A Story of UCLA Football Heroes Past

Darryl Norenberg-USA TODAY Sports

We enter the Wayback Machine for our monthly journey back to UCLA football in days of yore. Our destination is determined by the calendar page in the UCLA Vintage Football Calendar. This month, the page features the game day program from October 29, 1960 when the Bruins defeated North Carolina State 7-0.

That was 54 years ago, and North Carolina State has not defeated the Bruins in football since that game. Also, the two teams have not met since that game. In fact, they have only met twice all-time, in 1959 and 1960, and UCLA won both games. Let's get these guys on the schedule again.

1960 is actually in my lifetime, unlike the the years covered in the first two installments of this monthly series. I was living in Palo Alto, so I went to Stanford games, and I remember quite a bit from those games. I don't remember the 1960 UCLA game in particular. But if you were around at that time, you will definitely remember the three players I will be talking about below.

The 1960 team was coached by Bill Barnes. He coached the Bruins for seven seasons (1958-1964), and had a sub-.500 record (32-36-3). Barnes succeeded the legendary Red Sanders, and was succeeded in turn by the legendary Tommy Prothro. Sanders and Barnes were hired by Wilbur Johns, who was succeeded as athletic director by J.D. Morgan in 1963. Morgan's first football coaching hire as UCLA's AD was Tommy Prothro. Guerrero's first football coaching hire as UCLA's AD was Karl Dorrell. That is one of several reasons why we should not expect the Morgan Center to be renamed for the current recumbent (thank goodness). But I digress.

The 1960 team was part of the AAWU conference, which included Washington plus the four current Pac 12 teams from California. With only five member teams, that left a lot of room for non-conference games, which probably helped drive the scheduling of NC State in 1959 and 1960. As usual in those days, only the team selected to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl went to a bowl game. Everybody else stayed home, including the Bruins (Washington won the conference, after beating UCLA in Seattle 10-8). Since the Oregon schools and Washington State were independents, they could go to bowl games. And Oregon did in fact play in the Liberty Bowl that year. But when the conference expanded back to eight teams, the rule only allowing one bowl team remained in place until the 1970's.

There was no pat on the head in the form of a Holiday Bowl, an Alamo Bowl, an Emerald Bowl, a Silicon Valley "Classic", an EagleBank Bowl, a Las Vegas Bowl, and the other varied and sundry destinations to which UCLA has traveled in recent years. Win or stay home. That is how it was in 1960. Just to show what a big deal the Rose Bowl was, and how good this 1960 team was despite no bowl game, there were four "Major" bowls and five minor bowls after the 1960 season. The big four were the Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Cotton. And in the last game of the 1960 regular season, the Bruins destroyed then #11 Duke 27-6. Duke in turn went on to win the Cotton Bowl.

1960 doesn't seem so long ago to me (showing my age). But the style of play was wildly different. The Bruins averaged 17.5 points a game, with a high water mark of 28 points in a single game. And the Bruins gave up 8.4 points a game, allowing 10 or fewer points three times in the 10 game season. 7-0 is a little extreme in terms of scoring production, but it is not wildly different from other games that season.

Three members of the 1960 team are in the UCLA Hall of Fame. And these names should ring a bell with fans of a certain vintage (like me). The three stars are Kermit Alexander, Jimmy Johnson and Billy Kilmer. Interestingly, the Bruins did get to the Rose Bowl the following year, but Kermit Alexander was the only one of the three who had not graduated. So despite the phenomenal careers these three had at UCLA and in the NFL, only Kermit Alexander played in the Rose Bowl as a Bruin.

Here is a very interesting article from the UCLA website about Kermit Alexander. As you can read, he was an All-American halfback as a senior, and led the team in rushing and receiving at the Rose Bowl as a junior. As a college star in the early '60's, Alexander was drafted by a team in the NFL and by a team in the AFL before the two leagues merged. He was drafted as the 8th overall pick by the Niners (NFL) and as the 5th overall pick by the Broncos (AFL). He opted for the NFL. This was definitely a win for the Niners. Alexander was a defensive back in the NFL, and was a Pro Bowl selection in 1968. By the way, in 1960 they were still playing two-way football, so an all-american halfback becoming a defensive back in the NFL was not a big change of position.

Jimmy Johnson was a teammate of Alexander's at UCLA and with the Niners. He also played both ways at UCLA, and became a defensive back with the Niners. And what a defensive back ! Johnson is one of only five Bruins to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (trivia question- who are the other four?- answer below). Here is a very interesting article from the UCLA website about Jimmy Johnson (as an aside, these articles are great- why can't Morgan Center apply the same standard of excellence to current sports information?). Until I put this article together, I did not realize that Jimmy's older brother was Rafer Johnson, an all-time Bruin great who won the decathlon in the Rome 1960 Olympics and who lit the torch for the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. Jimmy was an NCAA champ in the high hurdles and a conference champ in the long jump. Just to show how different the game was back then, Johnson led the 1960 team with 254 yards receiving. And to show his versatility, after turning pro with the Niners he played safety as a rookie, and then switched to offense and caught 34 passes his second season. He then switched back to defense as a corner in his third seasons, and was a phenom corner for the rest of his career.

And last but not least on any list is Billy Kilmer. Kilmer was the last great single-wing tailback at UCLA. From this position, he led the team in rushing, passing and punting. Here is more info from the UCLA website on Kilmer on the occasion of his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. He led the country in total offense in 1960, with over 803 yards rushing (and 8 TD's) and 1086 yards passing (and 8 more TD's). Kilmer rushed 163 times and passed 129 times. It is great to see a balanced attack. It is really unusual to see a balanced attack contained in a single player.

Continuing the Niner connection, Kilmer was part of the same Niner teams in the early '60's as Kermit Alexander and Jimmy Johnson. Kilmer was part of the most unusual NFL offense seen up to that point, and possibly since. Under mastermind Red Hickey (still one of the great names in sports or any other walk of life), the Niners used a shotgun formation (very unusual at the time) with three QB's (John Brodie, Bobby Waters and Kilmer) in rotation, sending in the play from the sidelines with the next QB. Kilmer moved on to the Saints in the 1967 expansion draft. He then was traded to the Redskins, where he scaled probably his greatest NFL heights as the QB of the Redskins team which went to the Super Bowl after the 1972 season. Here is an article from Redskins Insider which goes into more detail about what a competitor Kilmer was.

Hats off to three Bruin heroes, and to the rest of the 1960 squad. This was a team which performed at a very high level, in an era when bowl game invites were few and far between.

Answer to the trivia question- Bob Waterfield, Tom Fears, Troy Aikman and Jonathan Ogden.

Go Bruins !!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.