When we think of great moments in Heisman history, we tend to think of heroic individual efforts leading to dramatic victories or record-shattering accomplishments.
You get the picture.
But, sometimes, results don’t turn out in favor of the heroic individual effort. Sometimes, that effort just isn’t enough to produce a win, no matter how amazing the performance.
But that doesn’t take away from the performance itself.
Such was the case for UCLA’s Gary Beban, who produced a career-best 301 passing yards against USC on Nov. 18, 1967. This week in Heisman history, that remarkable effort wasn’t enough to beat the Trojans, but it did clinch the Heisman for Beban (while setting the stage for O.J. Simpson‘s Heisman the following year).
Coming in, this matchup had all you could ask for: UCLA was 7–0–1 and ranked No. 1 in the country while USC was 8-1 and ranked fourth. Both teams had stumbled against Oregon State, but both were considered national title contenders. Both Beban and Simpson were among the favorites for the Heisman, while both teams sported multiple All-American candidates. The winner would win the Pac-8 conference, clinch the national title and go to the Rose Bowl.
For Beban, it promised to be the culmination of a brilliant career. The versatile, athletic quarterback — a single-wing tailback in high school — made a huge impact for the Bruins as a 1965 sophomore, passing for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns while rushing for 590 yards and 14 scores as UCLA went 8-2-1, won the Rose Bowl over Michigan State and finished fifth in the polls. As a 1966 junior, Beban threw for 1,245 yards and six scores and rushed for 454 yards and 10 TDs as the Bruins went 9-1 and again finished fifth in the polls. He also finished fourth in the Heisman vote.
Heading into UCLA’s game with USC in 1967, Beban — nicknamed ‘The Great One’ — had thrown for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 295 yards and 11 scores. More importantly, he had the Bruins on the brink of their first national title since 1954.
USC had its own Heisman candidate in Simpson, the world-class sprinter who led the nation in rushing with 1,366 yards heading into the game. What’s more, the Trojan defense was lights out, allowing just 64 points on the season.
The clash of the titans took place in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before a capacity crowd and a national television audience. What transpired was one of the greatest games in college football history.
UCLA opened the scoring with a 12-yard run by running back Greg Jones. After a USC punt, Beban moved the Bruins to the USC 41, but momentum swung the other way when Trojans linebacker Pat Cashman snatched a Beban screen pass and took it 55 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. Simpson scored on a tough 13-yard run in the second quarter to put the Trojans up, 14-7, at the half.
In the third quarter the Bruins tied the score at 14 when Beban hit George Farmer on a 53-yard touchdown pass. That seemed to put a spark into UCLA, which continued to dominate in the second half, twice driving into field goal range. However, both field goal attempts by UCLA kicker Zenon Andrushyshyn were blocked by USC’s Bill Hayhoe (who stood 6-8) and the game remained tied.
At this point, Beban was getting physically beat up. The USC defense sacked him numerous times (he ended up with minus-59 rushing yards) and knocked him down even more. But with the game tied 14–14 early in the fourth quarter, an injured Beban dug down deep and threw a touchdown pass to Dave Nuttall. However, the extra point attempt by Andrusyshyn was blocked by Hayhoe and the Bruin lead was 20-14.
This set the stage for one of the most famous runs in Heisman lore. With 10:38 left to play and facing a 3rd and 8 from its own 34-yard line, USC handed off to Simpson who weaved his way through the UCLA defense on a magical 64-yard touchdown run. The Trojans got the extra point right and took the lead, 21-20.
Beban, playing with badly-bruised ribs, could barely move at that point. The Bruins never made it across mid-field the rest of the way and the Trojans walked off the Coliseum turf with the close 21-20 victory, clinching the Pac-8 title and the national title in the process. Simpson finished with 177 yards on 30 carries.
But ‘The Great One’ was magnificient, too, completing 16 of 24 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns (with the one interception). The 301 yards was the second-most in UCLA history after Bob Waterfield’s 308 yards against Idaho in 1942.
Beban finished the year with 1,359 passing yards and eight touchdowns, plus 227 yards and 11 scores. His career record as a starter was 24-5-2 to go with 4,070 passing yards, 1,280 rushing yards and 58 total touchdowns.
UCLA lost its final game to Syracuse in 1967 and the Bruins stumbled to a 7-2-1 record, but Heisman voters had seen enough. On Nov. 28, 1967, Beban was announced as the Heisman winner. Beban won four of the five voting regions, totaling 1,968 points to Simpson’s 1,722, to become the only Bruin (to date) to win the award.