The latter half of the 1960s were glory years for sports in Los Angeles and few names loomed larger than UCLA quarterback Gary Beban, the 1967 Heisman Trophy winner.
Beban — dubbed “The Great One” — used his legs and arm to lead the Bruins to a 23-5-2 record and a Rose Bowl championship during his three seasons as UCLA’s starting quarterback from 1965 to 1967.
Born in San Francisco on August 5, 1946, Beban graduated in 1964 from Sequoia High in Redwood City, Calif., where he twice earned All-League honors as a single-wing running back. He grew up idolizing Heisman-winning backs like John David Crow and Joe Bellino, but he was destined to be a quarterback in college. He enrolled at UCLA in the fall of 1964, in an era when freshmen were not eligible for varsity ball.
The trajectory of his career changed after his freshman year when UCLA hired Oregon State’s Tommy Prothro as head coach in January of 1965. Just three years earlier, Prothro guided Terry Baker to the West Coast’s first Heisman. His new pupil in Westwood shared many of the same gifts as Baker — athleticism, running ability, leadership — and Beban won the starting quarterback position as a sophomore.
“Sometimes you get very fortunate and you jump on a magic carpet like we did with Coach Prothro and his coaches, and for three years you fly to athletic achievements that are grander than your wildest dreams,” Beban told the L.A. Daily News recently. “That’s what happened to us.”
It helped to have a talent like Beban at quarterback. The 6-foot, 180-pounder was brilliant in his first campaign as a starter, passing for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns while rushing for 590 yards and 14 scores as UCLA finished 8-2-1 and fifth in the final polls. The season was highlighted by a dramatic 20-16 victory over USC, followed by an upset victory over Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
Beban led UCLA to an even better record in 1966, throwing for 1,245 yards and six scores and rushing for 454 yards and 10 touchdowns as the Bruins finished 9-1 and again placed fifth in the polls. For the first time, Beban flashed on the Heisman radar, finishing fourth behind Steve Spurrier.
All signs pointed to a strong run at the Heisman in 1967. But for Beban, team goals were paramount.
“That season was really about going for No. 1,” said Beban. “We were seniors and that had been our goal. We had finished fifth in the previous years, so we knew we had a shot at it.”
Beban and the Bruins stormed out of the gate in ’67, cruising to a 7-0-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking at one point in the season. He threw for 1,359 yards and eight touchdowns while rushing for 227 and 11 scores, but UCLA missed out on a possible national title by losing a hard-fought 21-20 decision to eventual national champ USC in the penultimate regular season contest. It was one of the epic games in college football history. Beban threw for a season-high 301 yards and two touchdowns despite playing through intense pain with injured ribs. But the physical pain was nothing compared to the pain of losing that game.
“(A national title) is what we had been shooting for in the four years we were at UCLA,” said Beban. “Yeah, it was heartbreaking to lose by one point that day but, over time, we’ve all realized we were all glad we were able to play in those kind of games. Even though we lost, not many people can say they played in a game of that magnitude.”
Beban’s career numbers were dazzling: 4,070 passing yards, 1,280 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns scored. He was a fine student, too, majoring in European History. His academic prowess was recognized when UCLA awarded him the Dolly Cohen Award, given to the player best combining football and academic achievement.
Impressed by his toughness and grace under pressure, voters awarded Beban the Heisman over USC’s O.J. Simpson. He tallied 1,968 points and 368 first-place votes to Simpson’s 1,722 points and 261 first-place votes. The Heisman triumph was a testament to his overall skill set and career accomplishments.
His Heisman was part of a four-year stretch that saw three Los Angeles-based players take home the trophy and, 50 years later, he remains the only UCLA player to win the award.
Beban was a second-round selection (30th overall) of the Washington Redskins in the 1968 draft. He played a couple years with the team before joining CB Commercial, the nation’s leading full-service real estate organization.
After serving as an industrial property specialist and holding various management positions, Gary has served as the President of CB Richard Ellis [CBRE] from 1987 to 1998, and co-chaired the Global Account MAnagement Group until his retirement in 2008. Still active with CBRE as an advisor and client account manager, he also serves as a Director of the Hubbell Realty Company.
Beban was elected to the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame in 1988.