Before Frank Gifford was an NFL MVP, a sportscaster or an actor, he was a college football player. And in perhaps the most memorable game of the season that made him an All-American, the University of Southern California halfback scored a 69-yard touchdown against the top ranked team in the country, the University of California, Berkeley.
For Gifford, who died Sunday at 84, the first half of that game in late October, 1951, was quiet. Berkeley, according to LIFE Magazine, “planned to flatten its foe by sheer weight of manpower,” and with a score of 14-0 at halftime, the team’s plans were unfolding smoothly. Thankfully for underdog USC, the first time the team got the ball in the second half, it went to Gifford, who dodged many an Oski to score USC’s first touchdown of the game.
Gifford’s feat might have been a noteworthy footnote on an expected regular-season loss. But for both USC—which went on to upset Berkeley 21-14—and for Gifford himself, that touchdown was only the beginning.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.