The greatest crosstown college football rivalry is USC and UCLA, with campuses only 12 miles apart.
It has produced some of the most exciting games in college football, but none better than the 1967 game.
This game also means the most to me because it is the reason that I decided to attend USC in 1968, where I met my incredible wife of 39 years.
On this very special Thanksgiving Day, I am very thankful for my wonderful family, friends, health and of course Trojan football, without which I would have a very different life.
Since the formation of the Pacific Coast Conference in 1916, USC has won or shared 37 conference titles and UCLA has won or shared 17 titles.
Everything was at stake in the 1967 game—the conference title, Rose Bowl bid, Heisman Trophy and the National Championship, as the top-ranked UCLA Bruins (7-0-1) visited No. 2 USC Trojans (8-1).
The amazing part is that it lived up to all the hype. The intensity was insane from start to finish.
UCLA began the season ranked eighth, and USC was seventh. The Trojans had been ranked No. 1 for six weeks since beating No. 5 Texas and then Michigan State. USC also beat No. 5 Notre Dame.
The Bruins were also a Top 10 team, becoming No. 2 before tying Oregon State on November 4. A week later, Oregon State would beat top-ranked USC 3-0 in a downpour, and O.J. Simpson could not get going on the muddy field.
USC dropped to No. 2 in the UPI and No. 4 in the AP, while UCLA beat Washington 48-0 and became the No. 1 ranked team.
It was likely that the winner of the game would be the AP National Champion, because the final poll was published at the end of the regular season that year.
ABC started showing college football on TV in color the previous season. NCAA rules only allowed eight national and five regional telecasts during the season. This game was the ABC game of the week and presented in color with “Slo Mo replay” with Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson calling the plays.
UCLA’s QB Gary Beban and USC’s RB O.J. Simpson were No. 1 and No. 2 in the Heisman race. Both had fantastic games.
The scoring began when RB Greg Jones ran 12 yards for a TD.
After a Trojan punt, Beban had the Bruins moving on the 41-yard line. The next play resulted in a pick-six interception by USC LB Pat Cashman, who returned it 55 yards because he was not fooled by Beban’s fake to the right and jumped in front of RB Jones. This turned the game around.
In the second quarter, UCLA kicker Zenon Andrusyshyn missed a FB. USC speedster WR Earl McCullough ran 52 yards on a reverse and caught a 13-yard pass. Then Simpson ran 13 yards for a TD through most of the UCLA defense, dragging two tacklers into the end zone.
Beban hit George Farmer for a 53-yard TD pass in the third quarter to tie the score.
UCLA dominated the second half despite Beban having to be helped off the field numerous times due to badly bruised ribs.
Twice he drove the Bruins within FG range, but USC coach John McKay put 6’8” Bill Hayhoe in the middle of the line because Andrusyshyn kicked with a low trajectory and they were both blocked.
Early in the fourth quarter, Beban threw a TD pass to Dave Nuttal, but the extra point was tipped by Hayhoe and went wide.
One memory stands above the rest, but you had to see it live to truly appreciate it.
With 10:38 left in the game, USC was on its 36-yard line with a 3rd-and-7. Trojan QB Toby Page called a pass play and then saw Bruin LBs drop back into pass coverage. He called an audible (“23 blast”) and handed off to Simpson.
Simpson veered to the left sideline, got a block from FB Dan Scott and then cut back to the middle to run 64 yards for a TD. The extra point gave the Trojans a 21-20 lead.
UCLA could never cross midfield again, as Beban could barely move or breathe, and the Trojans won the game.
Beban passed for 301 yards, and Simpson finished with two TDs on 30 carries for 177 yards.
Beban did beat out Simpson for the 1967 Heisman Trophy, because Simpson was a junior and it was rarely given to an underclassman in those days. I got to watch Simpson win it the following year as a USC freshman.
USC went on to beat the No. 4 Big Ten champions Indiana Hoosiers 14-3 in the 1968 Rose Bowl to become the undisputed national champions.
Although the Trojans are currently favored by 14 points, this doesn’t mean much in this series.
USC and UCLA have the Pac-12 South Division championship at stake—and a lot more if you consider the Trojan sanction situation and the Bruin coaching status.
So it should be a good game. But nothing can match the 1967 Trojan victory over the Bruins.
*Week 13 AP ranking