SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
November 20, 1967
A national championship, a bowl bid, a conference title, a Heisman Trophy and the sanity of a city are all part of the stakes as archenemies USC and UCLA prepare for their backyard showdown
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November 20, 1967

The Great One Confronts O.j.

A national championship, a bowl bid, a conference title, a Heisman Trophy and the sanity of a city are all part of the stakes as archenemies USC and UCLA prepare for their backyard showdown

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It is so garishly theatrical that it really should have started at a soda fountain in a Hollywood drugstore. Like this: there are these two young college guys named Gary Beban and O.J. Simpson, see, and they are sitting there hoping to get this idea for a football show discovered by somebody big. Howard Cosell, maybe. Or Jack Whitaker. But they keep being ignored because it is such a tough town. There is all this competition around from Dodgers and Rams, Angels and Lakers, Kings, Amigos and Toros, who are among the 12,000 professional sports teams in the area. And then there are all of these other diversions that Los Angeles just naturally offers: surfing, sky diving, topless motorcycling, translucent miniskirting and teen-age protesting for the individual's inalienable right to smoke his front lawn. Anyhow, these two college kids, Beban and Simpson (see cover), area little despondent. They don't even want their taco-flavored malteds.

Suddenly one of them has an inspiration. Maybe, just maybe, he thinks, they could put on their own show. Beban knows where there is this old coliseum they could use. Simpson says their schools would probably print up the tickets. Dad and Mom could be the cheerleaders. Dig out the old outfits. Heck, why not? Throw in a few of the old Morley Drury routines. Perhaps a Paul Cameron dance step. Or the Grenny Landsdell shuffle. Terrific. And look, Gary Beban has already written the title tune on a napkin: Buckle Down, John Heisman .

Yes, it is too Hollywood for belief. That UCLA's glamorous quarterback, Gary Beban, and USC's splendid halfback, O.J. Simpson, could emerge in the same city, in the same conference, as two of the best players of 1967, is improbable enough. That they could also wind up quite possibly battling for the national championship, the Pacific Eight championship, the Rose Bowl bid and the Heisman Trophy, all on one unbearable Saturday afternoon, is strictly from the studio lots.

But there it comes this Saturday, the Trojans against the Bruins before 93,000 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and millions more on ABC-TV's national telecast—a game that may well be for more trophies, titles and prestige than any single college contest in years.

Of course, the game would be immense, dramatic, historical, all of that, if it matched total strangers under these same conditions. And it is equally true that almost every USC- UCLA game is worthwhile. But to bring two such dedicated enemies, two universities so close in proximity (10 miles) yet galaxies apart in image and attitude, down to so desperate an hour makes the attraction all the more noteworthy.

Consider, first of all, the ironies and contrasts of the campuses. Here sits UCLA, a sprawling state institution with an enrollment of 29,000 students of varying backgrounds, colors, politics and ideals, and with generous portions of everything from hippies to Harlows, located right where, according to USC, it does not belong. UCLA is on a lovely rise called Westwood, just beneath the elegant neighborhood of Bel Air, a five-minute Mercedes ride from the dining, drinking and shopping splendors of Beverly Hills.

And over there sits USC, older by far, the smug, conservative, private school, with all of its scrubbed, predominantly white, Protestant, slow-smiling, basically upper-middle-class types. Just look where it is, laughs UCLA—practically in the middle of Watts, for goodness sake. Southern Cal's campus is, in fact, flanked by rows of condemned paint stores, auto-parts companies and junk shops, and only a few moments from the disenchantment of downtown L.A.

If USC could pick itself up and move, it probably would, and UCLA might be inclined to suggest Darien, Conn. as a suitable site, or perhaps under a giant old Goldwater billboard in Marin County. For a long time USC was located in a posh area of the city; only the sectors around it changed. There is always much to relish about traditions, and somehow USC's intimate red-brick buildings, its tree-lined streets and the general atmosphere within its boundaries offer more of a collegiate flavor than modern UCLA.

For the steadfast USC man, UCLA will never represent more than it was in its beginning, a preparatory facility for teachers who wanted to continue their studies elsewhere, a school unwittingly named Los Angeles State Normal, the poor school, the catchall, the school that gave us Tokyo Rose.

On the other hand, UCLA finds it difficult to be troubled these days by whatever USC thinks of it. It is too busy growing. Still pretty much of a commuter school—as is USC—it is so vast that half of the campus could protest the world's wrongdoings and the other half wouldn't know it.

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