Oldtimer's Take: USC-UCLA 1967

I knew USC had O.J. Simpson and a great defense. And I knew UCLA had Gary Baban and a great nucleus of players. I had a feeling they might be the two best teams in the country, and they proved me right. Look inside for a look back at the legendary USC-UCLA matchup in 1967.

The 1967 USC/UCLA Football Game

I was born in 1947 in the city of Long Beach California. I lived in the Long Beach Poly High School district until I was 8 years old. My grandpa, dad and I were lifetime USC fans and Long Beach Poly fans.

We were sports fans. We rooted for the Dodgers when they were in Brooklyn and rejoiced when they came to LA. My dad and I were frequent visitors at the new LA Sports arena when the Lakers came from Minnesota. We were at the Rose Parade every year and the Rose Bowl. Where most family films center in on vacations to Yosemite, many of our family films are at the Coliseum.

Most of the events of my life, I can tell you the exact date because I remember what happened in sports that day. I've seen so many exciting games and championships. But my favorite game of all is the 1967 USC/UCLA football game.

I was 20 years old when the game was played. I played ball with many of the players in the 1967 USC/UCLA game in elementary school, junior high, summer leagues, and high school. That's part of why it's so strong in my memory. I will never have the connection, that I had to the players and the game I had that day.

I was at the Coliseum in 1966 when USC lost to Notre Dame 51-0. I was going to Long Beach City College in 1967. LBCC had won the national championship in '60, '62 and '64 under Jim Stangeland who was now an assistant coach at USC. I watched WR Earl McCullouch and Mike Battle play at LBCC and Ron Yary play at Cerritos JC. I knew how much USC had improved itself with its JC transfers.

I knew about OJ Simpson up at SFCC, because the Rams had played in the Prune Bowl game against the LBCC Vikings in 1965 and beat the Vikings 40-20 with this kid from another planet called OJ Simpson.

I couldn't wait for USC's opening game in 1967 against Washington State to see Simpson play. USC won 49-0. I went to UCLA's opening game in 1967 and watched Beban beat Tennessee in the last two minutes. Tennessee didn't lose again in 1967 and beat a powerful Alabama team to capture the SEC.

I knew USC had Simpson and a great defense. And I knew UCLA had Gary Baban and a great nucleus of players. I had a feeling they might be the two best teams in the country, and they proved me right. USC had climbed into the #1 spot after beating Texas and Michigan St. They Trojans trounced Stanford 30-0 and went into South Bend ranked #1 and a 12.5 point underdog to Notre Dame. USC dominated ND and beat them in South Bend 24-7.

It was USC's first win in South Bend since 1939. McKay said it was his biggest win. UCLA rolled all year and its only blemish was a tie with Oregon State. USC lost to Oregon State 3-0 the week before the UCLA game and dropped to #4 . UCLA beat Washington 48- 0, got the #1 ranking, and now it's time for the big game.

USC was a 3 point favorite, but for good reasons a lot of people thought UCLA was the better team. I didn't know. I wasn't confident of a USC victory. What I remember about that day was the gnawing pressure everyone felt before the game. The sky had cleared, it was only 70 degrees, but you could feel the heat. You could feel the pressure. It was an L.A. temperature inversion layer pressure cooker. My hands were colder at the opening kickoff, than when I said, "I do" at the altar three years later.

It was a pressure packed game, and yet players from both team played with great poise. It was a game filled with passion and touched with grace, because both teams played so well. It was USC and UCLA at its finest.

USC and UCLA had so many great games in the 60's and 70's and now they were in the midst of an 11 year span when 8 times the game was for the Rose Bowl. 1967 was the fourth straight year with Rose Bowl implications and the whole country was watching. The track surrounding the field was covered with media cables.

USC had only given up 64 points in 9 games, but UCLA moved right down the field after the opening kickoff and scored on a 12-yard pass to halfback Greg Jones. UCLA's great running back of 1966, Mel Farr, was with the Detroit Lions. Mel Farr and Earl McCuilouch were both to be Detroit Lions NFL Rookies of the Year. After his NFL career Farr became a billionaire Detroit car dealer. Cal Worthington was small time compared to Mel.

USC did nothing on its first five possessions. OJ Simpson had 10 yards on 11 carries, and UCLA had rolled to midfield leading 7-0 and looking for more to end the first quarter. Beban faked a handoff right and threw back across the field to Greg Jones, but USC's defensive back Pat Cashman jumped the route and sprinted 55 yards to the end zone. There was nothing in front of him but glory.

I remember Cashman as a running back for Long Beach Wilson running the opening kickoff back against Long Beach Poly in a 20-20 tie in front of a record crowd at Veterans Stadium. Cashman also played for LBCC. I later worked with Pat at Procter and Gamble. He said he knew the play and was waiting for it.

Tommy Prothro said, "It was a brand new play. We had never used it before, and will not ever use it again." But it was 7-7 at the end of the first quarter and USC hadn't made a first down. USC finally got going in the second quarter on a reverse to McCullouch after a missed field goal by UCLA. Earl ran for 52 yards and then fumbles the ball six yards forward. USC recovered the fumble. McCullouch then caught USC's only completion of the day down to the 13 yard line. The Trojans were one for six passing for the day.

On second down, Simpson got a good block from Ron Yary and pin balled his way up the middle to score from the 13 yard-line. Some people called it the greatest run of all-time. But no one really had a chance to wrap him up. USC backs had bags thrown at their legs in practice and were expected to keep going unless they were wrapped up by the defense.

It was 14-7 at halftime, but UCLA looked like the better team. Right after the start of the second half Beban got even with Pat Cashman. Beban sent halfback George Farmer straight past Cashman on a perfect 53-yard TD bomb. Greg Evans ran a circle route in the second quarter. This time Farmer went straight past Cashman. It was 14-14. UCLA was going crazy.

The defenses took over for the rest of the third quarter. Then early in the fourth quarter Beban hit WR Dave Nutthall on a 30-yard TD pass. In comes Zenon Andrusyshyn to kick the extra point. Jim Murray said Zenon kicked liked he was punching a 2 iron under a tree.

Zenon Andrusyshyn was a great punter and a very good kicker, but he had a low trajectory. McKay told his players and especially 6'8" Bill Hayhoe not to rush, but to get their hands up. Hayhoe blocked the extra point, and he also blocked two field goals. Andrusyshyn pulled a third FG left. Hayhoe's little finger tip caught the extra point. It was 20-14 UCLA.

USC was struggling. Simpson had a 34 yard kickoff return after the TD. But it was third-and-8 from the USC 36. McKay called a pass to WR Ron Drake, but QB Toby Page saw UCLA LB lean toward Drake and he called, "Red" an audible and "23." That meant 23 blast off tackle. When I saw Page hand the ball to Simpson, I was shocked. Simpson blasted through the line of scrimmage 10 yards, and busted up the left sideline 20 yards, and slashed across the field into the end zone 64 yards away. Rikki Aldridge made the extra point and it was 21-20 with 10:38 to play.

WR Ron Drake, who also played for LBCC made a screening block for OJ. Ron set a record for receptions at USC in '66 with 52 catches. He played on the national championship football team in '67 and the national championship USC baseball team in '68.

USC stopped UCLA. USC stalled and UCLA got the ball back. On first down at the UCLA 21 yard line, Jimmy Gunn dropped Beban clear back at the 1. UCLA then punts from the three yard-line. It was now under four minutes. USC makes a first down. UCLA doesn't use its timeouts. All USC has to do is run out the clock. The clock is down to 1:15 and Page fumbles at the UCLA 21 yard-line.

Beban hits a pass to Ron Copeland, but then USC overwhelms Beban and the clock runs out. It was like salvation. You felt like you would live forever.

Jim Murray called the game, "A four heart attack feature." Beban had passed for over 300 yards, but USC's defense had pounded him to a pulp. Murray said," if Beban wins the Heisman trophy fill it with aspirin."

USC was 10-1 in 1967 against a very tough schedule. The Trojans won their second national championship under McKay, and the days of Howard Jones had finally returned.

USC won by a finger tip, the flying wings of OJ Simpson and a defense that had been running wind sprints on Friday when UCLA took a seven minute warm up. Jimmy Gunn, Tim Rossovich, Adrian Young, and Willard Scott dominated the fourth quarter.

UCLA had been helping OJ up all day, so he couldn't rest. But it didn't work. Andy Williams tried to put the crowd to sleep by singing at halftime. But that didn't work either. USC won 21-20.

My grandpa lived through the 1979 championship. It was a great run by USC that was established on that day in 1967 in a game between USC and UCLA. Who was the better team?

USC was by a fingernail.

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