Honestly, even though I do remember the 1967 college football season because that’s when football got into my blood, I didn’t have a lot of memories of the Heisman Trophy winner of that season.
Gary Beban of UCLA won the coveted trophy of all trophies for college football that season, and since he was a major flop in the NFL, I had always assumed he was just some overrated stiff that some misguided folks just handed the award out to and that he didn’t deserve it.
After watching some video of him and the Game of the Century in 1967, I will just go ahead and admit that I made a mistake.
I was wrong.
Gary Beban was a good college football player.
Winning the Heisman Trophy has never been a guarantee of NFL greatness. One really has nothing to do with the other. Sure, a few Heisman winners have gone on to great careers in the NFL like 1968 Heisman winner OJ Simpson and many others like Charles Woodson, Barry Sanders, Tim Brown, Marcus Allen, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, and Roger Staubach.
However, for as many successful NFL players that won a Heisman Trophy, there has been even more of these winners that have underachieved in the world’s biggest and best football league and some have even totally and completely failed. Besides, Gary Beban, the list is huge including the only two time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, Steve Owens, Mike Rozier, Andre Ware, Ty Detmar, Gino Torretta and so many more.
Gary Beban was a gamer.
Despite UCLA’s outstanding success in basketball winning 10 out of 12 NCAA championships while under the guidance of the more than legendary John Wooden, they won a championship in football only in 1954. But, even that one was shared and they have not been much of a consistent challenger for national titles. In spite of that, they have had a large number of great players and great teams. Gary Beban and the 1967 team fit into both of those categories.
Football has changed a great deal since the 1960’s. The biggest change of all may have come in the high school ranks. Those old coaches were running offenses from the stone ages and many would say that the 1960’s really were the primitive years of football. In 1963 High school football was by some accounts still playing football games in Wing T offenses, or the straight T. I did not play in 1963, but as late as 1971 I was a starting halfback in a Straight T offense.
Gary Beban was a single wing tailback at Sequoia High School in Redwood, California and by any accounts I have ever seen was good but nothing spectacular.
He was recruited to play football at UCLA by then head Bruin coach Bill Barnes, but school Athletic Directors and alumni tend to frown on poor accomplishments on the football field and Barnes was fired when the Bruins went 4-6 in 1964. Beban was laboring away on the UCLA freshman team that season. Freshmen playing on the varsity was still a few years away back in the 1964 college football season.
In 1965, the UCLA Bruins brought in Tommy Prothro who installed sophomore Gary Beban as his starting Quarterback. Beban and the Bruins went 8-2-1 on the season capped off with a Rose Bowl win over the Michigan State Spartans. Oh, and that particular Michigan State team that the UCLA Bruins beat were #1 ranked and undefeated. Many considered that Spartan team their best one in school history.
During the 1966 season, the Bruins got one of the more major shafts in the history of big time college football. USC finished the season at 7-3. UCLA finished the year at 9-1, including a 14-7 win over the Trojans. But, USC played one more conference game than the Bruins by something of an accident, as a scheduling mistake, and was awarded the Rose Bowl berth.
The Bruins had a great season in 1966, but had to stay home for the holidays in one of the strangest things I have seen in the sport. Beban actually didn’t have the same kind of season that he had as a sophomore but he set himself up for a big senior season.
I was just a child back in 1967, but I am extremely positive there was nowhere near the hype we have in today’s media regarding Heisman Trophy races.
The UCLA Bruins were ranked #8 early in the season on September 16th when the 9th ranked Tennessee Volunteers came to town.
The Vols had the Bruins down 16-13 late in the 4th quarter when Gary Beban slowly led his team down field. But, the stout Volunteer defense with Jim ‘Hawksaw’ Reynolds and Steve Kiner at Linebacker had the Bruins on the ropes with a 4th and 2 at the Tennessee 27 yard line with about 4
minutes remaining in the game.
Beban made a spectacular 27 yard Touchdown run to put the Bruins out front 20-16 to win the game and the chances of Beban winning the Heisman just shot up dramatically. Tennessee proved how real the UCLA Bruins were in 1967 by winning the SEC with an unbeaten record.
The Bruins beat Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania, 17-15, in October to improve to 4-0 on the year. They made it to 6-0 before running into the Giant Killers of Oregon State, who surprised them with a 16-16 tie in Los Angeles. You can read about the Giant Killers here: http://collegefootballcrazy.com/the-earthquake-and-the-giant-killers/
The UCLA Bruins and Gary Beban went into their rivalry game against USC at 7-0-1 and with the number one ranking in the nation. USC was number four, or number two depending on which poll you believed.
The Bruins wound up losing to the Trojans but it was all about blocked extra points and Field Goals both missed and blocked.
Beban suffered a severe beating by the Trojans defense during this game and actually had some bruised ribs. In spite of having to be helped off the field, Beban kept coming back and the game ended with Beban being sacked while attempting to throw for the End Zone.
He never quit fighting.
Soon after, Gary Beban would win the Heisman Trophy edging out OJ Simpson and Leroy Keyes. He was a Consensus All American and also a winner of the Maxwell Award as the best college football player of the year.
Because Beban flopped in the NFL doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great college player because he was. He was a winner on the football field and off. After a fizzled NFL career, Gary Beban joined the CB Richard Ellis Real Estate Group where he would later become it’s leader and President.
Beban was a leader and a winner and a legend of the game.