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The Great One's Greatest Game - UCLA Football's Gary Beban Speaks With Bruins Nation

As the UCLA Bruins prepare to take on Southern Cal this week, we are privileged to have Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban on hand to participate in a question and answer session on the 50th anniversary of one of the most memorable games in Bruin history. Beat $c!


In days of yore, the trogan band often tried to one-up UCLA's band by trying to play the same song during basketball games. I vividly remember that our band played the last part of the 1812 Overture, and then the other guys' band took a stab at it.  In his finest hour, Terry Stewart, our head yell leader, led the greatest cheer ever:  At full volume inside the Sports Arena, the Bruins yelled "20 to 16 Overture."  The entire trogan side fell silent. 20 to 16 was the final score of my favorite sporting event of all time, and it was 50 years ago, on November 20, 1965.

That's the date when UCLA's greatest, The Great One - Gary Beban - had what was in my opinion his greatest game. It wasn't his greatest game for the first 56 minutes, but then, as now, the last four minutes count, and those last four minutes were remarkable. UCLA beat heavily favored just$c* despite being behind 16 to 6 with four minutes to go, and with the trogans having the ball.

But Boom: they fumbled and Erwin Dutcher recovered. Boom: TD pass to Dick Witcher. Boom: Two point conversion pass to Byron Nelson. Boom: Onsides kick by Kurt Zimmerman recovered by Dallas Grider. But than things stalled  It's now third and 24 at mid-field. What are we going to do? Coach Prothro put the game in the hands of the Great One.

Bruins, we are privileged to have Gary Beban on hand to participate in a question and answer session on the 50th anniversary of that game. Gary, welcome.

BN: There are a lot of geezers here who remember that game, and there are a lot of kids who are just starting at UCLA.  So take us through the last four minutes of that game. I read that Coach Prothro gave all the credit to Pepper Rodgers for the play calling, but at that point, your day had been anything but stellar (3 for 8 for about 50 yards, two interceptions and two fumbles). What happened during the last four minutes that hadn't worked in the first 56?

Beban: After being trampled over for the first 56 minutes of the game, running on the field after Dutcher's fumble recovery I realized we were still in the game and only two scores behind to either tie or win, but I knew we had to score on the very next series of plays. Fortunately, Dutcher's fumble recovery gave us very positive field position and Witcher ran an excellent pattern to get open in the end zone. The two point conversion pass to Nelson was a more important play than most realize; if we ever got the ball back, it meant that the Trojan defense would have to play to protect against a field goal as well as a touchdown scenario.

BN: Tell us about the winning touchdown pass to Altenberg - which I recall as being the "X Post H."  What was the situation? What was the call, what was supposed to happen and how did things develop?

Beban: We had tried the same pass play to Farr earlier in the game and it was intercepted; upon return to the bench, Altenberg hinted he had been open, but I really hadn't looked for him the first time. This time, Prothro insisted I hit Farr, but dropping back to throw I tried to watch the Trojan secondary rotation to determine if Altenberg would have a chance to be open running up the seam between the cornerback and safety. Their rotation appeared to be slow, so I lofted the ball where I thought Altenberg would be, just putting air under it as I knew Altenberg would run to it.

BN: After we took the lead, we had to kick off, and that gave the ball back to Mike Garrett, who had gone up and down the field for 200-plus yards, but no touchdowns (and had his own fumble on our one-yard line). As I recall, he had four carries for 9.9 yards, and we got the ball back and that was it. What was different on those last four plays? And how did the defense keep him from getting a first down, and how did our guys keep him out of the end zone all day?

Beban: Once we got the lead, I never doubted the defense would hold the Trojans from scoring. Their offense was relatively one dimensional and gaining the lead gave us a familiar adrenalin rush we had experienced earlier in the season in other games we were not supposed to win. Most everyone forgets we ended the game with the ball on the Trojan one yard line; Prothro called time out and told me to take a knee and don't score. He told me "The Trojans were already mad and we had to play them again next year so don't score and  p... them off any more than we have to!" We easily could have scored 3 TD's in those last 4 minutes.

BN: The trogans fumbled five times, and we recovered all of them. What made that happen?

Beban: Hard knocking football caused the fumbles; recovering 5 out of 5 fumbles requires the good fortune of riding on Coach Prothro's magic carpet for the entire 1965 season.

BN: I looked at the stats, and we had one penalty for 15 yards. Why was the team so good at avoiding penalties 50 years ago, compared with today?

Beban: The 1965 Bruin football team was a collection of good football players. Through their game plan, Coach Prothro and his staff made us a great team on Saturday afternoons. Given we had been told by most everyone that we were already small and slow, we knew we could not make mistakes and win. On reflection, I don't think I ever fumbled a snap from center; Mo Freedman and John Erquiaga were masters of their trade.

BN: What else sticks out for you about that game?

Beban: Mike Garrett coming in our locker run after the game and wishing us good luck in the Rose Bowl vs. Michigan State. One of Mike's college football goals was to play in Pasadena and he came within 4 minutes of being there. It was a sportsmanship life- learning moment for me and I have deep admiration for Mike's strength to knock on our locker room door. Regretfully, I could not do the same in 1967.

BN: And what about the Rose Bowl game against Michigan State? (We're skipping the game in Tennessee.) What in the world made you think you could run around Bubba Smith's side of the line on the first play of the game?

Beban: I didn't think any such thing; Coach Rodgers called the plays, but on the first fake run to Farr play, I knew it was going to be the call days before the game. For the rest of the first quarter, the play and ensuing run kept Michigan State's defense on their heels.

BN: We recovered an on-sides kick after getting the first touchdown? Did Coach Prothro call that play, or did someone else? What did you guys think about that call?

Beban: After our first 1965 season game loss to Michigan State in East Lansing, Coach Prothro told us that he and the staff had not prepared us well enough to win, and that it would never happen again, and it never did for my 3 years. Since there was usually more raw football skills lined up on the opponents sideline than ours, we needed Coach Prothro's and Coach Rodgers's genius to be competitive. I've told Coach Rodgers for 48 years that he has my #1 ring because I know he was worth more than 2 points when he was in the booth calling the plays, and instead in 1967, he was somewhere in Kansas running around and looking for Toto when UCLA and I needed him. [Ed. Note: For those of you who don't know, we lost to $c 21-20 in 1967. Those are the two points that Gary is talking about, and with those two points, we end the season ranked Number 1, without any question.]

BN: Have you stayed closed to any of the guys on that team?

Beban: Since I have lived in Chicago since 1975, staying close to teammates has not been easy, but not too many years go by that I don't cross paths with Don Manning, Steve Stanley or John Erquiaga. This year at the Colorado game, the 1965 UCLA Rose Bowl team celebrated the 50th year of the Michigan State win, and it is amazing how much better we were in our own stories than in reality. But we are very proud of achieving UCLA's first Rose Bowl win and launching the West Coast dominance of the Rose Bowl Game against the Big Ten for the next two decades. Most everyone is in pretty good shape, but many are dependent on artificial parts to get from one place to another.

BN: Let's get more general. You were a single wing tailback in high school, but the Bruins had long since stopped being a single wing team. So how did you get to UCLA? I read that some unmentionable team in South Bend might have been on your list, too. And did you think of going elsewhere when Coach Barnes was fired?

Beban: I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and had never seen snow fall. It was snowing when I reached O'Hare so I never made it to the South Bend campus. I never really thought I would leave California, so my two finalists were UCLA and Cal, even though the best coach I was introduced to during my recruiting days was at Oregon State. The most fortunate event of my football or college career was Coach Prothro electing to come to UCLA January 4, 1965 after taking Oregon State to the 1965 Rose Bowl vs. Michigan. Without him and the coaching staff he assembled, we would not have been the successful and winning team we eventually developed into after a lot of blood, sweat and tears on Spaulding Field.

BN: A March 1965 edition of the Daily Bruin said that Coach Prothro had designated you as the starter, after your season on the freshman team. Did you see that coming? Did the guys think the team would be special with this new coach from Oregon State?

Beban: I don't think that the March 1965 edition of the Daily Bruin was correct because Norm Dow and I entered the first game of the 1965 vs. Michigan with a pre-game plan of playing the first (Beban) and second (Dow) halves, respectively; to my surprise, during half time, Coach Prothro advised me that I would start the second half and the rest is history.

BN: Fast forward to UCLA 2015.  UCLA rolled out the Gary Beban "throwback jersey" a few years ago, and it was a huge success. Where do you stand on throwback jerseys? Are there any players who you think are ripe for a throwback jersey?

Beban: I am conventional and a traditionalist; I took a great deal of pride being able to wear the Bruin Baby Blue jersey and I don't consider it a "throwback jersey!"  In time, I am confident that style sanity will return to Westwood and the throwback jersey will be reinstated as the Bruin football team uniform. [Ed. Note: Hear! Hear!]

BN: And speaking of uniforms, there has been a lot of debate lately. Common complaints are that "It's not the right shade of blue" or "The shoulder stripes don't even look like shoulder stripes" or "Can we please use Clarendon font back for the numerals." There are lots of different opinions about uniforms in the Bruins Nation (except on the stripes - the feeling is just about unanimous that the once great UCLA stripes have been destroyed.) Where do you stand on the uniforms we use these days?

Beban: Answered above.

BN: How about an on-campus stadium. I think you were around when the vote took place as to whether we should add a dollar to our incidental fee, which would raise money for a football stadium where Drake Stadium is now. How much would you have loved playing on our campus rather than in the place across town? Would playing on campus make a big difference in recruiting quality athletes and return the program to perennial New Years Day bowls, which pretty much means the new playoffs. Or, are we fans simply deluding ourselves?

Beban: Would I have preferred to have played in a campus stadium, yes, but I did not consider the Coliseum anyone else's home stadium other than ours. An on campus stadium is not going to happen; it would be an injustice to spend funds on a new stadium when we are very fortunate to have the Rose Bowl to call home; with the recent renovations, it is as good a house to play in as any in the country.

BN: Moving past athletics, most everyone has seen "Gary Beban's Big UCLA Moment." We know you were about more than athletics. As we asked Kareem Abdul Jabbar, what was your first impression of UCLA when you got here initially?

Beban: Fortunately, I arrived at UCLA in early August to serve as a freshman punching bag for the varsity so I could learn my way around campus and take care of myself before the start of the semester. Lasting friendships among first year football players develop quickly as one is searching for support and camaraderie when trying to adjust your football gyroscope to Mach speed compared to the snail's pace you had been experiencing in high school. Since I was only the second in my family to attend a college, I was not distracted by the noise on Gayley Avenue and I was able to establish a consistent regimen that balanced the labors of the classroom and the athletic field. By the time Coach Prothro elected to come to UCLA, my P & Q's were organized so I could focus on making his team and staying academically eligible. Upon reflection, I needed my entire freshman year to reorient and reorganize my thought process to a student-athlete lifestyle, and I was fortunate to have the freedom that a first year of non-varsity environment provided. The "opportunity" for a freshman in any sport to play varsity  should be reassessed against the complexities of athletes being on their own for the first times in their lives with the additional responsibility of classroom requirements.

BN: Laying aside any teachers of football, who was your favorite professor at UCLA?

Beban: I majored in 20th Century European History and made it a point to take any class Professor Robert Dalleck was teaching, in or out of my major.  Given his distinguished academic career, I was fortunate to be in attendance at UCLA while he was teaching. [Ed. Note:  Many of the older Bruins join you in that evaluation, Gary.]

BN: Which of your professors had the most significant impact on you as a person, if he or she is not the same as your favorite professor?

Beban: Coach Prothro was a professor; he just had a different appointed class room and an unconventional instruction curriculum.  Whether it was starting practice at untraditional times, 3:23pm, or having the game bus depart from the UCLA campus to the airport without two starting players (me and roommate, Larry Slagle) on board because they were late or quick kicking when we were at the 50 yard line, playing on a Coach Prothro team was a daily, constant learning moment experience.

BN: We know you were on campus recently. How much has it changed from when you wandered in as a teenager?

Beban: From a physical plant perspective, I did not attend the university that calls Westwood home today. When I walked on campus in the summer of 1965, the Athletic Department was a row of Quonset huts on Westwood Boulevard, there were only 5 buildings on Dormitory Hill and a room in the Women's gym served as our weight room. Today's UCLA students and student-athletes are very fortunate to be able to study and play on a campus that has been carefully groomed and designed to provide a lifetime learning experience allowing all to maximize their potential and productivity.

Gary, many thanks for giving us your time.  We hope to hear more from you in the future.