McKay and Prothro honed their teams quite differently for the big one. The Bruins worked shorter hours, for one thing. Zip, zip, zip. It was as if Prothro was trying to conserve their energy. On the last warmup day, Friday, his team was out only seven minutes in contrast to USC's hour and a half. Across town, the Trojans ran more. Lots of wind sprints at what McKay calls "party time," which is a sort of postpractice session. The defense especially ran more than normal, and it is worth noting that USC's defense was fresher at the end of the game. All of those Trojans who were chasing, and catching, Gary Beban there at the finish—Ends Tim Rossovich and Jim Gunn, who was in action despite torn ligaments suffered earlier in the day, Tackle Willard Scott, Linebacker Adrian Young and Halfback Pat Cashman—looked capable of playing another two quarters.
It was obviously more necessary for USC to win the game than UCLA. Prothro had beaten McKay the last two years, for one thing. Not only that, a feeling had emerged in the minds of many, much to McKay's anger, that Prothro had won with guile, wisdom and genius rather than athletes.
"Well," said McKay sharply one day, "we pushed 'em all over the field in 1965, but we fumbled on their one, seven and 17. I guess he planned that."
Anyhow, McKay was grim. Uncharacteristically grim. And USC, the team that is normally loose, was grim and quiet, right up to an hour before the start. The Trojans looked tense enough to fumble at least 10 times, but O. J. Simpson argued differently.
"We're just mad," he said.
Nor was UCLA in the emotional frenzy that has been its most commonly displayed trait. The Bruins were quiet, too, concentrating. Gary Beban was told that O. J. said USC was mad, and Gary, Mister Cool, said, "Anger doesn't win football games."
For almost the first 20 minutes it looked as if UCLA was the only team in the Coliseum. The Bruins were a lot quicker in the line, niftier in execution, more confident in their game plan, and more inventive in their attack. Beban had thrown the first of 16 completions to his left end, Dave Nuttall, who would catch seven, and he had gotten 11 big yards on a keeper, and he had led the interference for Greg Jones's blasting 12-yard touchdown run, which put UCLA out front. At the same time, the Trojans had not been able to move. In five possessions they had not scratched out a first down. On his first 10 carries, even behind an occasional and surprising eight-man line that McKay thought would unsettle Prothro, O. J. Simpson had gained only 11 measly yards. He had come no closer to breaking clear than Andy Williams, who was there to sing at half time.
The situation looked normal; Prothro had McKay's number, just as everyone had been saying at The Daisy, The Factory, La Scala and Stefanino's before diverting conversation back to who got which part in what TV series. It was normal except for one thing: USC did not have any yards or first downs, but it had seven points.
On the last play of the first quarter, just as it looked like Beban was cranking up the Bruins again, the UCLA quarterback threw a pass at midfield into the wide left flat. The receiver was open, as Bruin receivers were all day, but the ball hung. It may have hung because Beban's side, injured in the Washington game the previous week, prevented him from slinging the ball hard when he had to. It may have hung because he misjudged the risk of an interception. Whatever the reason, USC's Pat Cashman saw it coming. He darted in front of Greg Jones, leaped and took the ball with nothing but 55 yards of beautiful, unpopulated Coliseum turf before him.
"I called the play," Prothro drawled later on. "It's a new one. He's supposed to roll one direction, turn and throw blind, hoping no defender's there. It's a stupid play. I'll never use it again."