The Vault

1960s: Gary BEBAN


From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, September 25, 1967

ALL NIGHT LONG IT IS THE GREAT ONE, UCLA'S GARY BEBAN, AGAINST THE SWAMP RAT, TENNESSEE'S DEWEY WARREN. THEY ARE TWO OF THE VERY BEST QUARTERBACKS IN THE land. They also happen to be on two of the best teams in the land, and these teams have been crashing into one another all evening in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with both the players and the ball soaring every which way because of the vicious hitting.

Now it is late in the game, only four minutes to go, and The Swamp Rat has Tennessee ahead 16-13. It is fourth down for The Great One. There is a timeout, and the 66,000 people in the stadium figure that this—more than ever before in his glorious past—has to be the moment of The Great One.

Seemingly unaware of the bedlam, Beban goes to the sideline to chat with coach Tommy Prothro. Fourth-and-two on the Tennessee 27-yard line. A field goal will tie, a first down will keep the drive going for a possible victory. Wonderful suspense.

"Gary," says Prothro, "you look tired."

Beban should. He has brought UCLA back from 0-7 and 3-13, even though the bad breaks have heaped up on him so repetitiously that you have to figure the fates are wearing orange dunce caps—Tennessee orange, of course. And he has just marched the Bruins 46 yards on their last real chance for victory.

Beban says, "I'm O.K., Coach."

Prothro, a drawling Southerner on the order of Alabama's Bear Bryant, puts his hand on his quarterback's shoulder.

"Are you fresh enough to run one more play?" Prothro asks. "I want you to run the ball." Beban's golden helmet bobs up and down, yes.

"I want you to run one more great play for me," the coach sighs.

Beban returns to the field and brings UCLA out of the huddle for his specialty, a run-pass option to the right.

Beban starts to the right in his almost lazy fashion, and he raises the ball to give Tennessee's defense the hint of a pass. But there is daylight. Not daylight, exactly, under the Coliseum lights, but what you might call a crease in the smog. Beban cuts sharply across the line of scrimmage, and the spectators explode, for it is clear he has enough for the first down. They will settle for that. But he is still running. He wiggles to the right, feints with his head and darts back to the left, and a cluster of Tennessee defenders wind up piled on each other.

Now there is a delighted gasp from the UCLA fans. Beban is going to run right out of the stadium on the greatest play of his career. And now Beban is suddenly in the clear. He is storming at a wide angle across the field, and no one is going to catch him. Beban strides into the west end zone of the Coliseum and, in a moment of total hysteria, tosses the football into section T-14. UCLA has struggled back and won 20-16.

This game was supposed to have been some kind of crusade for UCLA, because the Bruins lost a rowdy 37-34 decision to Tennessee in Memphis in 1965, but UCLA's most skilled player, Beban, was far from frenzied on the eve of the battle. He was in a state of sophisticated calm; handsome, articulate and good-natured as always. His life story was being serialized daily in the Los Angeles Times. "Great timing with Tennessee here, right?" He smiled. He had not heard the rumor circulating around town that he—Gary Beban—had hired a public relations firm to handle his bid for the Heisman Trophy.

"That has got to be a USC rumor," he said.

Beban said he did not feel any grudge against Tennessee because of the 1965 game. He felt respect, he said, because they were a top team, and he dearly hoped they were not as fast as he suspected they might be. Prothro, he said, had helped keep him calm during his career.

"I've really only had the jitters once before a game," Gary said. "That was before Michigan State in the Rose Bowl. I was sitting there in the dressing room. I was in sort of a fog, not hearing anything that the guys were talking about, or Coach Prothro, either. Finally Coach came over and said, 'Now, Beban, remember this. There are 300 million Chinese on the other side of the world who don't give a damn about this game.' I was fine after that."

Few athletes have started a season with a bigger buildup from their own people than Beban has received. When Prothro called him The Great One, the school's publicity director, Vic Kelley, quickly picked it up. UCLA's publicity refers constantly to The Great One and the team that plays "the most exciting football in the West."

Even as Tennessee arrived in town, Prothro was saying, "Beban is the best college quarterback I've ever seen. He's a classic thrower. He's a better threat as a runner and ball handler than any other quarterback. I would have to say he is much better than Terry Baker was." Baker was the Heisman winner (and SI Sportsman of the Year) under Prothro at Oregon State in 1962.

Alas, it takes more than one man, and last Saturday night's game had no sooner begun than UCLA's early blunders made it easy for Tennessee to believe in itself. The Bruins fumbled the opening kickoff, the Volunteers greedily recovered it at the UCLA 19, and in four plays Warren had a touchdown. He hit a key 14-yard pass and then let tailback Charlie Fulton bruise it over from the one-yard line. For the next three quarters Tennessee benefited from a lot of UCLA errors, mainly on the part of the defensive unit. The UCLA secondary, comprising three 5' 9" guys who are sometimes called the Monkeys, had several moments of crisis. They fumbled punts and got trampled. In the third quarter, fumbling resulted in Tennessee's second touchdown.

UCLA was always moving the ball against Tennessee, however. Beban was making the most of a brilliant sophomore halfback named Greg Jones, who gained 135 yards. When Jones did not have the ball, it seemed that Beban did, running himself, hitting key passes and piling up 412 yards of total offense and 26 first downs, compared with Tennessee's 211 yards and only 14 first downs. Meanwhile, the UCLA defense was harassing Warren endlessly.

Ultimately it became a question of whether Beban could make up for all the fumbles and force one big thing to go right on a night when so many things were going wrong.

He finally did—and why not? When you ask a lad called The Great One for a great play, the least that he can do is supply it.

74 Years of Heisman Winners

CONSIDER EVERY Heisman hero to be a time capsule. Dating back to 1935, each recipient represents the trends, the statistical triumphs and—in the case of those 11 who won a championship to go with their trophy—the national titans of his generation of college football. Open the flap (opposite) for a peak at the first 74 years of Heisman history.

PHOTO WALTER IOOSS JR. His torching of the Volunteers was Game of the Week material, but it was the blows Beban later fought through in a nail-biting 21-20 loss to USC that drew Game of the Century talk and earned him a Heisman.
PHOTO BETTMANN/CORBIS [See caption above.]
PHOTO AP [See caption above.]
PHOTO JAMES DRAKE [See caption above.]
PHOTO WALTER IOOSS JR. Beban's big-game heroics were old hat by the time he took on Tennessee in 1967. In '65 the sophomore had rallied the Bruins with two TDs in the final four minutes for a 20-16 win (left) over No. 6 USC. A month later he stuck it to No. 1 Michigan State with two scores in a 14-12 Rose Bowl upset.
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