Countdown: Missouri Football (1920-2010): #2

Teams #90-#10
Team #9: 1939
Team #8: 1961
Team #7: 1968
Team #6: 1941
Team #5: 1965
Team #4: 1969
Team #3: 2007

#2: Mizzou 1960 (10-1)

Best Win: Mizzou 41, Oklahoma 19 -or- Mizzou 21, Penn State 8
Worst Loss: none (technically)

The 1960 season saw Mizzou reach No. 1 in the country for the only time in the program's first 117 seasons.  Mizzou got better and better with each week and kept the city of Columbia buzzing like never before.  The team provided Mizzou fans with one of their greatest stories ever.  They were a truly great team.

In this year's 2010 Missouri Football Preview, we wrote history pieces from 25, 50 and 75 years ago.  One of the teams covered, obviously, was the 1960 squad.  Here's a tease:

November 12: #2 Mizzou (8-0) at Oklahoma (2-4-1)

In 1958, Dan Devine’s first season as Mizzou head coach, the Tigers traveled to Norman in mid-November with a chance at a conference title.  They got mauled, 39-0, and Oklahoma won their 13th straight conference crown.  After the game, however, an emotional Devine made a proclamation. He jumped onto a training table in the visitors’ locker room and announced that Mizzou would beat the Sooners on their next trip to Norman, and they would dedicate the win to the 1958 seniors who wouldn’t be around to take part.

At the time, of course, that seemed ridiculous.  Oklahoma was as invincible within their conference as any program had ever been.  But by 1960, the Sooner aura was fading.  A loss to Iowa State the previous week had all but knocked the Sooners out of conference title contention, and if Mizzou could knock off OU, they would be one game away from the Big 8 crown.

Of course, there was something else at stake as well.  The previous week, No. 3 Minnesota had beaten No. 1 Iowa by 17, hopping Mizzou to assume the No. 1 ranking.  But while Mizzou was preparing to battle Oklahoma, the Golden Gophers were losing to unranked Purdue.  A Mizzou win would give them the top spot in the AP Poll.  Even during Faurot’s heyday in the late-1930s and early-1940s, Mizzou had never seriously threatened for national prominence.  They did not play in the most well-respected conference, and their non-conference schedules featured too many landmines.  With most of the city of Columbia glued to the radio, Mizzou’s Tigers set about trying to make history.

To say they were nervous is likely a bit of an understatement.  On the fourth play of the game, Oklahoma’s Mike McClellan raced 70 yards for a touchdown, and the Sooners took a 6-0 lead.  Great teams respond well when they taste blood in their mouth, however, and Mizzou’s 1960 squad was one of its greatest.  Donnie Smith evened up the game with a short touchdown, then broke off a 30-yarder to give Mizzou a lead.  Then, it was Norris Stevenson’s turn to inflict some damage.  Mizzou’s killer blocking opened up a lane for Stevenson on a sweep, and he raced 77 yards down the left sideline.  The score gave Mizzou an exhilarating 24-12 lead into the halftime break.

The proud Sooners were not going to let Mizzou coast to victory, however.  Sooner quarterback Jimmy Carpenter scored in the third quarter to cut the Tigers’ lead to 24-19, and with the Mizzou offense grounded, OU mounted another charge.  A shanked punt gave the Sooners great field position, but as they rolled into Mizzou territory, the Tigers’ defense stiffened.  They forced a bad pitch out, and Gordon Smith recovered for Mizzou.  Almost immediately, Stevenson put the game out of reach.  He broke another sweep for a 60-yard touchdown, and Mizzou’s lead was 31-19.  For the game, Stevenson gained 169 yards, the most a Bud Wilkinson defense had ever allowed.

From there, it was academic.  Further Sooner turnovers led to more Tiger points, and after the 41-19 win, some of the four thousand Missouri fans in attendance rushed the field, celebrating with the victorious team.  Mizzou was No. 1 in the Big 8, No. 1 in the country, and just one with from their first national title.  It was Mizzou’s first win in Norman since 1936, and Oklahoma’s first conference home loss since 1942.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch would lead with the following sentence in their game recap the next day: “The meek inherited the earth today.”  A crowd greeted Mizzou’s return to Columbia.  This was the greatest day in Mizzou’s proud history.

And here's where I stop.  Want to read more?  Read the team's full story in the 2010 Missouri Football Preview, available at both Lulu.com and the Mizzou Bookstore.

Actually, here's a bit more for you. Cue this up to 4:50 and watch some highlights from the 1961 Orange Bowl. You're welcome.

For those keeping track, this means that the No. 1 Mizzou team of the last 90 years was not necessarily its most successful, as the 1960, 1969 and 2007 teams have already been accounted for.  As with my Football Outsiders series, the numbers don't always produce the numbers you expect.  They don't try to be so anti-social -- it just happens sometimes.

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