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."
The experts said that UCLA had about as much business playing in the Rose Bowl as Mickey Mouse, but then, Walt Disney was grand marshal of the 1966 Tournament of Roses.
At a meeting of the Southern California Football Writers three days before the game, 77 of 98 writers picked Michigan State to win by an average spread of 19 points. One writer tabbed Michigan State by 42 points. The largest margin favoring the Bruins was 14--by Rose Queen Carole Cota, a guest at the meeting.
Moreover, the Big Ten had beaten the West Coast representative in 15 of 19 meetings going into the 1966 Rose Bowl game.
Said Altenberg in a recent Daily Bruin story: "Before the game, both teams would come out onto the field and walk up and down. It was at the same time that Cassius Clay was doing his taunting thing. I remember that they were huge and they kept pointing at us as though they were saying, 'We're going to get you.'
"I thought it looked kind of classless and silly."
The Bruins were 7-2-1 going into the game, having lost to Michigan State in the season opener and to Tennessee, 37-34, in the final game of the regular season.
UCLA had not won in five previous tries in Pasadena and first-year Bruin Coach Tommy Prothro had been the losing coach in the 1965 Rose Bowl when his Oregon State Beavers were beaten by Michigan, 34-7.
Prothro, recalled his pregame speech: "I told them to relax and that there were 300 million Chinese people who wouldn't give a damn if we won or lost."
Farr, though, had a different version of what Prothro said before the game. "The thing I remember was Prothro's pregame speech," he said. "Prothro had always said in his pregame speech, 'Give me 100% and and we'll win.' But before the Rose Bowl game he said, 'I'm ashamed to tell you if you give 100% we'll be humiliated. Give me 125%.' "
Michigan State was the No. 1 defensive team in the country, having allowed an average of 45.6 yards a game rushing and 124.3 passing. UCLA had netted just 69 yards passing in the first game against Michigan State and 137 yards on the ground. The Spartans had allowed only one other team more than 100 yards rushing.
The Bruins had been picked to finish in the bottom half of the Athletic Association of Western Universities, the forerunner of the Pacific 10. But they won the conference title with comeback wins over USC and Washington. They trailed Washington, 24-14, at halftime and won, 28-24. They were also behind USC, 16-6, with less than five minutes left and won, 20-16, clinching the trip to Pasadena.
Michigan State had a 10-0 record going into the Rose Bowl, and the Las Vegas line had the Spartans favored by two touchdowns.
Michigan State's Coach Duffy Daugherty put his team in a monastery in the foothills above Pasadena on the Thursday before the Saturday game. He also held practice at a secret location. Security was so heavy that even Daugherty couldn't get in. "I asked for security," Daugherty said. "But not this much."
On New Year's Day, there was a picture of Michigan State's massive defensive line on the front page of The Times' sports section with the caption: "Great Wall of Sparta." That line was led by middle guard Harold Lucas, 6-2 and 286 pounds, and Smith, 6-7 and 268. It averaged 241 pounds. The Bruins' offensive line averaged 206.
Michigan State had All-Americans in quarterback Steve Juday, defensive back George Webster, halfback Clinton Jones, middle guard Lucas, and defensive end Smith. Washington, an All-Big Ten wide receiver, was the defending NCAA indoor hurdles champion. Fullback Apisa also had made All-Big Ten.
UCLA had two stars in sophomore quarterback Beban, who later won the Heisman Trophy, and All-American running back Farr, who later played seven seasons for the Detroit Lions.
The Bruins' victory was a big one for Farr in particular.
"Bubba Smith, Gene Washington and myself grew up together in Beaumont, Tex., and we were going to go to Michigan State together on a package deal," Farr recalled. Instead, however, Farr chose UCLA.
"After the first game we lost at Michigan State, Bubba Smith said, 'Mel you made the wrong choice. We're going to have a great team.' After the Rose Bowl, I told him, 'Bubba, you may have won the little game but we won the big one.' "
Farr has two sons who will play for UCLA in today's game.
Mel Farr Jr. is the starting fullback and he wears his father's old number, 22. Mike Farr, a freshman, plays flanker for UCLA.
Said Farr: "I don't know how many guys can say they played in the Rose Bowl and exactly 20 years later they have two sons in the game and one's a starting running back who wears 22.
"It was the highlight of my career. It taught me some basic things, that if you work hard and prepare yourself, regardless of the odds, you can become successful."
Farr predicts another upset in today's game.
"I've seen Iowa a lot, since I live in the Midwest," he said. "Iowa has a fine, fine football team, but I think UCLA has more team speed and that's what's going to win the game. Iowa has exceptional players, but three players are not going to win a football game."
Prothro, who was known for trying the unorthodox, kept Michigan State off balance with trick plays and onside kickoffs. He put in a tackle eligible pass for the Rose Bowl and it resulted in a 35-yard catch by Larry Slagle.
But the Bruins also got a little luck.
UCLA was stopped at the Michigan State 47-yard line after Stiles' first interception had given them the ball.
UCLA right end Byron Nelson forced a fumble by Michigan State co-captain Don Japinga on the ensuing punt, however, and Bruin backup center John Erquiaga recovered at the Michigan State six-yard line as the first quarter ended. Beban scored on the first play of the second quarter.
UCLA, which had used an onside kick to beat USC, used it again against Michigan State and Grider fell on the ball at the 42-yard line.
"One thing we did was onside kick after we got our first touchdown and it surprised them," Prothro recalled. "We got a fine kick from (Kurt) Zimmerman that just went 11 yards right on the hash mark. We scored 14 points before they got their hands on the ball."
After the recovery, Farr ran for 21 yards through the middle of the line. Beban then threw a 27-yard pass to Altenberg at the one-yard line. Altenberg made a great catch with two defenders on him.
John McKay, then the coach at USC, in an analysis of the game in The Times, called Altenberg's catch the key play of the game. Beban scored on the next play.
Beban said: "Both touchdowns were relatively short runs and there were two critical plays in each situation--one a pass that Kurt Altenberg caught and the other one was the fumbled punt."
Prothro, still recalls the Rose Bowl as if it were yesterday instead of 20 years ago.
"I remember a lot about it, but I don't remember the first time we played them quite as well as I do the Rose Bowl," he said.
"We played Michigan State back there in the first game of the season. We were down 7-3 late in the game and we completed a long pass down to the seven-yard line. But it was called back. It was about a 70-yard pass. The game back there wound up 13-3. It was a lot closer than that. If we hadn't gotten that penalty we would have won that game.
"Michigan State improved a lot and they got a lot of publicity. But we improved too. We played Missouri, which won the Sugar Bowl, and Tennessee, Syracuse and USC, who were in the top 10. I felt we had a good chance to win. They were a lot bigger than we were, but we were a lot quicker.
"They probably were a lot better but we had two great offensive players in Beban and Farr. We gambled a lot in short yardage situations. I think we stopped them an awful lot on third and one and fourth and one.
"Actually, I don't think it was a great win for us and I don't think it was as close as it was. We were ahead, 14-0, and just about set up for another score. But Beban fumbled when nobody touched him."
"They got a couple of breaks to get the first touchdown but they earned the second one," Prothro said.
"We didn't know where they were going on the two-point conversion, but we knew who was going to carry it.
"Two people hit Apisa. One was Stiles and the other was Dallas Grider. When you look at the film Grider hit him 70% and Stiles hit him 30%."
There won't be a reunion of the 1966 team before today's game, since there have been three reunions already since the game.
Most of the players on the Bruins' 1966 Rose Bowl team went on to success in other walks of life. "Practically everyone on that team graduated," Prothro said.
Farr is perhaps the biggest success story. He owns car dealerships in Detroit and Columbus, Ohio. He's the Cal Worthington of the Midwest. He wears a cape on TV commercials and flies through the air, thanks to animation.
Farr also became one of the first blacks to buy a soft-drink bottling company.
Beban went to work for a national real estate firm after playing three seasons for the Washington Redskins. He is now a senior vice president for the company, which is based in Chicago. He oversees operations for 29 eastern states.
Stiles owns one of the largest Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles, Hana Sushi. He worked as an actor before he opened his restaurant.
Donahue, of course, is UCLA's coach. Colletto is an assistant football coach at Arizona.