“The 1962 USC national title team will be honored at Salute to Troy this weekend. What stands out in your memories of that team?”
I was in my first semester at USC, having just transferred in from a junior college, and although I started writing sports for the Daily Trojan immediately, I did not have enough seniority to earn a press box seat yet. So I sat in the student section for all the home games, transfixed by the talent and creativity of John McKay’s first undefeated team.
McKay wasn’t afraid to use two quarterbacks, starting Pete Beathard, the better all-around player, and bringing Bill Nelson, the pure passer, off the bench. He had Willie Brown and Ben Wilson in the backfield and, of course, the big gamebreaker in Hal Bedsole at wide receiver. It was such an entertaining team to watch because McKay would come up with so many different variations. He hadn’t gone to the pure I-formation yet, but in Beathard, who could run as well as pass, he had a weapon that opposing defenses couldn’t solve.
Although he always was credited as an offensive genius, it was McKay’s defense that allowed him to win so many games. The ’62 bunch was led by Damon Bame, a 185-pound linebacker I’ve always felt was the most underrated player of the McKay era. All Bame did was make tackles everywhere on the field every time you looked up. That was back when the players had to play both ways, and Bame was an outstanding pulling guard as well.
It was a magical season, with a dramatic victory over Navy and eventual Heisman Trophy quarterback Roger Staubach, a tough 14-3 win against UCLA and the 25-0 pounding of Notre Dame in the final regular season game. It was topped off, of course, by one of the wildest Rose Bowls in memory. Beathard, Bedsole and Co. rolled out to a 42-14 lead over Wisconsin and then had to hang on when Ron Vander Kelen put on maybe the greatest single passing show in the history of the Arroyo Seco. It finished in the dark, with the Trojans winning, 42-37, and I can remember that I couldn’t wait to pick up the next day’s sports sections to read all the writers’ accounts of the game.
A few years later, I’d be covering the Trojans in the same Rose Bowl for one of those same newspapers. But no many how many games I eventually covered, I would never forget that remarkable undefeated season of 1962.
It is memorable for me because the first college football game I ever attended was the USC-Duke game in 1962. My uncle Eddie, a USC grad, had season tickets but couldn’t go to the opener against the Blue Devils, so I went with my dad. I was 12 years old at the time and had never seen a football game at the Coliseum. I’ll never forget walking in with my dad through Tunnel 20 and seeing the beauty of the field.
Because my uncle had no children at the time, he took me to the rest of the Trojans home games, and I remember seeing the great Roger Staubach of Navy lose to the Trojans 13-6. Before that, there was the Rose Bowl decider against Washington, a 14-0 homecoming victory for the Trojans, then a really tough game against UCLA. I still remember tailback Willie Brown leaping high into the air to make a critical catch to help insure the Trojans victory over the Bruins.
Of course, there was that 25-0 victory over Notre Dame, a team that I remember dressed in green with legendary quarterback Daryle Lamonica.
That season I saw my first Rose Bowl game and that thrilling 42-37 victory over Wisconsin, a game that actually ended in near darkness since the Rose Bowl had no lights at the time. Memories? How about quarterbacks Pete Beathard and Bill Nelson, tight end Hal Bedsole, linebacker Damon Bame, fullback Big Ben Wilson, tailbacks Willie Brown, Ron Heller, Ken Del Conte, and, of course, the great John McKay. It was a special time and a national championship team.
It was Sept. 22, 1962 when I first walked into the Coliseum to see an event. I did get to see Jim Gilliam ground into a double play to end the final Dodgers home game at the Coliseum the previous September, but that was from just under the torch after racing over from the Sports Arena, where our family had just seen the Ringling Bros. circus.
SC played and upset then No. 8-ranked Duke 14-7. Yes, that is a long time ago. Home attendance in the Coliseum was 26,400. All I recall is the horse, the band and a lot of excitement.
I saw the Navy game later that year -- a game where the Roger Staubach-led Midshipmen fumbled away a shot at the NC against No. 2 USC.
Finally, I went to the Rose Bowl to see the great game with Wisconsin, and ended up on the field grabbing a piece of goal post and patting very big USC football players as high up as I could reach as they whizzed by in the post-game bedlam.