1972: The Rebound (Part Three)

For other seasons, go here.

Part One
Part Two


In Part Two, we took a look at one of the more emotionally draining months in Missouri history.  Mizzou lost a heartbreaker to Oklahoma State by allowing a 54-yard touchdown on 4th-and-28 with 90 seconds left, then got positively steamrolled in Lincoln, 62-0.  Things seemed absolutely hopeless.  And then Mizzou went and knocked off two straight Top 10 teams in Notre Dame (in South Bend) and Colorado.  In eight days, Mizzou had gone from hopeless overall to hoping for a bowl.  For better (once) and worse (once), the drama would lessen over the next couple of weeks.

November 4: Mizzou (4-3) at Kansas State (3-5)

As we are quickly learning, before the late-1980s, the drama in a Mizzou season did tend to subside the week they played K-State.  However, since a 1-9 campaign in 1967, KSU had been at least average, going 20-22 from 1968-71 and winning three of four to end the 1971 season (including an easy 28-12 win at Faurot Field).  In 1972, they started 3-3 with a win over Kansas, but in the last two weeks, they'd been outscored 107-22 in losses to Iowa State and Oklahoma.  They were competitive against Mizzou, however...at least for a while...

Mizzou started strong--an interception set them up for an easy Greg Hill field goal, and Tommy Reamon scored from a yard out to give Mizzou a 10-0 halftime lead--it could have been a bigger lead, but John Cherry fumbled at the KSU 3 as time in Q2 was expiring.  Sensing a chance at momentum, K-State went long on the first play of the second half.  Dennis Morrison found Henry Childs for a 53-yard bomb, and it was 10-6 Mizzou.  The Wildcats got the ball back and were driving, but John Moseley picked off a Morrison pass and returned it to the KSU 1; Cherry plunged in from there, and it was 17-6.  However, Mizzou returned the turnover favor--Reamon fumbled late in the third quarter, and Morrison and Childs again hooked up for a touchdown.  Heading into the fourth quarter, Mizzou led only 17-14.

From there, however, Mizzou locked up the win.  An almost seven-minute Mizzou drive was capped by a 12-yard Don Johnson run, and after a KSU punt, Johnson broke a 25-yard run up the middle.  Ray Bybee scored from two yards out, and Mizzou coasted to a 17-point win.  After the relatively easy win, this team that was once 2-3 and on its last legs was now 5-3 and fired up for a visit to their fourth Top 10 opponent in five games.

Mizzou 31, Kansas State 14

November 11: Mizzou (5-3) at #7 Oklahoma (6-1)

Whereas Notre Dame may have been overlooking Al Onofrio's Tigers when Mizzou pulled the 30-26 upset, and whereas Colorado may have been a bit flat playing Mizzou a week after upsetting Oklahoma, Chuck Fairbanks's Sooners promised not to be looking past the Tigers.  Aside from the surprising 20-14 upset in Boulder, OU was pretty ridiculously good in 1972.  They had beaten #10 Texas, 27-0; the 'Horns would go on to finish 10-1.  In all, they had beaten their six victims by a combined 268-12.

After averaging 27 points in their 3-game winning streak, Mizzou's wishbone ground to a halt against a Sooner defense that had plenty of experience defending the 'bone.  The hard-hitting Tiger defense, however, would make this a game.  OU put up 473 yards--Greg Pruitt rushed for 195 of those--but Mizzou kept getting stops.  OU was driving late in the first quarter before Tiger DE J.L. Doak knocked QB Dave Robertson for a drive-killing 11-yard loss.  OU needed a muffed punt to score in the second quarter--after a Sooner punt ricocheted off of Scott Pickens's leg, OU scored two plays later on a 22-yard touchdown pass.

Mizzou responded, however; Brad Brown intercepted a Sooner pass and returned it to the OU 11.  Ray Bybee scored two plays later--just the third player to score a TD against OU that season--and it was 7-6.  OU added a field goal before halftime but held only a shaky 10-6 lead.  It was still 10-6 in the fourth quarter when Pruitt finally broke through and scored.  The Mizzou defense made play after play--Moseley ended up with 11 tackles, two fumble recoveries and the aforementioned interception, Lynn Evans had 21 tackles, and Dan McDonough added 17 more.  The offense did not do nearly enough to win, but Mizzou impressed representatives from bowls like the Liberty Bowl nonetheless.  So at least they got a moral victory out of the deal, right?

Oklahoma 17, Mizzou 6

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November 18: #12 Iowa State (5-2-1) at Mizzou (5-4)


As everybody knows, there weren't as many bowls in 1972 as there are today.  Bowls were more rare, meant more, etc.  While I personally love the gratuitous number of bowls--and the pretty much guaranteed reward for finishing with a winning season--there's no question that the smaller number of bowl slots made this ISU-MU matchup much more intriguing.  Representatives from the Liberty, Fiesta and Sun Bowls were in attendance at Faurot Field for this matchup.  Mizzou's up-and-down season was well-documented; ISU was in the middle of an interesting run of their own.  Johnny Majors's Cyclones had started the season with three romps over Colorado State, Utah, and New Mexico, then got tripped up in Boulder.  However, they had then pummeled both Kansas schools, lost respectably to Oklahoma (20-6), then pulled a VERY respectable tie (23-23) against Nebraska in Ames, knocking NU down in the rankings (then again, they missed a PAT that would have given them a win, so it could have been even better).  At 5-2-1, they were almost assured of another winning season--following up their 8-4 Sun Bowl campaign in 1971--but a bowl bid was far from guaranteed.

The weather was a windy, a bit wet, and stuck in the mid-40s at kickoff time.  The wind would play a huge factor in this grinding slugfest.  In the first quarter, ISU struck first--Tom Goedjen's 35-yard field goal gave the Cyclones a 3-0 lead that would last most of the first half.  Both teams would blow first-half scoring opportunities; Mizzou drove to the ISU 1 before getting stopped on downs, while Mike Fink caught ISU QB George Amundson from behind on a 65-yard run, and the ISU drive stalled as well.  With just two seconds remaining in the first half, Mizzou finally got on the scoreboard--on the leg of Greg Hill, who DEFINITELY earned his scholarship in 1972, the Tigers tied the game at 3-3 heading into halftime.

In the third quarter, the game got weird.  Goedjen's second missed field goal of the day deprived ISU of the lead, but after Mizzou followed with a three-and-out, the Cyclones blocked Jack Bastable's punt through the endzone, and late in the third quarter, we had ourselves the rare 5-3 ballgame.  ISU was on the verge of changing that, however; early in the fourth quarter, they drove to the Mizzou 1, but as the Cyclones had done to Mizzou in the first half, the Tigers nailed them on a goalline stand.  A QB sneak by Amundson was stuffed, and Mizzou was still alive...as were any bowl hopes.

Of course, the offense didn't go anywhere, so Iowa State got the ball right back in decent field position.  With about six minutes remaining, ISU had advanced back into Mizzou territory when it was Gary Anderson's turn to save the season.  Anderson picked off Amundson at the Mizzou 23 (Amundson did not have a memorable game, that's for sure), and with one last shot to win the game, the Mizzou offense finally got moving.  After a nice run by Tommy Reamon got them into ISU territory, Mizzou faced a third down.  John Cherry found Chuck Link to the ISU 27, then Don Johnson plowed ahead four times for 21 yards.

With under 90 seconds remaining, Mizzou faced a fourth down from the ISU 6.  Once again, all eyes focused on Greg Hill, who had already beaten Oregon and Colorado on last-second kicks in 1972 and was well on his way to becoming the most clutch kicker in Mizzou history.  Naturally, he made this one too.  The game wasn't pretty in any way, shape or form, but for a third time that season, Hill's leg led Mizzou to victory.

After the game, Mizzou accepted a bid to the Fiesta Bowl (which wasn't then what it is now)*.  After an awful 1971 campaign, and an even more awful 62-0 loss to Nebraska, the proud Missouri program was on its heels.  But thanks to timely defense, a resurgent offense (well, it was resurgent in October, anyway), and Greg Hill, they had turned everything around.

* Ironically, Iowa State accepted a bid to the Liberty Bowl as well.  Why ironic?  Because after accepting the bid--it came so early likely because ISU had looked so good during their 5-2-1 start--they lost to OSU and San Diego State.  They then lost to Georgia Tech and finished at an un-bowl-worthy 5-6-1.

After the game, secondary coach Clay Cooper told The Missourian, "That was the greatest turnaround in the history of intercollegiate football. ... There was not as much talent this season as some other ones, as you can tell, but these players have risen up every week.  Coaches are eternally optimistic.  We have to be.  We thought that 6-5 would be a heckuva year."

Of course, they were only 6-4 at the time...they had a chance for a record better than 6-5, but the inevitable letdown was just around the corner.


Mizzou 6, Iowa State 5

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November 25: Kansas (3-7) at Mizzou (6-4)

We'll spend about as much time on this game as Mizzou did.  With Mizzou up 3-0, Kansas QB Dave Jaynes pump-faked and found receiver Marvin Foster (not the new Mizzou signee) wide open for a 40-yard touchdown.  That pretty much told the story of the game--first-down passing kept the Mizzou defense off-guard, and despite two Jack Bastable touchdown receptions, Kansas made the key plays.  MU led 17-16 in the third quarter after Bastable's second touchdown when Jaynes struck again, this time to Bruce Adams for a 22-17 lead.  Passing set up another KU touchdown, and with no rushing attack to speak of, Mizzou had to rely on John Cherry's arm...only Cherry went 6-for-22 with 3 picks.  Ouch.  Talk about cooling off of a hellacious hot streak.

Luckily, unlike Kansas, Mizzou had a bowl game to prepare for.  Lose the battle, win the war, etc.

Kansas 28, Mizzou 17

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** FIESTA BOWL **
December 23: Mizzou (6-5) vs #13 Arizona State (9-2)

For a young team learning how to win all over again, a bowl bid can be wonderful.  Extra practices, extra recruiting leverage, extra reward for the players, coaches, and fans, etc.  Of course, playing a fired-up team from a mid-major conference (Arizona State was in the WAC in 1972) in their backyard isn't the most favorable of situations.

This was a pretty unique matchup--between a team seen as the best 6-5 team in the country, and one seen as the worst 9-2 team in the country.  As the coach of a team whose best win was over 7-4 BYU, and a team tired of hearing how overrated it was, Frank Kush wanted this game badly.  While I'm sure Arizona State grad Al Onofrio did too, Kush had his #1-ranked offense polished and merciless.

Mizzou tries to get to ASU QB Danny White.

Two drives, two Woody Green touchdowns.  That's how it started for future Cowboy Danny White and the Sun Devil attack.  In between, Greg Hill missed a 47-yard field goal--he was extremely clutch, but not the strongest-legged of kickers--and after 15 minutes, Mizzou was down 14-0.

The Tigers would bounce back, however, and ironically it was the defense leading the charge.  Jack Bastable pinned Arizona State at their 2 with a punt, and the aggressive Sun Devils went deep immediately; but John Moseley picked White off.  Mizzou quickly moved inside the ASU 20 but stalled.  On fourth down, already down 14, Mizzou went for the first down, and Cherry found Bastable, playing in his last game as a Tiger (he was an underclassman but had been drafted and signed by the Oakland A's) for 12 yards and a first down.  A play later, Don Johnson scored to cut the ASU lead to 7.

Unfortunately, the momentum was short-lived.  The teams traded punts, then ASU fullback Brent McClanahan plowed up the middle for 55 yards to set up another touchdown.  After another Bastable punt, White went deep to Ed Beverly in the endzone.  Beverly and Mike Fink fought over the ball, and Beverly won.  28-7.  ASU had outgained Mizzou, 365-120, in the first half and headed to the third quarter up 21, but in season defined by resilience, Mizzou bounced back.  Cherry found Chuck Link for 48 yards and a touchdown to start the second half, and after a rare ASU punt, Tommy Reamon, who had 155 yards on 17 carries, broke away for 52 yards to set up another touchdown pass to LInk.  ASU had dominated much of the game but only led 28-21 heading into the fourth quarter.  And things were only beginning to heat up in the desert.

Trying to curb Mizzou's momentum, ASU kept things on the ground at first.  McClanahan and Green were both dominant on the drive, which ended with Green running right for 17 yards and a touchdown.  35-21.  Fink then returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown.  35-28.  White found Beverly again, this time for 53 yards and another touchdown.  42-28.  It was Mizzou's turn to respond, but Cherry was picked.  (Sorry, couldn't resist.)  Wayne Bradley intercepted a wayward pass, and on the next play Green scored from 21 yards out.  49-28.  Ballgame.

Reamon added a late touchdown, but it was too late--any miracle Mizzou needed had already taken place 2,200 miles northeast, where the Steelers had beaten the Raiders via the Immaculate Reception earlier that day.  When all was said and done, Arizona State had gained an insane 718 yards.  Green had 202 on the ground, and McClanahan added 171 more.  White went 13-for-23 for 266 yards and the two touchdowns.  The Mizzou defense, which had held Iowa State, Colorado, and Oklahoma to a combined 39 points, was overwhelmed by a run-pass attack they had not dealt with in 1972.  Sure, Oregon had Dan Fouts and the passing game, and lord knows Nebraska had the running game, but Kush's Sun Devils were desperate to show off and prove they belonged in the upper echelon of college football.  Consider it a test passed.

Arizona State 49, Mizzou 35

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Wrap-Up

With a season and program on the brink in mid-October, Mizzou rallied for one of the more dramatic runs in their history.  In five weeks, from October 21 to November 18, the Tigers planted three teams ranked in the Top 12, two on last-second kicks by Greg Hill.  Mizzou fans went from letting their eyes wander toward basketball season--Norm Stewart's 1972-73 Tigers were quite solid--to wanting the 1973 football season to start immediately.

For certain, there was hope for 1973.  For starters, the entire Mizzou offensive backfield would return.  All the JUCO transfers brought in to save Al Onofrio's program--John Cherry, Tommy Reamon, Leroy Moss, Jimmy Smith--would be back for their senior season, and the Mizzou rushing attack would be expected to click.  There was even more hope for the defense, which had seen a major up-and-down 1972.  John Moseley and Mike Fink would return to anchor an exciting secondary, and the front seven that had racked up major experience in 1972 would be a veteran unit in 1973.

In the end, the 1972 season was very Onofrio-like--Mizzou went 3-3 versus ranked teams and 3-3 versus unranked teams.  While the losses to teams like Baylor and (particularly) Kansas were frustrating, 1972 would be remembered for the great moment--Hill's kicks to beat Colorado, Iowa State, and Oregon, and of course, the shocking 30-26 win over Notre Dame that did as much to turn an entire program around as any one game could do.

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