The UCLA quarterback is a sophomore, which ought to be warning enough. He is also a quarterback who likes to have the plays called for him, which serves as further warning, since the number of college quarterbacks who like to have the plays called for them can be counted on the fingers of a flagpole. Compounding such alarums, the coach who calls the plays is famous for his slapstick play selection. He is liable to punt on third down for no apparent reason and run on fourth down deep in his own territory. His name is Tommy Prothro, he is a great pagoda of a man with standout ears and thick eyeglasses, but as a colorful character he comes across like warm milk. "What I am," he once said, "is the oratorical equivalent of a blocked punt."
The team that sophomore Gary Beban quarterbacks and Tommy Prothro coaches is distinguished by its size—very small—and its demeanor—very quiet, which is what you should be when you are very small. When the UCLA publicist, Vic Kelley, was casting about for a way to describe its talents last week he said, "What this is is a nice bunch of boys, real nice boys. You know, quiet. And a lot of poise."
Early in the fall Prothro kept telling Kelley that it was going to be a good football team. Kelley remembered that Prothro had been coaching up at Oregon State for the last 10 years and could not know that UCLA was potentially the worst team in the West, but he passed Prothro's balloons of optimism to the press anyway, with only an occasional backward glance to ask, "Now, Tommy, do you really mean that?"
A year ago UCLA lost six of its last seven games and gave up 147 points in five of those. It was fairly obvious that Billy Barnes, who coached the team to its last Rose Bowl game in 1962 but had three straight losers after that, did not leave Prothro the Green Bay Packers. Los Angeles sportswriters laughed when Prothro sat down to play. " Tommy Prothro did not come to UCLA to lose," wrote one, "but he'll learn."
Well, the first thing Vic Kelley did not realize was that if the UCLA team was quiet, that did not necessarily mean everybody was silent. Bob Stiles, a junior defensive halfback, is in fact the strong, unsilent type of which this Bruin team is made. Stiles let a receiver get by him rather spectacularly in practice the other day and when a coach braced him on it—"Bob, what in blazes were you doing?"—Stiles replied, "I was just standing there memorizing my Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, Coach, when this guy ran by me...."
And another thing that was going on practically unnoticed was the work of Backfield Coach Pepper Rodgers. Prothro hired Rodgers, a former Georgia Tech quarterback, off the University of Florida staff and had in mind just the kind of things Pepper could do for a nice, quiet young quarterback, things like sitting up there in the press box on game days calling down good ideas. It helped Rodgers, too, that Gary Beban was the only capable quarterback UCLA had. He got all the attention. He had no bad habits, because in high school in Redwood City he had been a single-wing tailback, not a T quarterback. He was also attentive and agreeable ("He yessirs everybody," says Rodgers) and bright ("He's 19 but he acts like a 23-year-old man") and coachable. In the lexicon of the sport, coachable means that he can run and pass no matter who is talking.
Beban called what the coaches were doing with him a gamble, but he said Rodgers gave him confidence in himself, made him feel "six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier." Normally Beban is 6 feet even, 175 pounds. As time went by, Prothro was moved to say that Beban was the best sophomore quarterback he had ever seen, that he was unusual because he had no apparent weaknesses. There are those who would go Prothro two grades better. They believe Beban already is the best quarterback in college football, Bob Griese and Steve Juday notwithstanding.
As surely as day follows night and good things come to no-weakness quarterbacks who are suddenly six inches taller, exciting things began to happen to UCLA—victories for instance, one upset victory after another, until there UCLA was last week with mighty Southern California in the Los Angeles Coliseum playing showdown before 94,085 people on a damp, gray day for the right to represent the West in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. Just like old times—the battle of Los Angeles.
"Players, students, mothers and daddies—they all know each other because they grew up around here together," said USC Coach John McKay as the bands played and the fans cheered and the traffic piled up in monstrous proportions before the game. "They're all old friends, and nobody can hate you like your friends."
What happened when the game of hate began was what you would expect to happen to a sophomore quarterback who gets enough chances. Beban fumbled. Beban threw bad passes. Sealed off by a superior (also heavier) USC defense, he could not run, and when he passed he was rushed prodigiously. Meanwhile, the USC offense (also heavier and superior) made enough yards—414 altogether—to win two football games. Mike Garrett, the halfback who cannot be stopped except by committees of tacklers and then only rarely, ran for 210 yards himself, mostly on wedges and traps inside the tackles. Quarterback Troy Winslow threw two touchdown passes—10 yards to Mickey Upton in the second quarter and eight yards to Rod Sherman on the first play of the last quarter—and Tim Rossovich kicked a 20-yard field goal. With four minutes to play, USC had a 16-6 lead. Solid.