Here is the way it was in that college football game last week for the championship of the earth, Saturn, Pluto and Los Angeles: UCLA's Gary Beban had a rib cage that looked like an abstract painting in purples and pinks, and USC's O. J. Simpson had a foot that looked like it belonged in a museum of natural history, but they kept getting up from these knockout blows, gasping, coming back, and doing all of their outrageously heroic things. So, do you know what? In the end, the difference in the biggest game of the 1967 season and one of the best since the ears of helmets stopped flapping, was that this guy with a name like a Russian poet, Zenon Andrusyshyn, couldn't place-kick the ball over this other guy with a name like the president of the Van Nuys Jaycees—Bill Hayhoe. And that was the contest. Andrusyshyn would try to side-boot a field goal or extra point for UCLA, and Hayhoe, who happens to be 6'8", would raise up. The ball would go splat, plink or karang. The last time Hayhoe did it, he tipped the leather just enough to make the Bruins fail on a precious conversion, and USC got away with a 21-20 victory in a spectacle that will surely be remembered for ages, or at least as long as German-born, Ukrainian, Canadian-bred soccer-style kickers play the game.
Of course, it is not exactly fair to insinuate that Zenon Andrusyshyn, the German-Ukrainian-Canadian, was the goat of the whole desperate afternoon. Though only a sophomore, he is a splendid kicker who boomed punts into the California heavens all day, and it appears that if the ball is given time to rise, he is capable of place-kicking one more than 60 yards. Rather, it is more accurate to give credit to USC's John McKay for one of those little coaching touches that sometimes supplies a subtle edge. This time it proved to be a subtle edge that gave McKay the most important game of his life.
"We knew he kicked it low, so we just put the tallest guy we had in there on defense," said McKay later, in what may have been the happiest dressing room since showers were invented. "We told the kids it wasn't so important that they bust through and make him rush the kicks as it was just getting to the scrimmage line and raising their arms high."
In his wry, twinkling way, McKay then lit a cigar and said, "I call that brilliant coaching."
Everything about the day was brilliant, of course—as more than 90,000 limp souls in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum certainly noted, and as millions of others watching on national television must have, too. Led by those folklore characters, Gary Beban and O. J. Simpson, both teams played extremely well, considering the slightly barbaric circumstances. Not only was the national championship quite probably at stake, but so were a few other odds and ends, such as the Rose Bowl bid, the Pacific Eight title, the Heisman Trophy, some All-America trinkets and a couple of coaching reputations. That both squads and staffs went into the gnawing pressure of this kind of Saturday with such poise was unique enough. But that they also managed to litter the premises with so much brilliant play was downright against the rules for games of the century, era, decade, year (choose one). There can only be one reason why the Trojans and Bruins responded so well to the occasion, and it is that they are, quite simply, the two best teams in the U.S. this season.
Some of the big stakes in the game were indeed decided by that one-point margin, which is growing fatter by the hour. USC's 9-1 record measured against the quality of its schedule makes the Trojans the most deserving team for all the No. 1 cups and saucers. The Trojans are also in the Rose Bowl, where they apparently are going to meet Minnesota and certainly not Purdue, thanks to an idiotic Big Ten rule. Some things obviously were not settled last Saturday, however, like, for instance, the individual duel between UCLA's Beban and USC's Simpson.
Although neither player was 100% perfect physically, both were superb in clutch after clutch. While he practically had to crawl to the sideline no less than five times to regain his breath because of his injured ribs, Beban whirled the Bruins to three touchdowns, passing for more than 300 yards, giving his team a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, a 14-14 tie in the third and a 20-14 lead in the fourth.
Meanwhile, Simpson, his right foot throbbing inside a shoe with a special sponge cover, wearily hobbled away from piles of brutal tacklers and eventually managed to race for a total of 177 yards, including the touchdowns that put the Trojans ahead 14-7 and finally 21-20.
Had the Heisman Trophy award, therefore, really been decided by a couple of young men named Zenon Andrusyshyn and Bill Hayhoe? As Jim Murray of the
Los Angeles Times
said, 'They should send the Heisman out here with two straws."
There had been an agonizing wait for this game. It began when USC climbed to No. 1 after its third win, and the agony increased when the Bruins eased up to No. 2 for a few weeks. Ironically, big-game lime found Prothro's Bruins in No. 1 and McKay's Trojans two deep breaths below. Oregon State had caught USC sagging under the burden of No. 1, and on a muddy field at a perfect psychological time and—with not too bad a team, of course—had scored a 3-0 upset. All this made last week's pregame rituals of special significance. As unusual as anything else was the fact that UCLA was on top of the polls but USC was a three-point favorite.