930, and then stopped the series with UCLA. In 1931 they played St Mary's in their first game instead of UCLA who USC had dropped from their schedule. USC scheduled their opener with St Mary's and lost the game 7-6. That was USC's only loss in the year they won their greatest of all victories at South Bend over ND. USC still won a national championship in 1931.

UCLA's Kenny Washington and Jackie Robinson had made the Bruins a national power in the late 30's and in 1939 the Bruins were ranked 9th when they faced the third ranked Trojans.

My grandpa said USC was a tired team coming into the UCLA game. They traveled back from beating a strong Notre Dame team in South Bend, and they just escaped with a 9-7 win at home against Washington. Now the Trojans had to stop Jackie Robinson. Jones made some defensive adjustments and USC was able to hold Robinson in check. But USC couldn't get anything going as well. UCLA finally got rolling with a few minutes to go in the fourth quarter and drove all the way down to the Trojan 3-yard line.

Until 1982 USC and UCLA both played their home games in the Coliseum. They would switch off being the home team every year, and the home team would sit on the north side. UCLA's side was roaring. There were over 103,000 fans at the game. It was 4th down and UCLA's quarterback decided to go for a TD instead of kick a field goal. USC stopped UCLA on 4th down and then ran out the clock.

USC earned the bid to the Rose Bowl and pounded General Bob Neyland and the Tennessee Volunteers 14-0, it was my grandpa's last carefree moment until my dad came back from the Pacific in 1944 to train troops.

My dad's favorite game and mine are the same game. It was the 1967 game. I thought about the 1952 game for dad. USC finished the '1952 season 10-1 with a victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Rudy Bukich threw a TD pass to beat Wisconsin 7-0. In 1952 USC was ranked 3rd and UCLA 4th. USC won the game 14-12.

Frank Gifford had graduated in 1951, but the 1952 Trojans sent 15 players into the NFL. CB Jim Psaltis intercepted 9 passes that year, and teams didn't throw that much back then. USC had Jim Sears, Al Carmichael, Charlie Ane, Bob Vandoren. They were my early heroes. My dad loved that team.

But the 1967 USC-UCLA game was my favorite and dad's. It was one of the best games ever played. It was the Bruins against the Trojans. It was John McKay against Tommy Prothro. It was OJ Simpson against Gary Beban. It was for the Rose Bowl and probably for the national championship.

USC had been having a great year in 1967. The Trojans only gave up a total of 87 points the entire year. Don't forget USC had given up 51 points in one game in 1966 to ND. USC beat some very tough teams at the beginning of the year including Texas, Michigan State and Notre Dame and went rolling into Oregon State ranked #1 to play the Beavers. The Trojans lost in the rain and mud 3-0.

Dad and I were in agony. Now everything was riding on Saturday's game with the #1 ranked UCLA Bruins. USC went into the game ranked #4. This was the 4th year in a row the USC-UCLA game was for the Rose Bowl. This game had everything.

USC was a very fast team in 1967. They had half of the world record holding 440-yard relay team in Simpson and McCullouch. Flanker Jim Lawrence was a burner. The Bruins had just killed Washington 48-0. These were the football players I'd played against in HS and it was just magic.

There were 90,772 people there and I don't remember any empty seats. It was a perfect day. It was 71 degrees and the sky was perfectly blue. The sun was gold and I was hoping that wasn't a bad sign. UCLA scored first on a 12-yard run by Greg Jones. Beban and the Bruins really looked sharp. UCLA got the ball back and began another drive. At midfield, Beban took a short drop and to throw to his fullback who had circled out. CB Pat Cashman out of Long Beach Wilson jumped the route and brought it back for a TD. The Coliseum went crazy.

My mind went back to when Cashman was a star HB at Long Beach Wilson, and I saw him returning the opening kickoff against rival Long Beach Poly for a TD at old Veteran's stadium in Long Beach. It was pure glory and a 7-7 tie.

In the middle of the 2nd quarter, WR Earl McCullouch ran a reverse for 58 yards. I remember Earl, who was a DB at Long Beach City College, once running an opening kickoff back 100 yards. He ran right up the middle and no one touched him. What was amazing was the clock read 14:51 after the return. Only 9 seconds ran off the clock.

Earl's reverse was all the Trojans could get going. OJ Simpson had been stopped cold. He wasn't making anything. Then OJ made a great run up the middle from UCLA's 13 to give USC a 14-7 lead. It was a great run, but at the game you don't get slo-mo. So I didn't know how great until after the game. The important thing to me was USC was up 14-7 at halftime.

UCLA came out in the second half and Beban fired a 53-yard bomb to George Farmer and you're going not again. It was 14-14. Early in the 4th, Beban hit Dave Nuttall for a 23-yard TD pass and it's 20-14. UCLA was moving the ball. Don't forget the Bruins field goal kicker didn't just miss the extra point, he missed a 32-yard FG and two forty some yarders were blocked.

Simpson returned the kickoff to the 34 yard line. Simpson made 4 yards and then quarterback Toby Page got sacked a yard behind the line of scrimmage. Simpson runs off tackle on third-and-7 and blows through the line and cuts back for a 64-yard TD. It was 21-20 with 11 minutes to play. My ears ached from the noise as OJ crossed the goal line.

USC's defense held on. With a few minutes to go USC's offense made a couple of key first downs, and all they had to do was run the clock out. Then USC QB Tody Page fumbles the ball on first down on the Bruin 21 with 1:10 seconds to go. But USC was able to stop the Bruins on their own 43 yard line.

USC went on to win the national championship. Gary Beban won the Heisman.

But even those achievements were overshadowed by the game itself between two great teams that were bitter rivals. Voters decide national championships, but this game was decided by the players on the field. The hype was great before the game, but the game was even greater.

It was a war. It was two great teams leaving nothing left on the playing field. It was two great warriors, Gary Beban and OJ Simpson at the zenith of their games.

It was pure joy.

USC and UCLA meet up for th 79th time in the crosstown rivalry this Saturday.

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If you have any questions, comments or suggestions you can reach Kevin Carden at kevin@scplaybook.com

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