Vic Lepisto, captain of UCLA’s top-ranked 1967 football team, dies at 75
Vic Lepisto, the tenacious captain of the 1967 UCLA football team that was ranked No. 1 in the country before a legendary run by USC’s O.J. Simpson vaulted the Trojans over their rivals, has died. He was 75.
Lepisto died Monday morning at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills Medical Center of complications from COVID-19, according to his son Garrett. He had contracted the illness three weeks earlier while at a memory care facility where he was being treated for dementia.
An undersized defensive end at 5 feet 11 and 188 pounds, Lepisto came to symbolize the gritty Bruins spirit, said former UCLA quarterback Gary Beban, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1967.
“He knew that it wasn’t going to be his physical size that would allow him to play but it would be a spirit and an intensity,” Beban said, “and that’s how he played the game and it just sort of emanated over all of us.”
After sitting out the 1965 season because of a broken wrist sustained in a motor scooter accident, Lepisto was part of teams that went a combined 16-3-1 in 1966 and ’67. The Bruins were the nation’s top-ranked team in November 1967 when they faced the third-ranked Trojans at the Coliseum. The winner of the game would go on to the Rose Bowl and play for the national championship.
UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said he likes the energy and the fight of football coach Chip Kelly’s team, even though the Bruins finished under .500.
UCLA was leading 20-14 with 10½ minutes left in the game when USC lined up at its own 36-yard line on third and seven. Simpson took the handoff and cut back to the left through a hole, commencing one of the most memorable runs in college football history.
His sharp movements caused many defenders to miss tackles. Lepisto, who had brought down Simpson in the first half on a similar play, figured he was going to make another tackle before colliding with teammate Andy Herrera.
“All of a sudden Herrera came up and was standing there to make the tackle,” Lepisto told The Times in 1992. “But I was coming across so hard thinking I would tackle O.J. that we fell over each. That was the reason he got through.”
Simpson scored on the 64-yard run, momentarily tying the score before the extra point provided USC with a 21-20 victory that was a prelude to a Rose Bowl victory over Indiana and the national title. The Bruins finished their season the week after their setback against the Trojans with a loss to Syracuse.
“He didn’t really love talking about that play, as you can imagine,” Garrett Lepisto said of his father’s missed tackle. “No, it didn’t haunt him over the years; he was proud of what he did while he was at UCLA.”
Vic Lepisto was also a star rugby player who made the UCLA rugby and Santa Monica rugby club halls of fame. After graduation, he became a parole officer and taught for many years at El Camino Real High in Woodland Hills, where he also coached track.
Kelly fielded the most entertaining team of his three seasons with UCLA, but another losing season means another disappointing year for Bruins fans.
He also spawned a family legacy, Garrett going on to play for the Bruins from 2001 to 2004.
“I was born a Bruin and it was my dream since I was a kid to play football at UCLA because of my dad,” said Garrett, a receiver who also was a holder on kicks. “We were a Bruin household through and through.”
Lepisto is survived by his wife Sue; sons Garrett and Braden; daughter Jessica Hilderman; and eight grandchildren. The family is planning a virtual celebration and a celebration of life once restrictions on gatherings from the pandemic are lifted.
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.