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A few short weeks into the season, however, Prothro, a big, unsmiling man who is heir to a real-estate fortune in Memphis and who comes straight to the point or doesn't say anything, was having to learn how to live with a precious commodity—Beban. And West Coast fans were already thinking that if UCLA could make the Rose Bowl it would be the grandest success story since Stanford in 1940. Beban's miraculous—there is no other word—passing got his team there in the final game against heavily favored USC. He pitched two touchdown strikes to win 20-16 in the final four minutes while the Trojans' John McKay and Heisman Trophy Winner Mike Garrett and 94,000 fans in the Los Angeles Coliseum accused Sheilah Graham of making it all up.
"Gary is 100% coachable," says Prothro, who became Coach of the Year on Beban's quarterbacking. "You tell him something once and he goes to work on it until he thinks he's achieved perfection. He throws the bomb as well as anyone I've seen. But he's best in a tight situation. He rises to the big effort. I don't mean the big good effort. I mean the big great effort."
Then Prothro adds. "But no amount of coaching could have made Beban the kind of quarterback he was last year."
One kind of quarterback people whispered Beban was last year was one with a transistorized receiver built into his gold headgear so that UCLA coaches could instruct him to "hit the tight end" or "keep and run wide" when he was in the midst of a play. This, of course, is about as illegal as narcotics. The story circulated around the country after the UCLA-Penn State game. It apparently started with a fan who told someone he had heard it happening accidentally when his own transistor radio picked it up. Prothro, who among other things is about the only coach who doesn't play golf (football is his hobby), shrugs off the ugly rumor as a man would who knows it is untrue. "Anyone," says he, "can look at our helmets anytime they want to."
In or out of headgear, Gary Beban is determined to prove last season wasn't merely a happy accident. From Redwood, Calif., of part Italian and part Yugoslavian descent, Beban is handsome in a short-cropped-brown-hair, oval-face, mellow-tan, deep-set eyes kind of way. His most impressive feature is his hands. Big. Great big. "I can palm a basketball," he says.
He was working out twice a day long before Sept. 1. "Playing quarterback is not natural," he says. "Throwing is, but that position behind the center, taking the ball, your footwork, your handoffs, your fakes—that's all sweat." He believes in himself, but he also believes in Prothro, and both of them believe in another season of success. "Confidence and assurance are what Coach Prothro develops. We believe we can do exactly what he says," Beban says. "He inspires total confidence, and we know we'll never go into a game that we're not prepared for physically and mechanically."
While it may not be such a miracle this year if Beban and UCLA win again, a notable one is already assured in the coaching ranks. Not the obvious one, that old powerhouses like Oklahoma, Army, Pitt, Iowa, Penn State, Duke and Iowa will have new men, but the fact that Jess Neely, after completing his 40th—fortieth—season as head coach at Southwestern of Memphis, Clemson and Rice, will finally retire. Life won't be the same for those accustomed to hearing the genteel Southerner explain every game in an identical manner, whether Rice had just narrowly beaten No. 1 Texas A&M, as it did in 1957, or had narrowly lost to No. 1 Texas, as in 1963.
Jess would always say, "Well, gentlemen, it's simply gratifying to me to think that our crowd could put forth such an unselfish effort as they did out there today."
And that's it, isn't it, Jess? That's really what it's all about.
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