by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

The college football season is now in high gear, with conference matchups finally beginning to take over the weekly schedule. And while early autumn is a bit soon for the most-heated of traditional rivalries (outside of the annual Texas-Oklahoma bloodbath at Dallas in early October), there are some tasty encounters over the next couple of weeks with a colorful history behind them that overlap with some of the earlier publishing years of TGS. Beneath the surface, some of these rivalries still bubble, and are worth a reminder before we commit this space to an MLB Playoffs preview next week.

The following October 6 weekend will feature what was once one of our favorite rivalries, and one that burned brightly in the 60s when it featured a succession of memorable games and hard-to-believe wild swings of the pendulum spiced further by plenty of not-so-well-disguised dislike. In fact, we feel a bit sorry for the modern-day fans of UCLA and Washington who might not realize how that series (which doesn’t renew annually anymore) might have been one of the most fractious in the nation for a spell in the 60s into the 70s. Bruins fans, in particular, might welcome a chance to recollect, as they could use some cheering up these days.

The upcoming book, “McKay vs. Prothro 1965-70: When the USC-UCLA Rivalry Raged,” due on bookshelves next September, will recall some of these forgotten glories for Bruins backers, highlighting those memorable years and teams. For UCLA, games vs. Washington were often talking points of the Tommy Prothro era, though the rivalry would shift into higher gear a couple of years before Prothro took over in Westwood. In particular, in 1963, a season being mentioned often these days by longtime Bruins supporters forced to recall the lowest ebbs for the program post-World War II, thanks to the travails of Chip Kelly’s current winless edition. While ‘63 was a particularly dismal autumn in Westwood, as UCLA struggled to a 2-8 mark, it was not without a few memorable moments, most of those courtesy of the game vs. Washington. The Huskies were steaming toward the Big Six crown and close to clinching a Rose Bowl bid when they entered the LA Coliseum on November 16, heavily favored (by two TDs) to trounce a 1-7 Bill Barnes-coached UCLA team that had just been blanked at home by non-descript Cal, 25-0, and blasted 48-21 at Air Force. Even the LA Times gave the Bruins little chance; on page one of the sports section, noted sports cartoonist Pete Bentovoja devoted his entire piece of humorous artwork that Saturday morning to the seemingly-hopeless Bruin cause (“It looks like a long afternoon for the Uclans!”). With top RB Junior Coffey having recently returned to the Husky lineup, UCLA’s chances looked especially bleak.

Only someone forgot to tell the Bruins they were to be roadkill that Saturday, only 18 or so hours after USC and Oregon State had battled Friday night on the same Coliseum field. Washington, two weeks after notching an important 22-7 win over the defending national champ Trojans in an effective Rose Bowl showdown at Seattle, did not approach the same sort of emotional crescendo against the Bruins, whose much-maligned “D” would dig deep and put the collar around Coffey and Husky QB Bill Douglas. UCLA’s offense did just enough, with TD drives engineered by “passing” QB Steve Sindell and the first half and “running” QB Larry Zeno in the second half, both scores via throws to clever end Byron Nelson, who would catch 10 passes on the afternoon. The passing attack moved smartly, with over 200 yards thru the air (very good numbers for 1963), and U-Dub was held to a mere 146 yards of offense. The shocking 14-0 upset would temporarily cloud the Big Six (precursor of the AAWU, Pac-8, Pac-10, and Pac-12) Rose Bowl picture and likely save Barnes' job. Washington’s invitation to Pasadena was now in jeopardy, especially if the Huskies couldn’t beat rival Washington State the next week. Meanwhile, even at 2-7, UCLA found itself in the Rose Bowl hunt as its league record at that point was 2-1 (the other win a 10-9 root canal vs. Stanford in early October). A win over USC the following week coupled with a Washington loss created the frightening prospect of a 3-7 Bruins team actually earning a Rose Bowl invitation! (At that point it seemed as if Michigan State would be the Big Ten rep, though a subsequent Thanksgiving loss to the Illinois of Dick Butkus would put the Illini in Pasadena.)

Alas, the nation exploded on Friday of that week when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Suddenly college football didn’t seem very important, with most, though curiously not all, of the games scheduled for that weekend either postponed or cancelled. Among the former were USC-UCLA and Washington-WSU, which would instead play the following Saturday, November 30. The Huskies made sure there was no further drama by grinding out a 16-0 win over the Cougs to earn a Pasadena invitation. Meanwhile, the Trojans removed any chance the Big Six could consider tendering a Rose Bowl invite to lowly UCLA by pounding the Bruins, 26-6.

Prothro’s arrival in 1965, however, brought the Washington rivalry to full boil. Especially as he and Huskies HC Jim Owens had already developed a bit of a personal rivalry from preceding years when Prothro coached at Oregon State.  UCLA had surprisingly emerged as an AAWU contender that season behind do-it-all soph QB Gary Beban and big-play jr. RB Mel Farr, and had risen to No. 8 in the polls exiting October.  Yet when the teams met on November 6, it was the Huskies doing all of the business in the first half, with heretofore pedestrian QB Tod Hullin passing the Bruins silly en route to a staggering 354 YP, almost unheard-of numbers in 1965. His main target was rangy split end Dave Williams, a future St. Louis football Cardinal who caught 3 TD passes within the first 17 minutes of the game. Lucky to be down only 24-14 at the break, Prothro adjusted UCLA’s defense in the second half, firing blitzes at Hullin, whose pair of interceptions and a fumble, all in Bruin territory, would thwart the Huskies down the stretch. After Beban got the Bruins within 24-21 with a 60-yard TD run on the first play of the second half, UCLA used some trickery on its next possession. Washington, always slow to break from its defensive huddle, was not paying attention as Bruin flanker Dick Witcher sauntered to the sideline, looking for the world as if headed for the bench. But...no! Instead, at the snap, he was in-bounds and bolted upfield, well behind the sleeping Husky DBs, an easy target for Beban on a 60-yard TD bomb (above right). The “Z-Streak” as suggested by assistant Pepper Rodgers had worked; UCLA had a 28-24 lead it would not relinquish! Owens, however, was privately seething at this sleight-of-hand "sleeper play" maneuver by Prothro, and vowed revenge while the Bruins completed their Cinderella ‘65 by upsetting both USC in the Rose Bowl decider and top-ranked Michigan State in Pasadena.

When UCLA made the return trip to Seattle the following November 5, Owens would set a trap...covered in mud. The Bruins, looking even better in ‘66 than ‘65, entered as the nation’s highest-scoring team at 36 ppg, unbeaten at 7-0, and ranked 3rd nationally. But the conditions at Husky Stadium were brutal, with a familiar cold, damp rain contributing to a heavy pitch that more resembled quicksand between the hash-marks. (This was two years before AstroTurf would be installed at Husky Stadium.) “The grass was the longest I ever remembered on a football field,” future UCLA HC Terry Donahue, then a feisty, if a bit undersized, defensive lineman for the Bruins, related to us recently. “Combined with the rain, it made for a very slow track, negating our speed. We just couldn’t get going. What also really hurt us was an injury to our center, John Erquiaga.” Donahue's recollections about the condition of the field concurred with many others on the Bruin side at the time who believed Owens, a la San Francisco Giants manager Alvin Dark a few years earlier, ordering the Candlestick Park diamond to be watered to slow Dodgers base-stealer Maury Wills, did all he could to ensure heavy going on the pitch. Unlike Hullin’s aerial show the previous year, however, Washington did it with defense and minimal offense, indeed gaining only 191 yards for the afternoon. But an 80-yard kickoff return by HB Jim Sartoris midway in the 2nd Q set up the Huskies inside the Bruin 15, from where FB Jeff Jordan eventually rammed over from the 1 for a 10-3 lead. In the 3rd Q, the U-Dub “D” took control as former juco CB Frank Smith stepped in front of a Beban pass and raced 29 yards for a TD to extend the lead to 16-3. UCLA continued to try, but was repelled on a couple of drives deep into Huskies’ territory in the 2nd half. Beban would have a miserable day, completing only 7 of 24 passes with 2 picks. The 16-3 Washington win would bring great satisfaction to Owens, who had been seething for a year at Prothro’s supposed gamesmanship from 1965. “We’ve been waiting a year for this one,” said the jubilant Owens afterward. “It was the best defensive game I can remember.”  By stationing his defenders wide to deny Beban and Farr the edge, and stationing his linemen more than a yard from the line of scrimmage in order to help offset the quickness of the Bruin forward wall, Owens had constructed a brilliant game plan...helped more than a bit by the field conditions.

The loss proved the lone blemish on an otherwise perfect ‘66 for Prothro, and it was a devastating L. UCLA closed its season with wins over Stanford and USC, Beban going down with a broken ankle in the former, only for backup Norman Dow to ride to the rescue. (Terry Donahue, when reminiscing with us recently about the ‘65 & ‘66 teams, had great praise for the backup QB. “You know, those teams really had two, maybe three great players, and a bunch of grinders,” said Donahue. “The two great players were obvious...Beban and Farr. The third might have been Norman Dow.”) The Washington loss, however, was the problem; because of it, the Bruins could do no better than 3-1 in AAWU play. With one extra conference game, USC would finish 4-1. (This was due to a scheduling master plan drawn up in 1959, after the old PCC disbanded; UCLA would only play four league games thru ‘66, and wouldn’t get to its full capacity of seven games until 1969, when Oregon, part of the bad blood between the Northwest schools and the L.A.-area schools, finally appeared on the Bruin slate). A vote of AAWU schools would determine the Rose Bowl rep, and USC was the choice even though it lost to the Bruins. Most believed the conference felt it owed the Trojans after bypassing them in favor of Oregon State in a similar vote two years prior.

Hard as it is to believe today, the UCLA student body became irate at the decision, organizing a protest march down Wilshire Boulevard and onto the nearby San Diego Freeway, temporarily stopping traffic on the busy thoroughfare. (More details on this unique episode will be found in McKay vs. Prothro when it hits the bookshelves next fall.) USC would end up hardly justifying the conference's decision, proceeding to get destroyed the following Saturday by Notre Dame, 51-0, and losing the Rose Bowl to Purdue, 14-13. In retrospect, the Washington loss potentially cost UCLA more than the Rose Bowl berth; had the Bruins avoided the upset in Seattle, they likely finish the season unbeaten and untied, and a win in the Rose Bowl (in which UCLA would have been favored, even if Beban had not returned from his injury vs. Purdue) would have put UCLA and Alabama as the only unbeaten and untied teams in the country. Would it have been enough to finish ahead of unbeaten but once-tied Notre Dame and Michigan State in the polls?  We’ll never know, but interesting to comtemplate, even more than a half-century later.
That backdrop was not forgotten the next time the Bruins and Huskies met on November 11, 1967. Again, UCLA was riding high in the polls, ranked fourth entering the game, but that was a drop of two spots from the previous week for the Uclans, who were held to a 16-16 draw by surging Oregon State, which had KO’d top-ranked Purdue in its preceding game (and would beat then top-ranked USC the same day as Huskies-Bruins). Though UCLA had looked a bit sluggish since a stirring opening-week win over highly-regarded Tennessee, with the Oregon State tie preceded by a narrow escape at Stanford. Meanwhile, Washington, though only 4-3, seemed formidable, having beaten the same Oregon State earlier in the season, and possessing another rock-ribbed defense ranked behind only top-ranked USC’s in league play. UCLA was an 11-point favorite, but no shortage of scribes, many recalling 1966, forecast tough sledding for the Bruins.

Whether it was the memory from 1966, or the wake-up call from the preceding week courtesy Oregon State, the Bruins wasted no time tearing into the Huskies. Backed up on their own 8-yard line on the first possession after a deep punt by U-Dub’s Don Martin, Beban immediately went to work, uncorking a bomb for track star Ron Copeland, who caught the ball just past midfield and raced all of the way to the Husky 23. That 69-yard gain set up an 8-yard pass from Beban to HB Greg Jones three plays later for a score to put UCLA up 7-0, and the rout was on. Prothro's offense scored twice more before the end of the first quarter. Tallies continued to pour across in the 2nd Q, the last two on one-play drives featuring Beban TD strikes to Dave Nuttall (36 yards) and Harold Busby (42 yards). At the break the score was 41-0 (!), the most devastating half of football played by the Bruins since the halcyon days of the Red Sanders era more than a decade before. In the end the score would be 48-0, and UCLA would hold a 500-128 advantage in total yardage while not allowing the Huskies to cross midfield. It was the worst-ever loss for a Jim Owens-coached Washington team. “Beban was fantastic,” said Owens afterward. “That first bomb (to Copeland) took the starch out of us.”  Indeed, Beban's breathtaking performance vs. U-Dub, coupled with his heroic effort the following week in an epic showdown vs. OJ Simpson's USC, helped secure him the Heisman Trophy. So impressive were the Bruins in that 48-0 victory that UCLA would rise to number one in the polls the following week.

The late ‘60s, however, were not a highlight-reel era for the Huskies. Owens’ teams, which had been beastly due to their physicality in the days of one-platoon football, had been on the decline since their last Rose Bowl visit in ‘63, coinciding with the change to two platoon-rules. By ‘68, the descent was accelerating, but before hitting bottom, Owens had his next shot at Prothro on another dark and damp late November afternoon in Seattle, one of the last chances to salvage something from a season that could only record a 2-4-2 W-L mark to that point. Unlike the previous few years, however, the Bruins were not ranked entering the battle; the season had gotten away from Prothro in October, when a succession of injuries depleted the roster, and five losses in six games had dropped the record to 3-5. And neither of Beban’s successors at QB, Bill Bolden nor Jim Nader, provided similar flair, or anything close to it. The grass/mud track in Seattle had also been replaced by AstroTurf, then a novel product, and UCLA would be able to compare that surface to the Tartan Turf it played on at Tennessee a few weeks earlier. A fan of neither was RB Greg Jones, who recently related to us his dislike of the artificial stuff. “At Tennessee, my elbow pad slid down my arm on one play and I ended up with a bad rug burn,” said Jones. “It was awful, became infected, and bothered me the rest of the season. I was not much of a fan (of the carpet.)” 

The Seattle version of the rug would more resemble an ice rink when soaked, and offenses understandably did little on this gloomy 1968 Saturday afternoon. In fact, they did next to nothing; after U-Dub moved 75 yards to a score on its first possession with a 13-yard TD pass from QB Gene Willis to end Ace Bulger, the scoreboard operator could have gone to sleep. Even the PAT was botched. Try as UCLA did, it could never dent the dish, bogged down by four interceptions between Bolden and Nader, two of those in the 4th Q when the Bruins were knocking on the door for a potential winning score. In the end, the 6-0 scoreline would mark the first shutout of a Prothro UCLA team, but there were some notable accolades for Washington DB Al Worley, who snagged his then-NCAA record 14th interception of the season (which has since been matched by Louisville's Gerod Holliman in 2014, but yet to be topped) as the Huskies would up their season pick total to a school record 28. The game was no artistic masterpiece (“I expected it to be a higher-scoring game,” said Owens afterward), but in a campaign that would conclude with a humiliating 24-0 loss the next week at Spokane vs. Washington State, Owens was glad for any win he could get.

By the next season, Owens would be looking back at 1968 with envy. In '69, everything went wrong in Seattle while things were turning up rosy for Prothro, who had uncovered a JC quarterback from Long Beach City College, Dennis Dummit, to reignite an offense that had gone stale in 1968. The differences could not have been more stark; entering their November 1 game at the LA Coliseum; UCLA, ranked 9th, hadn’t lost (though once-tied courtesy Jim Plunkett’s Stanford the previous week) and U-Dub hadn’t won, losing its first six of the season. Indeed, Owens might have been better served to forfeit the game; after suspending four black players, the remaining eight black players on the team decided not to make the trip to LA, though it was rumored that militants had become involved and warned the eight non-suspended black players of consequences if they didn’t follow through with their own boycott. It was a nightmare for Owens, whose daughter would also be forced from her car and accosted on the way home the next week, in an apparent reprisal for the racial upheaval on the team.

The UCLA game was bad enough; shed of most of his running backs, Owens was forced to the air early, and before the game reached the one-minute mark, Bruin DB Dennis Spurling had picked off a Gene Willis pass and returned it 27 yards for a score. Like 1967, the rout was on for Prothro, though this never felt like a fair fight. By the end of the first quarter the score was 23-0; by halftime it was 33-7. Before the smoke would clear, Husky QBs Willis and Steve Hanzlik would combine to toss a staggering 8 interceptions. Though Prothro subbed liberally throughout the game and especially in the in the second half, when backup QB Jim Nader took the snaps, the Bruins continued to score...and kick field goals, with Zenon Andrusyshyn connecting on his last of three for the day inside of four minutes to play. Most observers believed if Prothro wanted, the final score could have been much worse than 57-14. As for Owens, he had other things on his mind before and after the game, like his job; nowadays it’s hard to envision a coach surviving similar circumstances. But Owens, still popular in the Pacific Northwest from his successes earlier in the decade, and generating some sympathy from the locals, partly in response to the assault on his daughter, would actually solidify his position in the weeks that followed. The UCLA game seemed quickly forgotten...but not, apparently, by Owens.

As in ‘66, and in ‘68, the “Big Guy” would remember the scoreline from the previous year at the Coliseum and set yet another trap at Husky Stadium for Prothro when the Bruins next visited on November 14, 1970. By the end of the day, Prothro wished his team had stayed home.

Owens and the Huskies had made a recovery from the rubble of 1969, which was only salvaged by a win over rival WSU in what might have been the all-time low for the Apple Cup; both teams finished the season at 1-9. But unlike Wazzu, Owens had bounced back, finally coming into the modern era of football with soph QB Sonny Sixkiller, a full-blooded Cherokee who would sling the ball all across the field. Close losses to Cal, USC, and Stanford belied the 4-4 record entering the UCLA game.  U-Dub was suddenly capable of exploding big on offense, and Owens had his team primed to avenge previous humiliations inflicted by nemesis Prothro. Another slick AstroTurf field in Seattle didn’t help the Bruins, either, though this time it wasn’t heavy rain causing it to be wet; Owens, never one to miss a tirck, had the rug watered before the game, to the dismay of Prothro.

Sixkiller came out firing and U-Dub jumped the Bruins, who entered the game 5-3, but those losses by a combined 6 points, two of them vs. highly-ranked Texas (then the defending national champ) and Stanford. This one, however, wasn’t close. Two long TD passes from Sixkiller in the 1st Q staked the Huskies to a 17-0 lead, which grew to 24-0 five minutes into the 2nd Q on a 1-yard dive by FB Bo Cornell. The rout, however, would have to wait; in danger of going down 31-0, Prothro's team briefly responded when S Doug Huff made an interception in his end zone and returned the ball to near midfield. UCLA’s best stretch of the game would follow in the middle and end portions of the 2nd Q, when two Dummit-led drives cut the halftime gap to 24-12. The Bruins threatened to close the deficit further in the 3rd Q when Dummit spotted a wide-open WR Reggie Echols, a track sprinter, in the clear for what would have surely been an 81-yard TD. But Echols bobbled and then dropped the ball, and that was about it for the Bruins. “I let Echols’ drop get to me,” said a downcast Dummit after the game. “I lost my cool. This was the worst game of my career.” He had a point; his four picks confirmed as much.

The floodgates would really open in the 4th Q after the score had reached 34-12. Dummit had moved the Bruins deep into Husky territory in a last futile flail at the game, but Husky LB Jim Katsenes stepped in front of a Dummit pass and took it back 86 yards for a TD and a 41-12 lead. That, however, wasn’t enough for Owens, who was not about to bypass a chance to run up a score on Prothro. Even with Sixkiller out of the game, and up 41-12, Owens instructed backup QB Greg Collins to go for the throat. With under 5 minutes to play, Collins uncorked a bomb for end Al Maurer, who hauled in a 46-yard TD. On the first play after the kickoff, the Huskies stripped the ball from Bruin HB Art Sims, recovered by U-Dub DE Ken Lee. Collins would toss another TD pass four plays later, and Owens, smelling blood, opted for a 2-point conversion! Collins’ toss was incomplete, but with the delirious capacity homecoming crowd begging for more, Owens obliged...ordering an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff!  The way things were going on this unbelievably delighful afternoon for Owens, it was no surprise that U-Dub recovered, and within 2 plays had scored again on another bomb from Collins to Mauer, this one 45 yards, and Maurer’s third TD of the game, just 17 seconds after the previous score. Within a span of 1:18, the Huskies had piled up three more TDs, and 41-12 ballooned to 61-12! UCLA saved a little face when backup QB Jim Nader led a last minute drive to a TD on a pass to FB Randy Tyler with 8 seconds to play, and a subsequent 2-point conversion pass to FB Gary Campbell made the final score 61-20.  All little consolation for the Bruins, who were spared no humiliation from the local sports press the following week (with headlines such as this one the next day in the Long Beach Press-Telegram sports section, "Just Call Him Sonny 61-Killer!")

Owens was proud of his handiwork after the game and made no excuses about running up the score. “We wanted to get back at UCLA for the 57 points they scored last year,” said Big Jim after the game. “That was the reason we tried an onside kick in the 4th quarter and also attempted a 2-point conversion. Last year they caught us short and we wanted to reciprocate.” No one ever accused Owens of being anything other than refreshingly honest, though it didn’t sit well with the Bruins, especially Dennis Dummit. “Last year in the Coliseum we could have scored 100 points,” said the Bruins QB, “but we put the second string into the game as early as the first quarter. It was pretty obvious we could have run up the score.”

The humiliation in Seattle, however, had a silver lining for the Bruins. Looking to atone, and steely-eyed for crosstown rival USC the next week, Prothro’s team jumped on the Trojans as if nothing happened at Husky Stadium. By halftime the score was 38-14; at the end it was 45-20, one of UCLA’s biggest-ever romps vs. its crosstown rival. If nothing else, the debacle vs. U-Dub generated quite an angry response the following week from the Bruins.

Prothro never got another chance at Owens, leaving to coach the LA Rams after the season. Big Jim, however, continued as a thorn in the Bruins’ side, beating them three of the next four years before retiring after the ‘74 campaign. Until the end, Owens always knew the score; his final Huskies team would roll a 66-0 count on Oregon the year after the Ducks would destroy a depleted U-Dub, 58-0, results that still account for the greatest 2-year reversal of scorelines in NCAA history.  UCLA felt his wrath one more time, too, as Big Jim avenged a savage 62-13 beating administered by Pepper Rodgers' ultra-explosive Bruin wishbone in '73 (when UCLA scorched the defenseless Huskies with a school-record  671 yards...556 on the ground!) with a punishing 31-9 win over Dick Vermeil's first Westwood edition in '74, unleashing jumbo-sized FB Robin Earl, a converted TE who pounded UCLA for 152 YR between the tackles. Owens, as the series "rules" at that time seemd to dictate, once again did not take his foot off of the pedal, even with the Bruins badly depleted by injuries, ordering four passes in the last minute, including a 24-yard TDP to WR Scott Phillips with 24 seconds to play, following U-Dub's fifth interception on the gloomy day of UCLA"s first-time starter at QB, 17-year old frosh Steve Bukich.   The subsequent exit of Owens did not end the antagonism; the rivalry would continue in a spirited fashion with teams coached by the aforementioend Terry Donahue and Don James, and many more colorful games into the ‘90s.

It’s not what it used to be, but trust us when we say it was awfully entertaining and compelling stuff when Washington and UCLA used to get together!

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