It was a fairly momentous week in and around the Greater Los Angeles area. UCLA won its seventh straight basketball title. Bill Walton decided to pursue his studies in history. The Godfather beat out the Bruin highlight film for the Oscar. And the UCLA track team defeated Tennessee and Kansas, the respective prospective champs of the Southeastern and Big Eight Conferences, indicating that a third straight NCAA title was in reach if not in hand.
Jim Bush, the UCLA coach, had predicted that Saturday's unprecedented meet would rank up there with such local spectacles as Cecil B. deMille's recreation of the crossing of the Red Sea and be no way as one-sided. It was a rout. By triangular meet scoring, UCLA took 14 of the 18 possible first places to amass 108 points to 44 for Tennessee and 40 for Kansas. By triple dual scoring, UCLA beat Tennessee 113-41 and Kansas 113½ to 40½, and Kansas defeated Tennessee 83-67.
Moreover, the Bruins did it against two teams Bush says are among the top five in the nation while pulling their punches and utilizing more youngsters than the Vienna Boys Choir. Of the 14 firsts, which included both the 440 and mile relays, 10½ were attained by underclassmen, who accounted for 77½ points in the triangular scoring.
It is more than a modest triumph of alliteration to say that the best of the Bush babies is Benny Brown, a quarter-miler from Sunnyvale who seems destined to carry on the UCLA tradition of such great one-lap runners as world-record holder John Smith (44.5) and Olympic silver medalist Wayne Collett (44.7). Brown, a sophomore who scratched from his specialty when he discovered that Tennessee's classy Darwin Bond was out of action with a sore groin muscle, won the 220 in a wind-aided 20.9. He also made up two yards on the second leg of the 440-relay and turned in a 46.9 third leg on the Bruins' mile-relay team, which was clocked in 3:10.5 and plans to improve sufficiently to win the event in the NCAA championships for the fifth year in a row.
Bush is convinced that Brown will break the world record in the quarter mile before the end of his senior year, with a sub-44 mark. For a kid who finished no better than sixth in the California state high school championships, the prediction seems brashly optimistic until you recall that John Smith finished fifth in his state high school championship meet and that Brown was third in last year's NCAAs, running 45.3 for 400 meters.
"Benny right now is ahead of any of them at the same stage," Bush said after a team practice Thursday. "He's capable of running in the 44s this year. He's strong and he has a burning desire to excel. I've really studied the quarter and know what is necessary to run it in 45 seconds or less. That's a fairly fast sprint for that distance, and to do it you've got to pay the price. We start weight training the last week in September, when there are no track meets to look forward to for four months, and we work at it five days a week. That's tough, to work at it like that, but it pays off later in the season. The key to the 440 is relaxation, so that a runner can carry a fast pace over a long distance. It's hard to run all-out for 100 yards without tying up, so you can't go all-out, but you've got to go fast. The whole thing is relaxation, and it takes the entire fall and winter to teach it."
Thursday's practice was a busy one for the Bruins and not a very relaxing one for Bush, who said that UCLA could win the national championship again this season (joining Tennessee and Kansas in his top five are USC, Oregon and UCLA). "This could be the best team we've had yet," he said, "but to win it you've got to stay healthy and you've got to be lucky."
You can imagine his dismay then when, no more than five minutes after he spoke, Brown was involved in a freakish collision with Maxie Parks, another blue-chip 440 prospect. During a baton pass, Brown caught a spike in a ragged section of the artificial track, stumbled and banged his knee painfully after spiking Parks in the left heel. Both fell to the track. After his knee was treated, Brown returned to run a 330 in 34.3, but the effort left him limping. Parks needed three stitches. Bush needed a tall Scotch and water.
Neither of the athletes was noticeably hurting Saturday, however. For his part, Parks ran a leg on the sprint relay and led UCLA to a 1-2-3 finish in the 440 with a 46.8. Figuring fate had been kind enough, Bush held Parks out of the mile relay.
But Bush had other cause for cheer besides the survival of his quarter-milers. Jim Salcido, a freshman running three miles for the first time, triumphed in 13:52.6 when he unleashed a 58.6 last lap to beat Tennessee's Roberto Lenarduzzi. In a steeplechase won easily by the Vols' Olympian, Doug Brown, in 8:51.4, Gordon Innes, another UCLA freshman, shattered the school record with a third-place 8:55.8. UCLA also got 20 points out of a possible 33 in the weights, as Dave Schiller improved his personal best to 60'10¼" in the shotput and Roger Freberg, second in the shot at 59'5", took the discus with a throw of 189'10". James McAlister, the football halfback, won the long jump with a wind-aided 25'6½". In the pole vault Fran√ßois Tracanelli, the French national record holder, cleared 17'5", his highest mark ever competing as a Bruin, and Harry Freeman equaled the Drake Stadium record and led another 1-2-3 UCLA finish when he triple-jumped 53'1".
The best performance of the meet, however, belonged to Sam Colson of Kansas, a left-handed javelin thrower who took up the event after a brief fling as a baseball pitcher succeeded in proving nothing quite so much as the fact that he was wild.
The previous week Colson threw the spear 290'10" against Alabama, the third longest toss in U.S. history and, if you insist, the longest ever by a southpaw. His best throw Saturday was 288'8", a stadium record, although he was bothered a trifle by the runway and vexed no little by erroneously placed flags.
"I felt pretty good," said Colson, the son of a retired Mankato, Kans. wheat farmer. "The area here is O.K. except for the runway. I had three throws better than 260, but I wasn't nearly as consistent as I was at Alabama. I might have put more into it, but they said the first flag was at 290 feet and the second at 300. I was well over them both, but when they measured them they found the flags were way off."
Colson, who stands 6'5" and weighs 265, hopes to go to law school next year, a prospect he says will help his chances for the 1976 Olympics. "As for throwing over 300 feet or something," he said, "I can't say. Every time I've predicted long throws, I can't do them."
Tennessee won the NCAA cross-country championship last November, and, like Kansas, the Vols probably have a better track team than was evidenced against the formidable depth of the Bruins. Stan Huntsman's squad, however, is still recovering from the loss of Tony Wilson, a 7'1½" high jumper who died suddenly of spinal meningitis on March 12. A team captain, he was the brother of Singer Nancy Wilson.
"That affected everyone on the team," said Trevor James, a sprinter from Trinidad. "That got to us all, coaches and athletes alike. For a while, we didn't even know if we had a track team."
"Kids this young have a hard time relating to death," said Huntsman. "Especially when it's one of their own."
Tennessee's other first place came from Wilbur Hawkins, who won the 880 in 1:50.7 to beat teammate Willie Thomas, the NCAA champion, by a 10th of a second. Thorn Garrison, yet another Vol, finished third in 1:51. By that time, however, UCLA had scored 65 points through 11 events to 27 for Kansas and 26 for Tennessee, and it was brutally certain that the only disappointment Bush would suffer was the meet attendance of 3,671—a lamentable turnout that he blames on the dearth of pre-meet publicity offered by the Los Angeles Times.
On the Monday preceding the meet, Bush spoke at an L.A. track writers' meeting and said, "To get both of these teams to come out here, we've had to give each of them a pretty good guarantee. If we filled the stadium, we'd still lose money but we think we're giving the fans of Southern California a real spectacle, so if you could give us some publicity, we'd appreciate it."
The Times responded with a few small-type lines on Tuesday and an advance story on Saturday morning that ran on page seven, next to the weather map, which may go to show that the sports editor is either clairvoyant or a USC alumnus.