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
ROSE BOWL: 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 Bow I 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 championship.
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 player trophy.
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."
Indeed, 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 just fine.