When all the preparation was done for the USC/UCLA football game John McKay went up to the blackboard in the war room and began to evaluate the USC and UCLA teams man by man. McKay used his grading system for the USC players and then graded the UCLA football team from what he had seen on film. When he totaled up the figures they came out exactly even. McKay turned to his assistant coaches and said, "It's going to be a helluva game."
It's hard to describe a rivalry like USC/UCLA to anyone outside of the city of Los Angeles. This morning I conducted a gravesite service for a mother of a dear friend of mine. It's an honor to be entrusted with that responsibility. His mother was the same age as mine. My friend and I are one month apart in age. Our wives are close friends. He is a UCLA fan and graduate and I'm SColdimer.
In 1967 he had a '66 Chevelle with the 400 cubic inch engine. I was driving my looks '63 Chevy Impala with a 327 engine. He was seated on the South side of the Coliseum. I was sitting on the North side. That day, Nov 27, 1967, we were bitter enemies. USC was the home team and got the North side. The two teams would switch sides every year, because they shared the Coliseum.
In the Nov 20, 1967 issue of Sports Illustrated, writer Dan Jenkins penned, "On Nov 27th, 1967 a national championship, a Rose Bowl bid, a Pac 8 Conference title, the Heisman Trophy and the championship of a city will be on the line. Los Angeles which had the Lakers, Dodgers, Angels, Rams, Kings, Toros and Amigos fighting for attention is now fully on the Trojans and the Bruins." My subscription to SI cost me 10 cents an issue back then.
The 1967 USC/UCLA game had everything. Gary Beban and OJ Simpson were going head to head in the same year. It was on ABC in color nationally. The NCAA only allowed 8 national telecasts a year back then and 5 regional games. You had two teams that were complete enemies.
USC was living with the bitterness of seeing Prothro's Oregon State team going to the Rose Bowl after the 1964 season; the bitterness of losing to UCLA in '65 and '66 was fresh in the mind of every Trojan. Tommy Prothro had beat John McKay in 3 out of their 4 meetings. The word in the press was Prothro had McKay's number.
UCLA was still furious about USC being picked for the Rose Bowl after the '66 season. The Bruins in ‘66 sat at the top of the conference with USC, and only one conference loss. The Bruins had beaten USC 14-7, and USC had just lost to Notre Dame 51-0. Yet the Pac 8 picked USC. UCLA students stopped traffic on the 405 freeway in protest. 30 UCLA students were arrested. War time was not a metaphor when used to describe the 1967 game. My dad always said Tokyo Rose graduated from UCLA.
I had to live through the great UCLA teams in the 50's under Red Sanders. Did you know in 1954 USC was in the final 4 in the NCAA basketball Tourney? Did you now in 1954 UCLA's football team was ranked #1? The world was upside down. Did you know Chick Hearn used to call the USC basketball games? The Trojans, under coach Forest Twogood had UCLA's number back then.
It was a game of heroes. My grandpa, who had been following USC since 1900, would often tell me how big USC was in the 20's and 30's. He made sure I met players like Morley Drury and Orv Mohler. I heard the stories of Mort Kaer, Erny Pinkert and Harry Smith. He told me too about UCLA's Kenny Washington, Jackie Robinson, Bob Waterfield, and I saw Tom Fears play for the Rams.
UCLA QB Gary Beban and USC TB OJ Simpson were both better than advertized. Simpson could roll over you or through you. Simpson had the greatest combination of power and speed ever in a running back I've ever seen. Beban was a good runner and passer, but he was a great field general.
McKay said Simpson was the fastest football player he had ever seen at Simpson's size. He had to say that, because WR Earl McCullouch who set the world record in the 120 yard high hurdles would edge Simpson out in the 40-yard dash in football shoes. Simpson and McCullouch would trade off victories when they ran 100 yards against each other. Simpson, who had transferred for the spring semester at USC, had already set a world record with the USC 4X440 Yd relay.
OJ Simpson, because of track was only able to attend of couple of USC's spring practices in 1967. McKay had sent him off tackle 7 straight times in his first practice. McKay says in his autobiography that he would do this to humble young backs and make them more teachable. The problem was Simpson blew the Trojan's defensive front seven backwards on all 7 plays. Even when whole defenses were stacked against Simpson he blew them away like the artillery. And every time Simpson was handed the ball, you held your breath waiting for him to break free.
Gary Beban, like OJ Simpson, was from the Bay area. He was the most poised college football player I've even seen. He was described at the time as, "The most self assured player anyone would ever see." I saw Roger Staubach against USC in 1962, and Beban and Staubach were right out of the same mold. Beban knew what to do, and he would beat you. I saw him against Tennessee in the Coliseum in 1967, and he beat them with a run around the end in the last two minutes, that he was waiting for the right moment to use.
Simpson, Beban, McKay and Prothro were winners. UCLA was the No.1 team in the country, and USC was ranked No.4. Tommy Prothro had voted USC No.1 the week of the game in the UPI coaches poll. When he was asked a couple of days before the game if that meant he thought USC was the best team in the country he said, "I said I voted them No.1. I didn't say they were the best team."
Next week I will tell you about the game. Even to this day I cannot tell you which was the better team. It would be hard to say a team that played as well as UCLA lost. What I can tell you, and you will have to wait until next week for the rest was, "It was a helluva game!"
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