January 10, 1966
It had been a crazy season of upsets anyhow, so it was only
appropriate that the New Year's Day bowl games should have a kind of
crazy logic of their own. Three perfect-record teams, Michigan State,
Arkansas and Nebraska, were seeking the national title, and all three
were humiliated. A gutty UCLA defense stunned the Spartans and provided
the biggest sensation. A huge LSU line outblocked Arkansas. These games
set the stage for Alabama, behind the marvelously accurate passing of
Steve Sloan, to plunder Nebraska, suggesting in the end that Bear
Bryant's light, fast Crimson Tide was the best of them all
In practice for the Rose Bowl game, outweighed and out-manned UCLA
defeated heavily favored Michigan State 14 straight days, and Coach
Tommy Prothro said, "I've just about mesmerized myself into thinking we
can win." On the day of the game itself Prothro, a tall Southerner, was
the perfect portrait of a grimly committed man who had keyed his team
for a desperate effort against near-impossible odds. "We're ready," he
told an interviewer on the sideline just before the kickoff. "We gone
try to swarm 'em."
What followed was almost exactly what Prothro promised. The Bruins
hovered around Duffy Daugherty's rangy, talented Spartans like gnats,
and when shadows fell across the field at the end the 100,087 exhausted
spectators and millions more on television had witnessed the biggest
upset on a bowl weekend of memorable upsets. UCLA, unorthodox but
undaunted, outplayed the Spartans in the first half of the game, then
tenaciously defended its 14-point lead to win by two points.
The scarred turf of the Rose Bowl was littered with UCLA heroes, for, as
Prothro admitted later, "If one less person had put out one less
percent, we would have lost." But two young men stood out above the
rest. First there was Defensive Back Bob Stiles, the player who led the
Bruins' swarming assault on a Michigan State team that had swept past 10
straight opponents, including this same UCLA team in their opening game
of the season. Then there was UCLA Quarterback Gary Beban, the
miracle-working sophomore, who kept the Spartan defense in total
disorder and put both Bruin touchdowns on the scoreboard.
Like a struggling actor trying to be discovered, Stiles was everywhere.
He patrolled the secondary as if he were assigned to three different
positions, and intercepted two passes. He flashed up to the scrimmage
line again and again to help his eager friends wrestle the churning,
green-jerseyed Spartan runners to the ground inches short of where they
always needed to go.
Stiles, a junior transfer from Long Beach City College, made the big
play whenever it was necessary- and it got more and more necessary as
the game progressed. One of his best was a jolting tackle on Michigan
State Fullback Bob Apisa 31 seconds from the end, when the Spartans were
going for a two-point conversion that would have provided them with a
14-14 tie and, as it turned out, a strong claim to the national
Apisa, who already had sprinted 38 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown
that narrowed UCLA's edge to 14-6, took a lateral and started around
right end. For an instant he seemed to have the running room he needed.
Then UCLA Co-captain Jim Colletto, an end, got him by the head. Apisa
kept plowing—there was still room. UCLA's Dallas Grider, a linebacker,
next got a hand on him, but Apisa lurched on toward the yellow goal
stripe. And then came Stiles.
With a force that could be felt not only in Westwood Village but in Glen
Ridge, N.J., Stiles's home town, and East Lansing as well, Stiles, who
is 5 feet 9 and weighs 175, shot into Apisa like a jet on takeoff,
burying his head and shoulders in the big fullback's side. It was the
hardest blow of the game, and one of the most damaging ever inflicted on
the Big Ten. Apisa crashed two feet shy of the end zone, and Bob Stiles
had to be revived and helped off the field to accept the most valuable
While Stiles was busy stifling Michigan State's offense, Beban was
plotting guerrilla warfare. "We decided that it was no use tryin' to get
at Michigan State with anything but unorthodox tools," said Prothro.
"We're gone all the way with the bomb. When it's third and one, or third
and two, don't look for us to run for the first down."
UCLA played unconventional football throughout, employing such
shenanigans as the onside kick (it worked), the tackle-eligible pass (it
worked) and- the key to the Bruins' offense- a thing called "the shadow
set" in which UCLA's two best receivers. Split End Kurt Altenburg and
Flanker Dick Witcher, were stationed on the same side of the field, one
directly behind the other. "With this," said Prothro, "we could seep
toward our strength. If they overshifted, we could run away from it. And
if they closed up quickly we could throw long to Witcher or Altenburg."
The shadow set, designed by UCLA Assistant Coach Pepper Rodgers, worked
On UCLA's first offensive play Beban faked from the shadow and sprinted
to the opposite side of the field for 28 yards. "That gave us
confidence," said the sophomore, "and gave them the hint we could run on
them." UCLA got its first touchdown when a fumbled punt put the Bruins
in possession at the Spartan five. Beban carried twice from the three.
He was stopped once, but the second time he edged over from the one for
the first of the two touchdowns he scored. The other also came from only
one yard out.
If Michigan State did not seem bothered too much by that first
touchdown, it had a right to its confidence. The Spartans had trailed
six opponents during the regular season and always had won. But this
time things were different. The Bruins, unafraid of what State could do
to them if they failed, promptly pulled their onside kick. They won the
gamble, had the ball and field position. It was time, they told
themselves, for the new alignment again.
In the huddle Beban called "shadow set Michigan, spread left post." Out
went Altenburg and Witcher, split wide. Both receivers sprinted deep and
crisscrossed, with Witcher going all the way to the end zone, Altenburg
inside him. Beban calmly spiraled the ball to Altenburg, running at the
four-yard line between two defenders. Altenburg fell forward to the one,
and Beban quickly stabbed through for the score. "It was a perfect
pattern, a perfect throw and a great catch," said Prothro.
But almost everything about the day was perfect for UCLA, whose players
had; as only collegians do, dedicated the game to their families, their
school and West Coast football.
"They kept us off balance from the start," said Daugherty, a gracious
loser. "They forced us into mistakes."