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20 Years Ago Today, It Was the Mouse That Roared, Not the Lion : UCLA Pulled Off Perhaps the Biggest Upset in Rose Bowl History, Beating Michigan St.

January 01, 1986|CHRIS BAKER | Times Staff Writer

Twenty years ago today, UCLA pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in Rose Bowl history, a stunning 14-12 triumph over previously unbeaten and top-ranked Michigan State.

Michigan State had defeated UCLA, 13-3, in the first game of the season and was favored by two touchdowns in the rematch.

Before the game, Times columnist Jim Murray wrote: "If you have a weak heart, don't go to the Rose Bowl. It will be like feeding the Christians to the lions."

But on Jan. 2, Murray's column began: "There were over 100,000 people who came to the Rose Bowl New Year's Day to see UCLA get thrown to the lions. Instead, they saw Michigan State get thrown to the mice.

"They came here touted as the greatest thing in cleats since the 1940 Chicago Bears, but they were like a cat watching the wrong mouse hole all day."

UCLA Coach Terry Donahue, whose Bruins are underdogs against Iowa going into the 72nd Rose Bowl game today, was one of those gutty little Bruins who knocked off the Spartans in the 52nd Rose Bowl. Donahue, listed at 196 pounds, started at left defensive tackle for UCLA.

"Nineteen sixty-six was a great game," Donahue said. "It was a classic David vs. Goliath. We were such heavy underdogs and we were playing a team that was probably the best team in America.

"Michigan State was truly a great team and UCLA was not. We had two great players in (quarterback) Gary Beban and (running back) Mel Farr and a couple of good ones in (wide receiver) Kurt Altenberg and (wide receiver) Dick Witcher."

In the Rose Bowl game story in the Jan. 2 edition of The Times, former sports editor Paul Zimmerman wrote: "Someone forgot to tell UCLA that Michigan State was the No. 1 football team in the nation.

"Coach Tommy Prothro's Bruins out-fought, out-scrambled and out-scored the highly vaunted Spartans, 14-12, before 100,087 startled spectators in the Rose Bowl on a beautiful New Year's Day."

Hardly anyone gave UCLA a chance to win.

"We had nothing to lose," said Beban, who scored both of the Bruins' touchdowns on one-yard runs in the second quarter.

"Those guys were so much better than us at every position," recalled Bob Stiles, the UCLA defensive back who was named the player of the game.

"They had seven first-round NFL draft choices, including Bubba Smith," Stiles continued. "You could have made an NFL franchise out of that team.

"The way we got to the Rose Bowl was ridiculous. We shouldn't have even been there."

Stiles will have seats on the 50-yard line for today's game. He earned them 20 years ago, intercepting two passes and recovering a fumble. He returned one of the interceptions 42 yards, setting up the Bruins' first touchdown.

He also prevented a touchdown when he intentionally took a pass interference penalty to prevent Michigan State wide receiver Gene Washington from catching a touchdown pass. He said that it was the play he remembered best.

Even so, the play that earned Stiles a place in Rose Bowl lore was the tackle he made to stop Spartan fullback Bob Apisa from scoring on a two-point conversion run with 31 seconds left. The conversion would have tied the score at 14.

Michigan State gambled and lost twice on two-point conversion attempts after scoring twice in the fourth quarter.

Left defensive end Jim Colletto hit Apisa head-on at the three-yard line, then Stiles and left linebacker Dallas Grider finished him off.

The confrontation between Stiles and Apisa was a mismatch.

Stiles stood 5 feet 9 inches and weighed 175 pounds. Apisa, an All-Big Ten fullback, was 6-1, 220. Stiles suffered a slight concussion when he tackled Apisa and had to be helped off the field.

"I remember that when I went to get up, the crowd was going crazy so I said to myself, 'I'm tired and I'm going to lay down,' " Stiles said. "I became a 143-pound legend.

"Just that one play when I stopped Apisa demoralized the Big Ten. They've been on a downslide ever since.

"I figured they were going to give the ball to Apisa because he was their best running back," Stiles continued. "And I knew it was going to be to my side because it was the smallest.

"Colletto tagged him and I slowed him down. But I got all the credit. I'd say it was 70% Colletto and 30% me.

"Governor (Pat) Brown came into the locker room and put his arm around me like I was his brother," Stiles recalled.

"It was total pandemonium after the game. Michigan State knew that they blew it. They didn't come over to us to congratulate us. There was no reason for them to move in that direction."

Beban said he had been too nervous to watch the two-point conversion attempt.

"I was looking at the stands," he said. "I figured if the UCLA side stood up we had stopped him, and if the Michigan State side stood up they had scored.

"The defense played a fabulous football game. They stopped Michigan State twice.

"I don't think we were stunned that we won. I think we went in trying to keep it close."

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