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1965: Pro talent, record crowds, and the man from Corpus Christi (Part One)

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History just gets pared down, bit by bit, through the years, and it's a shame.

Pretty much every Mizzou fan knows the Cliff's Notes version of Mizzou's football history: Pitchin' Paul Chrisman almost wins the Heisman, Don Faurot invents the Split-T, Faurot gets carried off the field, Mizzou almost wins the national title in 1960 but is spurned by a loss to Kansas (who used illegal players!!!!1!!), wins the conference in 1969 (its last), pulls a bunch of upsets in the 1970s, falls off the face of the earth in the mid-'80s, and after a couple false starts, re-emerges as a potentially strong program in the mid-'00s.

Everything in that small paragraph is accurate, but it ignores so many great players and great teams. Really, so do all the "Greatest Moments" style books--some of which have been absolutely great reads like Todd Donaho's MizzouRah: Memorable Moments in Tiger History.  While the great moments are great for a reason, it's hard to fit all the big ups and downs of so many Tiger squads into a series of moments--really, think about it this way: every 4-year class that has entered Mizzou in basically the last 100 years has lived and died through big moments, games and plays every single year, and yet we tend to only hold onto a handful of them. There are a wealth of stories to be told, and only a few of them have made the cut.

Because of this, a few months ago I decided to write a book about Mizzou Football.  I am aiming for it to be in a similar vein to Michael Atchison's True Sons -- a longer, season-by-season look at history.  The kind that really hasn't been written yet.  Lord only knows if I can produce something at nearly that high a level as True Sons, but I might as well try, right?

(And by the way, if you haven't picked up MizzouRah, or The Trib's Greatest Moments in Missouri Tigers Football History collection, or a used copy of Bob Broeg's awesome Ol' Mizzou: A Story of Mizzou Football, you really should do so.  They're all wonderful, worthwhile reads.)

Anyway, this will be a long undertaking, but there's no sense in not using the resources at my disposal, i.e. this site.  As I devour materials that come into my possession, and as I get the urge to write about specific years or individuals, I'm going to use RMN as a testing ground for story-telling.  Don't expect these posts to come with any sort of regular scheduling--it's just whenever I get the inkling and/or opportunity.  Posts will be far from whatever might end up in a book one day--just consider it Story Hour.  First up, the 1965 season.

Florida should totally go back to these helmets
(Photo's from Donaho's MizzouRah, via this site.)

One of the great teams that tends to get forgotten by the once-over of history--despite a couple of epic battles--is the 1965 squad, Dan Devine's eighth in Columbia.  Today, we take a look at one of Mizzou's better all-around teams.

Since the great run of 1960, Mizzou had become a steady, reliable power, winning seven games in 1961, eight in 1962, seven in 1963 and six in 1964.  They won the 1962 Bluebonnet Bowl (remember when that was big-time?  Probably not.) and could have raked in even more bowl trophies had they not decided to pass up bowl bids more often than not.  (That simply does not happen today.)

The 1965 team had a wonderful amalgamation of talent, from both nearby and far away.  Future Mizzou Hall of Famer Johnny Roland was returning for his senior season, as were quite a few other pro-caliber athletes--QB Gary Lane, OL/DLs Francis Peay (also a future Mizzou Hall of Famer), Butch Allison and Bruce Van Dyke, and others would make at least a brief living in the pros.

The Man

The stud, however, was Roland.  Few represented the black & gold better than he.  From Dan Devine's autobiography, Simply Devine:

Johnny was highly intelligent and was an excellent student.  He was a two-way player, also excelling as a defensive back.  Johnny was the first black to become captain in any sport at Missouri, and he was just a ferocious team player.

I always accused Johnny of taking notes.  Whenever a player didn't know what to do or had a question, he went to Johnny.  Everything on our schedule was timed out to the minute, and Johnny always knew exactly where everybody was supposed to be and when they were supposed to be there.  He had to have a photographic memory; that was the only explanation for his knowing everything that he did.  Johnny broke onto the scene as a sophomore, when he scored three touchdowns in his first game, at California.  That was just an indication of how good he was going to be, and he maintained that high standard throughout his entire career.

A highly-recruited back from Corpus Christi, Roland had chosen Missouri at the last second after initially signing an LOI with Oklahoma (you were allowed to back out then without consequence)--he ended up deciding that Missouri metro areas like Kansas City and St. Louis might offer better employment for African-Americans.  After missing the 1963 season because he was wrongfully accused of stealing tires, he was back on the team in 1964 and because of team need switched from stud running back to stud defensive back without hesitation.  In 1965, he was both, piling up the rushing yards while earning All-American status in the secondary.

Earl Denney tries to break loose.

Roland was the star, but there was plenty of talent to go around, and after a 5-1-1 finish to the 1964 campaign, hopes were high in 1965.

Those high hopes, however, would suffer an immediate blow.

September 18: Kentucky (0-0) at Missouri (0-0)

When I'm reading about seasons past, I like to view them like they were happening today.  It's hard reading articles or books written at the time--even great writing like Bob Broeg's Ol' Mizzou: A Story of Missouri Football--because the terms have changed.  Thinking of things in today's parlance, and imagining if the given storylines had happened in this past football season, makes things a little more vivid and realistic.

When it comes to Charley Bradshaw's mid-'60s Kentucky teams, however, putting them in today's terms is rather hard to do. Thanks to Keith Jackson and those Gatorade commercials, we know that University of Florida scientists are credited for the creation of the sports drink to replenish fluids and electrolytes for Florida players losing it in the Florida swamplands.  However, there's a good case to be made that those UF scientists created the drink as a sign of mercy for Kentucky players going through Bradshaw's insane conditioning practices.

How hard were Bradshaw's practices? A book called The Thin Thirty describes how his first UK team started with 88 players and ended with just 30--that many people quit or were weeded out.  Imagine if that happened today?  Bradshaw would have been either fired, sued, or both before the first game!  Outside the Lines would have had a four-part "Have workouts gone too far?" expose.  In the 1960s, however, his job was safe, likely under the "He's making men out of these boys" guise.

Whether anybody should be pushed as hard as Kentucky's players were pushed in the 1960s is up for debate, but what was not debatable was that you really did not want to play Kentucky at the beginning of the season.  Not only were Bradshaw's teams forced to be in tip-top shape, but they also got more practices in because they started school earlier than most at the time (clearly, rules were different then).  Almost every year, they eventually (and justifably) wore out--in Bradshaw's seven years in Lexington, UK went 7-6-1 in September and 18-35-3 thereafter--but an intensely hot Saturday in mid-September (we all know how hot season openers at Faurot can be) was precisely the wrong time to be playing the Wildcats.

On top of all this, the 1965 squad was Bradshaw's best at Kentucky.  Future Miami Dolphin Rick Norton was behind center for the Wildcats, and he came through with a timely, clutch play late in a scoreless first half, throwing a touchdown pass on 4th-and-6 from the Mizzou 36.  Sadly, that was all the scoring the Wildcats would need.  Mizzou committed seven turnovers; Gary Lane started his senior season with three interceptions, and Mizzou lost four fumbles to boot.  UK's defense and conditioning made the difference in the heat, and just like that Mizzou was off to a disappointing 0-1 start.

Kentucky 7, Missouri 0


September 25: Missouri (0-1) at Oklahoma State (0-1)

Next up for Mizzou was an Oklahoma State team coming off of a respectable showing in Little Rock, where they had lost 28-14 to defending national champion Arkansas.  They hadn't been very good for a while--since winning 20 games from 1957-59--but their first game of the year gave some signals that they might have a pretty decent team.  Not so.

While his senior campaign could not have possibly started any worse, Gary Lane bounced back in Stillwater.  The Mizzou defense dominated a Cowpoke team that would go on to finish 3-7, and while Lane didn't need to do much, he did what he needed to do.  He ripped off an 80-yard option run for a touchdown, and that was that.  Mizzou rebounded away from home and moved to 1-0 in conference, 1-1 overall.

Missouri 13, Oklahoma State 0


October 2: Missouri (1-1) at Minnesota (0-1-1)

Mizzou was off to face a program that had begun to slide in recent years after back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances in 1960 and 1961.  In another easy win for Mizzou, a new name (to outsiders) left the biggest impression on Gopher observers: two-way tackle Francis Peay.  Peay signed with Missouri sight unseen, after stops at the University of Arizona and Cameron (Oklahoma) JC, due to Mizzou's status as a program and the word-of-mouth sentiment that Mizzou treated its African-American players well.  In 1964, as a junior, Peay had worked primarily as a defensive lineman, but he was such a good blocker that, like Roland, he ended up playing both ways.  On October 2, he made a name for himself on offense, clearing the way for a masterful performance by Gary Lane and the Mizzou rushers.

Mizzou toted the ball for 324 yards against the Gophers, including an epic back-and-forth run from Lane.  From Bob Broeg's Ol' Mizzou: A Story of Missouri Football:

Facing second and 12 at the Minnesota 20, Lane dropped back to pass, found no one open, looped slightly to his left, then veered right in a wide circle.  Three huffing Gopher linemen pursued.  He slanted back sharply left again and dashed into the corner of the end zone behind Fancis Peay's mighty block.

Lane's running, Peay's blocking, and another dominating defensive performance--three games into the season Mizzou had given up 13 points--led Mizzou to an easy win, its second of the season.

Missouri 17, Minnesota 6


Next up: Mizzou rolls on, and the dominant Huskers are on the horizon.