And no, this is not entirely about USC, though the Trojans have certainly had historic losses that are etched into my mind as far back as that day in late November 1966 when Notre Dame beat USC 51-0 in the Coliseum. That was a crusher, but I don’t know what was worse — that humiliation, or was it just the year before, in 1965, when I was sitting in the Old Gray Lady, one of 94,085, as a 14-year old and watching UCLA sophomore Gary Beban throw two lightning-like fourth-quarter TDs to stun USC 20-16? Easy call actually.
They call it the Beban Bomb game. I called it a disaster. Even Beban, aka “The Great One”, had called it “pretty hopeless” with the Trojans in possession and leading 16-6 late in the fourth.
It’s strange how some outcomes bother you so much more than others. The Beban Bomb loss was much harder for me to get over because USC was blatantly in control right up until the sudden, bitter end. The Rose Bowl was on the line, as usual.
#6 USC, led by that year’s Heisman winner Mike Garrett’s 210 rushing yds on 40 carries, was comfortably beating #7 UCLA with less the four minutes to go, even though the Trojans had lost three fumbles inside the Bruin 25 and Troy Winslow had thrown a pick in the end zone.
The wasted opportunities didn’t seem like they were going to matter. SC had 424 yds total offense, in those days, quite a haul. And Beban wasn’t having a good day. He had fumbled twice, thrown two interceptions, lost 33 yds on the ground and completed only two of eight passes.
Then fickle fate stepped in. Bruin receivers Dick Witcher and Kurt Altenburg carried the message with two TD catches of perfectly thrown strikes from suddenly accurate Beban. Those terrible bombs! Bruin linebacker Dallas Grider had recovered an on-sides kick right before Altenburg (who was supposed to be just a decoy on the play) hauled in his 52-yder with 2:39 left to seal USC’s frozen-in-time fate.
A Bruin two-point conversion had provided first-year coach Tommy Prothro with a point he didn’t even need, such was the utter shock of UCLA’s comeback. “For the first 56 minutes, they beat us pretty bad,” explained Altenburg. “But every time it seemed like they were going to score, they’d fumble or get a penalty.” Sadly, Altenburg died at age 61 from cancer in 2005.
Said John McKay, who himself passed away in 2001, of his team’s collapse, “This was the toughest defeat I’ve had to take by about 700 miles. We had one too many fumbles (Garrett had two of USC’s five, all lost).”
The real question is, why did I wake up this Sunday morning and start thinking about that mind-numbing Beban Bomb game, which probably hasn’t crossed my mind in years? It all started with #1 seed Virginia’s unheard of March Madness first-round loss to #16 seed UMBC, a school I had never even heard of before. UMBC stands for Maryland-Baltimore County, for your edification.
I was looking at my Facebook page and on my newsfeed was this article written by my friend Doug Doughty, who for 25 years covered Virginia football recruiting for me when I published SuperPrep magazine. For Doug, 25 years is nothing. He has written for the Roanoke Times for 44 years and produced an estimated 10,000 by-lines, most about UVa athletics.
I read Doug’s article which you can too if you like, right here. He starts out by saying, “Nobody saw it coming.” You betcha Doug. Just like me in the Coliseum back in 1965.
I learned some very interesting stuff in Doug’s piece: that by losing 74-54, 23-point fave Virginia had broken a 135-game win streak of No. 1 seeds over No 16s; that UMBC HC Ryan Odom, only in his second year, was a Cavalier ballboy when his own father, Dave, was a UVa staff member in the 1980s; that the Cavaliers also bombed in last year’s NCAAs, losing to Florida 65-39 in a second-rounder; that UVa has flopped in the Tourney five straight years; that the Cavs and the Retrievers were tied 21-21 at half. What a name! The Retrievers. I’ll never think of Goldens the same way.
It was good to read Doug’s millionth by-line, even if it did lead me to my most disappointing day as a 14-year old. Thanks Doug. I’ll always appreciate your 25 years with SuperPrep too.