UCLA football dates back to 1919, playing primarily in various incarnations of Pacific Coast Conference, until, uh, well, recently when the school announced it would join the Big 10. So who are the greatest UCLA football players of all time?
Bruins football is famous for its powder blue jerseys and gold helmets, its rivalry with USC and five Rose Bowl championships.
The program has produced one Heisman Trophy winner, multiple members of the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame and has a direct connection to one of baseball’s all-time superstars.
Here are the 10 greatest football players to ever wear a UCLA football jersey.
Freeman McNeil, Running Back
McNeil grew up in Los Angeles, played four years at UCLA and ran for over five yards a carry. He finished with 3,195 rushing yards.
His NFL career is somewhat overlooked, but McNeil was a star for the New York Jets playing with them for 12 seasons. He ran for over 8,000 yards with the Jets and 38 touchdowns. He retired as the Jets all-time leading rusher (Curtis Martin would break the record) and was the first Jet to lead the NFL in rushing.
JJ Stokes, Wide Receiver
When the San Francisco 49ers drafted JJ Stokes in 1995, the NFL was shook. Stokes looked like the second coming of 49ers legend Jerry Rice.
Stokes’ NFL career didn’t ever quite match the hype. He played eight nondescript seasons. He was never Rice and when he got hurt, a young Terrell Owens stepped into his role.
At UCLA, Stokes was unstoppable. He was like Calvin Johnson, tall, fast and athletic. His 82 catches in 1993 is still the most for any Bruin in one season. His 28 receiving touchdowns is still No. 1.
As a junior, Stokes was the PAC-10 Offensive Player of the Year and in the Top 10 in the Heisman voting. His 154 catches rank seventh in UCLA history.
Jackie Robinson, Safety/Running Back
It’s often forgotten that the great Robinson, who made history by integrating Major League Baseball, was a star for the Bruins football team in 1939 and 1940.
One of four black players on the squad, Robinson played “back” kind of a mix of a quarterback and running back. Robinson led the NCAA in punt return average in 1940 and topped the Bruins that year in passing yards (444) rushing (383) and scoring (36).
Although he wore No. 28 for the Bruins, the school retired his No. 42 in 2014 to mirror Major League Baseball.
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Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back
Pocket Hercules was a beast at UCLA. He led the Bruins in rushing three straight years, including a program-best 322 yards against Washington.
Jones-Drew was picked by Jacksonville in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft and played for nine seasons. He led the league in rushing in 2011 and finished with 8,167 career yards, which is 47th all-time in NFL history.
Tommy Maddox, Quarterback
You can quarrel whether Maddox belongs on the greatest list, but he certainly had one of the 10 strangest football careers of all time.
Maddox was a breakout star in his two years at UCLA. He still ranks eighth on the all-time UCLA passing list with 5,363 (more than Troy Aikman, by the way). He was the first PAC-10 player to go over 5,000 yards in his career as a sophomore.
Then he turned pro.
It may not have the best choice. Then it got worse.
Maddox was drafted by the Denver Broncos who still had John Elway in his prime (awkward). He bounced around to the Rams, to the Giants, to Arena Football and then the LA Xtreme of the first XFL.
Who was the first XFL MVP? Tommy Maddox.
Incredibly, Maddox revived his NFL career, started for two years with the Steelers and was on the team that won Super Bowl XL.
Randy Cross, Offensive Lineman
The Bruins have had their fair share of great offensive linemen – former Raiders great Dave Dalby was No. 11 on my list – but Cross stands out. He was a center and guard for the Bruins starting 28 games in his college career.
Cross was eventually picked by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 1976 NFL Draft and was the anchor on the offensive line for the 1980s Team of the Decade. He won three Super Bowls and was a three-time Pro Bowl pick.
Gary Beban, Quarterback
Beban is the only UCLA player ever to win the Heisman Trophy and played a key part in one of the greatest college football games of all time, the Bruins 1967 game with USC (who had a running back named O.J. Simpson).
Beban broke on to the national scene leading the Bruins to their first Rose Bowl victory in 1966, when he scored two touchdowns in a 14-12 upset of No. 1 Michigan State. He won the Heisman the following season and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1968.
Unable to come to terms with the Rams (pro football was a strange place back then), Beban was traded to the Washington Redskins who were coached by Vince Lombardi, but he sat behind Sonny Jurgensen and never saw any meaningful playing time in the NFL.
Tom Fears, Wide Receiver/DB
So, picture Cooper Kupp, a tough, fearless wide receiver with shifty moves, hard to bring down and seemingly always open.
That was Tom Fears in the 40s and 50s.
Fears started his college career at Santa Clara, then went off to serve Uncle Sam in World War II. He came back and played at UCLA for two years.
Then, Fears played eight years with the Rams, starting in Cleveland and then coming with them to Los Angeles. He led the NFL in receptions three times and was put in in Canton in 1970.
Bob Waterfield, Quarterback
Waterfield was a superstar on and off the field. He was a punter, runner and passer at UCLA playing in 1941, 1942 and 1944. He was picked by the Cleveland Rams in the fifth round in the 1945 NFL Draft. Then emerged to lead the Rams to the NFL title as a rookie and was the 1945 NFL Most Valuable Player.
Eventually, Waterfield played eight years with the Rams and won two NFL titles. Off the field, he was married to Jane Russell (think a Kardashian in the 40s). After retiring, he briefly coached the Rams but had mixed success, winning only nine games in over two years.
Jonathan Ogden, Offensive Lineman
Born in Washington DC, Ogden came to UCLA in part for track. Ogden would win the NCAA title in the shot put in 1996. He started all four years at tackle for the football program.
Then, Ogden has the honor of being the first draft pick in Baltimore Ravens history in 1996. He was the prototype tackle, tall, big and athletic. Ogden played 12 years with the Ravens, made 11 Pro Bowls and won Super Bowl XXXV. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
Troy Aikman, Quarterback
Aikman has an amazing college story. He started his career at Oklahoma, which was then running the wishbone (a predominantly running offense). Then, he broke his ankle when he was sacked by future NFL star Jerome Brown and then transferred to UCLA.
He had to sit out a year! (No transfer portal back then).
Aikman took control of the Bruins in 1987 and threw for 2,525 yards. As a senior, he was third in the Heisman voting and won the Davey O’Brien award.
As a pro, not too shabby. Aikman was selected No. 1 by the Dallas Cowboys and won three Super Bowls.