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Roots '66

Former UCLA Defensive Back Bob Stiles and Former Michigan State Fullback Bob Apisa Are Friends Forever Linked by the Key Play in the 1966 Rose Bowl

December 28, 2000|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One evening in 1985, a big, bull-shouldered man walked into Hana Sushi, a Japanese restaurant in Brentwood, and was approached by the owner.

"Hi, I'm Bob Stiles," the owner said, shaking the big man's hand.

"Hi, I'm Bob Apisa," the big man said.

Both men burst out laughing. They had met 19 years earlier--on the Rose Bowl's one-yard line.

"I nearly keeled over in a faint," Stiles said recently. "It was the first time we'd actually met since that game."

Recalled Apisa: "I knew he owned that restaurant, and I'd been meaning for years to go see him. He turned out to be a great guy. We sat down and talked for an hour."

Stiles and Apisa. Apisa and Stiles. They're linked forever in Rose Bowl lore.

On Jan. 1, 1966:

* New homes in Newport Beach were selling for $26,950.

* The Dow Jones industrial average was at 969.26.

* The people of China were told by their leaders that their primary task that day was to "prepare for war with the U.S."

* Dodger owner Walter O'Malley was upset his player payroll was about to surpass $600,000.

* New Laker owner Jack Kent Cooke squawked about his $2,000-per-game Sports Arena rent and threatened to build his own arena in Inglewood.

* Top ticket to see "Dr. Zhivago" at the Hollywood Paramount was $4.

* New Ford Mustangs were going for $2,299.

And in Pasadena, No. 1-ranked Michigan State (10-0) was a multiple-touchdown favorite over UCLA (7-2-1), a team it had already beaten, 13-3, in the 1965 season opener.

In the Rose Bowl before 100,087, in the final minute, Michigan State scored a touchdown but still trailed, 14-12.

Attempting a two-point conversion, Apisa, the fullback, took a pitch and ran right, where three Bruins got their hands on him; chiefly Stiles, who brought him down on the one--with 31 seconds left.

UCLA ran out the clock and one of the Rose Bowl's great upsets was in the book.

Thirty-five years later, both Stiles and Apisa are Southern Californians.

Stiles, 57, a Red Buttons look-alike, still greets people at the door at Hana Sushi. He lives in Brentwood and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Apisa, 54, lives in Granada Hills and is a stunt man and stunt coordinator for the film industry.

In separate interviews recently, both recalled the memorable conversion play.

The game film shows Apisa, a 212-pound sophomore fullback from Honolulu, running parallel to the line of scrimmage, fighting off defenders Dallas Grider and Jim Colletto, then getting tackled by a flying Stiles, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound junior, who slams into Apisa's upper body and brings him down.

"I saw Stiles all the way," Apisa said. "My intent was to run right into or over him, and flush him into the end zone.

"The guy I never saw and who set me up for Stiles was Colletto. He got his arm on my right shoulder and was pulling me, making me run parallel to the goal line. I couldn't turn, and that's when Stiles hit me.

"The quarterback was Jimmy Raye. The play was called 'option pitch.' If the defensive end came up to me, Raye was to cut and take it in himself. The end went to Raye, and I got the pitch.

"The thing I remember most vividly about the play was the explosion of crowd noise, but I didn't know if it was Michigan State cheers for a touchdown or UCLA cheers. I didn't know if I'd made it in or not."

Apisa was asked how often, decades later, his thoughts drift back to that play.

"I could probably forget about it if it weren't for people reminding me about it all the time," he said.

"I work with a lot of UCLA people in the film business, and there are a lot of UCLA lawyers and dentists where I work out. They make sure I never forget about it."

Recalled Stiles:

"I had a sense of 'it's now or never' on that play. UCLA had never won in the Rose Bowl, and we all felt enormous pressure. I was certain Apisa would try to run it in, and I was sure he'd go right.

"He's right about Colletto. If it hadn't been for him, I doubt if I'd have been able to bring him down."

The game film reveals clearly that UCLA's team used everything in its tank that day. When Stiles knocks Apisa down, there is little celebration--coach Tommy Prothro's players simply stand, seemingly stunned, or bend over with exhaustion.

As UCLA ran out the clock following the kickoff, the Spartans could only watch in disbelief.

"I remember thinking, 'This can't be happening,' " Apisa said. "But when we talked it out later, we all agreed we should have seen it coming.

"In the first place, we'd already played UCLA and beaten them. We wanted to play 'SC because they had the Heisman winner."

(UCLA had upset USC, 20-16, on Nov. 21, 1965, despite Mike Garrett's 210-yard rushing day. Two days later, he was awarded the Heisman Trophy. The day before the Rose Bowl game, he signed a $350,000 deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.)

"Duffy [coach Duffy Daugherty] put us in that monastery in Sierra Madre [the Passionist Fathers' Retreat] for two nights before the game because he could see we weren't right mentally," Apisa said. "He was very worried about it and kept telling us that."

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