Beban comes about as close to being the cinemascopic ideal of a college star as anyone can. It has been said that he resembles a young Marlon Brando, but he is not so roughhewn as that. Personable and natural, quick-smiling and polite, he possesses, at 21, a maturity not found in all that many undergraduates. A history major, he will graduate on schedule in June with fairly decent grades.
For a football hero who is about to be proclaimed an All-America, and possibly the Heisman Trophy winner as well—in fact, for one who has been the class quarterback of the nation for three straight seasons and has come to be known as The Great One—Beban continues to live like a freshman. He shares an off-campus apartment with Larry Slagle, a tackle; John Erquiaga, a center; and Steve Stanley, a reserve fullback. Fairly good order exists. The floors are reasonably clean, the records in findable condition and all of the knobs on the TV set are intact. Two large photographs are on the wall—the touchdown catches that Beban's receivers, Kurt Altenberg and Dick Witcher, made in the comeback win over USC in 1965. A large Dallas Cowboy poster is also prominent, though Beban is sure to be drafted long before the Cowboys have a turn.
Beban insists he is the farthest thing from a big man on the UCLA campus, or a social lion. He dates irregularly, has not been on the Sunset Strip since beards began to grow and his idea of a good time is either loafing around the apartment talking football with his teammates or inviting dates over and showing a film of a game UCLA won.
"I suppose I'm rather ordinary," Beban says. Uh, huh. And O.J. Simpson is ordinary, too.
But of all the differences between USC and UCLA as their big Saturday nears, the one that matters the most is how the two teams play football. Thanks to their coaches, they have different approaches to the game.
McKay's Trojans are basically offensive-minded, though they surely play good defense. The Trojans are attackers. They move the ball from a flamboyant, well-conceived I formation that McKay himself has refined to include motion, shifting and zone-wrecking passes. It is the prettiest offense in the land, and lots of smart people are trying to copy it. Prothro's Bruins are defensive fanatics. They are fast and outlandishly aggressive. Like Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, all consistently provoking defensive teams, UCLA swarms on its foe, sticks him, prods him and buzzes around him. It stunts and squirms, hits and slides, penetrates and scrambles and forces mistakes. Offensively, UCLA is cool, balanced and capable of striking fast. If generalities are ever meaningful in such a highly emotional sport, it can be said that USC usually moves the ball better than it plays defense, and UCLA normally is more brutal on defense than it is overwhelming on the attack, even though games like USC's loss to Oregon State 3-0 and UCLA's 48-0 win over Washington suggest the contrary.
Since early in the season when USC and UCLA attained their top-level rankings in the national polls, trying to rate their strengths and deficiencies has been a parlor game. You gave USC a point for offense, UCLA a point for defense. You gave USC strength, but UCLA got quickness. USC had a better blocking line, but UCLA had a better pursuing defense. UCLA had the best passing, but USC had the best receiving. The kicking was even, the coaching was even, and there was no home-field advantage. At first it seemed that USC had struggled through a far more difficult schedule, beating Texas, Michigan State and Notre Dame and losing only to that champion of all upset teams, Oregon State, while UCLA had defeated only Tennessee among the respectable powers. It then occurred to analysts that the Vols might be a better team than any USC has played. On the other hand, UCLA suffered two terribly narrow escapes against weaker teams—Penn State and Stanford—that easily might have defeated the Bruins and tied Oregon State.
"We've been good when we had to," Prothro says.
And McKay replies, "We've had to be good."
For any big football game, there are more so-called intangibles than there are long-lost chums who want tickets. Intangibles involve emotion, character, voodoo, tradition and intuition.