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Go ahead and defend the 2006 version of the Rose Bowl as the grandest of them all.
In that BCS-orchestrated title matchup of No. 1 USC against No. 2 Texas, Vince Young dancing into the end zone with 10 seconds left has become the lasting image of the Longhorns’ 41-38 victory, leaving Pete Carroll, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush languishing on the sidelines.
What could be more memorable than that one?
The ’63 Rose Bowl is ready for another comeback, 50 years later.
“When you think of the all the great teams that have come and gone, and all the great games along the way, that one in 1963 — it’s held up as the icon,” said Tom Kelly, the 85-year-old former USC play-by-play voice who was in the national radio booth that day when No. 1 USC somehow captured John McKay’s first national championship by outlasting No. 2 Wisconsin, 42-37.
Pete Arbogast, the current voice of USC football, was an 8-year-old who got two tickets to that Rose Bowl as a Christmas gift, and went to the game with his grandfather.
“We were even with the goal line, and so far down on the press box side of the stadium that when the Wisconsin players stood up – which is most of the game – we all had to stand just to see the field,” recalled Arbogast, among the 98,698 on hand.
What Kelly saw from the press box, and Arbogast tried to witness from nearly down on the field, has held up against the test of time, with a golden glow on its golden anniversary as Rose Bowl No. 99 is set to be played on Tuesday.
Consider, first, the circumstances: Never had a No. 1 played a No. 2 in a bowl game before. The Rose Bowl’s Pac-10/Big Ten arrangement finally had this one land in its lap.
USC had outscored its opponents 219-55, winning 10 in a row behind quarterback Pete Beathard and Bill Nelson, with All-American wide receiver Hal Bedsole as the primary offensive weapon, along with receiver Willie Brown and fullback Ben Wilson.
Wisconsin lost just once – 14-7 against Ohio State – behind fifth-year senior Ron Vander Kelen, the Big Ten MVP and leading passer, ninth in the Heisman voting, and who threw three TDs in a 37-6 rout of No. 1 Northwestern during the regular season. He also had an All-American end in Pat Richter.
This was also an era where players were required to play both offense and defense, during an NCAA-mandated scholarship limits. Substitutions could only happen once per quarter. It’s why you’ll see photos from that ’63 of game of Beathard and Bedsole trying to keep Wisconsin fullback Ralph Kurek out of the end zone but to no avail as his 1-yard touchdown tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter.
The path by which USC gained a 7-0 lead on their first possession seemed to set a tone on how McKay planned to orchestrate this one. On fourth down from the Wisconsin 13 yard line, after a 10-play, 57-yard drive, USC tackle Ron Butcher came in with the call — IG84-weak tackle look. When Bedsole went to the line of scrimmage, he took a step backward, making Butcher an eligible receiver. Beathard spun around and Butcher with a soft toss over the middle, all alone in the end zone and the Trojans’ trick play worked just 5 ½ minutes into the game.
Vander Kelen returned with an 82-yard drive and a touchdown by Kurek to tie it up 7-7, but, sparked by a Damon Bame interception, USC’s Wilson (1 yard) and halfback Ron Heller (25 yards) posted rushing touchdowns to give the Trojans a 21-7 halftime lead.
Incidentally, USC co-captain Marv Marinovich had already been ejected from the game for a late hit on Vander Kelen and then getting in a fight with Wisconsin captain Steve Underwood.
“We were surprised that they hit us so hard in the beginning,” Vander Kelen would say later. “But nobody was desperate. We knew we could come back.”
Except, it looked as USC wouldn’t give Wisconsin any kind of opening.
On the first play of the second half, after Brown returned the kickoff to the Trojans’ 43, Beathard found Bedsole on a a quick slant across the middle, and the junior ran it up the sideline for a 57-yard TD reception and a 28-7 lead.
Vander Kelen responded with his own scrambling 17-yard touchdown run, avoiding several tackles and going head-first into the end zone to make it 28-14. But the Beathard-to-Bedsole combination worked again, this time on a 23-yard score.
When Beathard completed his fourth TD pass of the day — a 13-yarder to end Fred Hill in the opening moments of the fourth quarter — USC had strutted out to 42-14 lead, with 14:54 remaining.
So much for the Trojans coming into this one as a two-point underdog.
“I recall seeing looking at the scoreboard, seeing 42-14, and thinking there was no way they could catch up,” Arbogast said of Wisconsin’s chances.
Wisconsin, after all, had been routed by Washington, 44-8, in their last Rose Bowl appearance three years earlier.
But then, things got a little weird.
“Jerks like me have said we could have beaten them 75-14 if McKay hadn’t decided to be nice,” Bedsole said in a recent interview. “But that was his instructions to us: ‘Let’s not embarrass these people, we’ll run the ball and then we’ll get out of Dodge.’
“Well, the truth is, if we had scored just one more time, then it would have been 49-14, then he can take the starters out and we’d be fine. I think McKay pulled the wire one touchdown too soon. There was too much time left.”
And Vander Kelen, or Richter, weren’t finished yet.
Vander Kelen, who averaged fewer than 20 passes a game during the regular season, had thrown the ball 27 times to that point, and he was far from finished.
Halfback Lou Holland capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive by running a sweep for a 13-yard touchdown, cutting the Trojans’ lead in half, 42-21.
USC’s Wilson fumbled on the first play after the kickoff for a turnover at the Trojans’ 28.
Four plays later, Vander Kelen hit halfback Gary Kroner on a 4-yard TD pass, and USC’s lead was 14 points with about 9 1/2 minutes left.
Brown prevented another Wisconsin TD with an end-zone interception — the third Trojan pick of the day against Vander Kelen.
USC then ate up about six minutes before it had a fourth down and lined up for a punt at its own 12. The snap went over the head of punter Ernie Jones and into the end zone. Jones gathered it in and was pushed out of the back of the end zone, giving Wisconsin a two-point safety instead of another touchdown.
But now the lead is just 12.
“It was starting to get darker and colder by the minute,” recalled Arbogast, “and Wisconsin kept scoring, and the clock never seemed to move.”
After the free kick, Vander Kelen needed three plays to go 43 yards. He scrambled and found Richter on a 17-yard TD. Kroner, who also did the kicking, converted the extra point to make it a five-point deficit with 1:19 to play.
The Badgers had just scored 23 unanswered points. But who could see what was going on?
At quarter past 5 in the afternoon, the few Rose Bowl lights available weren’t doing much good. The game had started about an hour late because of all the pre-game festivities, and now . . .
“It was a game of shadows, and the stadium lights must have been the candlepower of two,” said Kelly, in his second year of doing USC games and sharing the national NBC Radio call of the game with Mike Walden, who was then doing Badgers games on radio before coming to USC later in the 1960s. The late Mel Allen had the game for NBC TV with colorman Bill Symes, who had been Kelly’s Trojan broadcast partner all season.
The fact Wisconsin wore white uniforms was about the only thing helping the broadcasters follow the action.
USC was literally in retreat mode. Wisconsin’s on-sides kick was pounced on by the Trojans’ Pete Lubisich, but as the Trojans tried to run the clock out, Beathard kept scrambling backwards and lost 10 yards.
There were seconds left with the Trojans were forced to punt again. The kick was nearly blocked. Wisconsin’s Lou Holland fielded the kick at the 40, was tackled, fumbled it, teammate Jim Schenk recovered, and time ran out.
After 69 total passes and 19 penalties for 170 yards, it was finished in a tidy 3 hours and 15 minutes. In total darkness.
“I’ve heard my whole life what a wild and crazy game that was,” said Bedsole. “Who thought any quarterback would throw that many times, just in the fourth quarter? That was well before the phenomenon of a quarterback throwing on every down. We were just tired of chasing him around.”
Arbogast said he remembers running onto the field at the final gun, waiting until the goal posts were torn down, and grabbing a piece – “a nice, long sliver painted both cardinal and gold, and I still have it,” he said. “I was in heaven.”
Eleven Rose Bowl records were set that day, including Vander Kelen’s 401 yards passing and 33 completions (on 48 attempts) as well as three interceptions. In the fourth quarter alone, Vander Kelen completed 17 of 21 passes.
Richter, who would go onto be Wisconsin’s athletic director and return with the team to the Rose Bowl some 31 years later, caught 11 passes for a record 163 yards.
The 79 combined points set a Rose Bowl record that stood into the mid-1990s.
Beathard’s four TD passes were also a game record, but they couldn’t just give the winning quarterback the MVP award to himself. Beathard was to share it with Vander Kelen.
The two of them, as well as Richter, have since been inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.
When it was over, Wisconsin outgained USC, 486 yards to 367, and had more than twice as many first downs, 32-15.
“The ‘63 game is the only one I ever played in — or know of — where the losers historically became the winners,” Wisconsin’s Underwood told UWBadgers.com.
“We’re still No. 1 and they’re still No. 2,” McKay would say afterward.
In a 1995 book, “Unforgettable: The 100 Greatest Moments in Los Angeles Sports History,” by the L.A. Sports Council, the ’63 Rose Bowl only made it to a No. 34 ranking on the Top 100 – but it was the highest-ranked Rose Bowl game on the list.
Others included the 1939 game (USC’s 7-3 win over undefeated and unscored-upon Duke), the 1975 game (USC outlasted Ohio State 18-17 on Pat Haden’s two-point conversion to Shelton Diggs with two minutes to play), the 1929 game (Cal’s Roy Riegels runs the wrong way with a fumble recovery giving Georgia Tech an 8-7 win), the 1973 game (USC’s Sam Cunningham scores four TDS in a national title clinching win over Ohio State), and the 1902 game (the first Rose Bowl, where Michigan crushed Stanford 49-0).
Bedsole, who would return for his senior season and last month was inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame, said he was most proud of the fact that the 1963 Rose Bowl victory “became the gateway to a Renaissance of Trojan football. The school hadn’t won a championship in 30 years. They hadn’t won a Rose Bowl in 10 years. They had a 1-9 team in 1957. But that game opened the gate for the next 20 years – four national titles by McKay.”
Maybe there’s also something to be said that last August, the game ball was auctioned off by noted Southern California collector Chad Dreier, noted for being the one who purchased the Kirk Gibson 1988 World Series bat, batting helmet and jersey.
That ’63 ball (pictured below) went for $1,793.
A rather small fee, when you consider it represents a game that for many continues to be priceless.
More on the 1963 game:
== Wisconsin State Journal columnist Andy Baggot watches game film of the contest and agrees it’s still a classic.
== McClatchy-Tribune News Service writer Michael K. Bohn talks to more players from the game for their remembrances.