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

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Part One

Where we last left off, Mizzou had recovered from a disappointing season-opening loss to Kentucky with dominating wins over Oklahoma State and Minnesota.  They stood at 2-1 when they welcomed K-State to Memorial Stadium.

October 9: Kansas State (0-3) at Missouri (2-1)

Between 1931 and 1993, no Kansas State team won more than seven games in a season.  We can wonder what might have happened had KSU hired Don Faurot in the 1930s, as was rumored to have almost happened; but alas, KSU was in the middle of a decades-long stretch of mostly poor play.  Few Wildcat teams, however, were more offensively inept than the 1965 version.  Only once all season--against Cincinnati in a 21-14 loss--did the Wildcats score in double digits.  They were shut out four times and averaged just 4.3 points per game.  When they traveled to Columbia on October 9, they had been outscored 76-10 by Indiana, BYU and Colorado.  A murderer's row, those three teams were not.

So really, the only question mark heading into this matchup at Memorial Stadium was, would KSU score?

Yes, yes they would.  They wouldn't score anywhere near enough, but they did score.

Beyond that?  Little drama.  Running back Charley Brown (he's a clown, that Charley Brown) was the star in this one, as he was for a good portion of the season, and Mizzou had come through the easiest 3-game stretch of their schedule unscathed.

It was easy for Brown to get overshadowed by the presence of Johnny Roland (not to mention the running ability of Gary Lane), but Roland was only a part-time offensive player.  Brown did the heavy-lifting, leading not only Missouri in rushing in 1965, but the entire Big 8.

Brown, from Jefferson City, was a pro-caliber talent in his own right.  After his senior season in 1966, he was drafted in the 10th round of the 1967 NFL Draft and kicked around with the Saints for a couple of seasons, scoring two rushing touchdowns in 1967 and returning a punt for a touchdown in 1968.

Regardless, the road was about to get much tougher for Brown and the Tigers.

Missouri 28, Kansas State 6


October 16: UCLA (2-1) at Missouri (3-1)

I understand why teams schedule the way they do these days.  It's all about big bowls and wins wins wins, and it makes little sense to overload your non-conference schedule with heavyweights when most others aren't doing the same.  In fact, I almost get bored when people complain about easy non-conference slates, simply because a) it's such a common complaint, and b) it makes so much sense to keep a light load in this environment.

That said, how fun would it be to see two disparate heavyweights like Mizzou (3-1 at the time) and UCLA (2-1, on their way to an 8-2-1 season and a Rose Bowl berth) slug it out amid pretty fall colors in mid-October at Faurot Field?  It's such an infinitely appealing thought, even though a loss in a game like that could very much hamper your bowl possibilities these days.  Then, however, bowls seemed secondary to conference games and big battles (remember, again, that Mizzou players voted to turn down bowl invitations more often than not), and this was certainly a big battle.

Unfortunately, for the first three quarters, Mizzou didn't appear ready for a fight.  UCLA quarterback, future forgotten Heisman winner, and future Washington Redskin Gary Beban very much outshined Gary Lane, and on a rainy Missouri day (so much for fall colors), two long touchdown passes gave the visiting Bruins a 14-0 lead in the fourth quarter.

Lane wasn't playing well, but Mizzou figured out a couple new ways to draw even.  First, early in the fourth quarter, small reserve back Ray Thorpe returned UCLA's kickoff 79 yards for a touchdown.  Mizzou took a risk and went for two, but a Lane pass fell incomplete.  UCLA led 14-6, but the Mizzou defense held, and the Bruins were forced to punt to Johnny Roland.  Bad idea.  Roland returned the punt 65 yards for a touchdown, then completed a halfback pass to Earl Denny (shades of Jeremy Maclin's 2-point pass to Martin Rucker in the 2007 Big 12 Championship game?) to tie the game.  Mizzou got credit (from me, anyway) for going for the win with the first 2-point conversion, but after it failed, Mizzou was forced to settle for the tie.  Two-point conversions would play a major role in a game much later in the season as well.

Mizzou had shown resilience, fortitude, and extreme athleticism in pulling together a fourth-quarter comeback, and if you have to tie, coming from behind and tying with exciting plays is the way to do it, right?  Thanks to Thorpe and Roland, Mizzou maintained its momentum and turned its focus back to the conference race.

Missouri 14, UCLA 14


October 23: Missouri (3-1-1) at Iowa State (3-1-1)

There are sandwich games, and then there are Sandwich Games.  UCLA had just come to town, and a huge game against Nebraska loomed on the horizon, but in between was a tricky trip to Ames.

Iowa State had gone just 1-8-1 in 1964, but they were looking decent in '65.  They awaited Mizzou with a 3-1-1 record, having been blown out by Nebraska (44-0) and tied Colorado (10-10) but having beaten Gale Sayers' Jayhawks (21-7) and cupcakes Drake and Pacific.  They had very much missed an opportunity against NU earlier, but Missouri presented another chance to make some noise.

Alas, this Mizzou team was too good to be distracted.  You don't travel to Ames, Iowa, in late-October, for fun--you go to take care of business.  Due mostly to Earl Denny, who had caught the tying conversion pass the week before, Mizzou coasted.  Bullet dodged, it was time to start preparing for the biggest game of the season.

Missouri 23, Iowa State 7


October 30: Nebraska (6-0) at Missouri (4-1-1)

Those fans old enough to remember the 1965 season probably have two dominant memories--the bowl game, which we will get to in due time, and the epic Mizzou-Nebraska battle, one of the best in the series.

Until an epic Orange Bowl loss to Alabama, Bob Devaney's Nebraska Cornhuskers plowed through its 1965 slate of opponents.  Devaney had engineered a dramatic and immediate turnaround in Lincoln.  In the seven years before Devaney's arrival in Lincoln in 1962, NU had not managed a winning season, going 24-45-1 in that span.  In all, they had only had two winning seasons in 20 years.  But Devaney's hiring was one of the best in history of college football--he had no real ties to the university, and his track record wasn't long or overly illustrious (35 wins in five seaons at Wyoming), but in his tenure, Nebraska immediately became "Nebraska," arguably the most consistently dominant program in the country for 35 years under Devaney and his successor Tom Osborne.

In Devaney's debut season in Lincoln, Nebraska went 9-2, losing only to Missouri and Oklahoma before beating Miami-FL in the cool-sounding Gotham Bowl in the Bronx.  The 1963 season was even better--NU lost only to Air Force before going on a dramatic and unlikely run through the Big 8 (they went undefeated despite winning only two games by more than two touchdowns) and beating Auburn in the Orange Bowl.  In 1964, they started 9-0 before finishing with losses to Oklahoma and eventual national champion Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.

In 1965, Nebraska was simply dominant.  They thumped a solid TCU team by 20, then went to Colorado Springs to get revenge on Air Force.  Then, they got better.  They opened conference play by ripping Iowa State, 44-0; they traveled back out of conference to beat a bad Wisconsin team, 37-0.  The shutout streak continued in Manhattan with an easy 41-0 pummeling of K-State.  They beat Colorado easily, though CU provided a bit of an upset by actually scoring in a 38-13 rout.  They came to Columbia having been barely challenged.  They left Columbia...well, having been challenged.

Mizzou vs Nebraska, October, a likely Orange Bowl bid on the line, a record crowd in attendance...are there more beautiful thoughts in the world than this?  The stage was set for a serious battle of heavyweights when the Tigers and #3 Huskers faced off on October 30, and Dan Devine's team was ready.

Mizzou received the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in 11 plays, featuring a 41-yard reception by Monroe Phelps and capped by a masterful 22-yard keeper by Lane, and Mizzou was quickly up 7-0.  Johnny Roland then picked off a Husker pass in Mizzou territory and returned it to near midfield.  Again mixing the run and pass, Mizzou gashed the Huskers with another easy touchdown drive, capped by a 1-yard run by Carl Reese.  Just like that, it was 14-0, and Nebraska's offense was held completely stagnant the rest of the first quarter.

Here's where confidence and patience pay off.  Knowing how explosive they could be, the Huskers didn't panic and start forcing the issue.  Led by QB Fred Duda and RBs Frank Solich (yes, that Frank Solich) and Harry Wilson, NU eventually got things rolling in the second quarter. A quick mix of run and pass led to the Huskers' first touchdown, a 1-yard fullback plunge to make it 14-7.

NU quickly got the ball back thanks to a suddenly conservative Mizzou offense, and they methodically drove to the MU 39, where they faced 4th-and-1.  As against Kentucky, when UK made Mizzou pay with a fourth down conversion late in the first half, Nebraska came up big.  Duda faked to Solich, broke into the open field, and was finally stopped at the Mizzou 1, where another fullback plunge (and a missed PAT) made the score 14-13 at half.

The missed PAT continued to make the difference as the third quarter came and went.  As well as Mizzou was playing--keeping this explosive offense to two touchdowns in three quarters was a pretty heroic performance--they were not able to expand the lead after the two easy first-quarter touchdown drives.  One more strong Nebraska drive could make the difference in the game.  With 11 minutes left, NU got the ball on their 40 and started moving.  The Tiger defense stiffened once again, however, and forced a 4th-and-1 at the MU 35.

Here again, fourth downs killed Missouri.  This time, it wasn't necessarily the play itself--a short-but-good-enough run by Chuck Winters--but the aftermath.  Take it away, Bob Broeg (from Ol' Mizzou: A Story of Missouri Football):

Suddenly a flag fluttered to the ground, and the referee stepped off 15 yards against Missouri for unsportsmanlike conduct.


Word from the field was that Missouri tri-captain Bruce Van Dyke had cursed an official.  The press box, envisioning pier-six language to cap what had been a bruising, pier-six brawl of a game, imagined the most personal and pointed of vulgarities.

Afterward, almost apologetically, Big Eight commissioner Wayne Duke, who talked to the officials, said that Van Dyke had used a barnyard expression to which official Glenn Bowles, an Army colonel from Des Moines, stuffily had taken umbrage.


"Gosh," [Van Dyke] said [at the MU Varsity-Alumni game in 1974], "that official made absolutely no allowance for the tempo of the game.  I did not curse him or anyone.  On the short-yardage situation we tried so hard to keep the ballcarrier from falling forward.  When there was a slow whistle and then a measurement that showed Nebraska had made it, I said, 'Oh, bull...'"

(Methinks this is another way the game and times have changed over the years, huh?  As Bull Durham taught us, you're okay as long as you don't call the ref a c---s-----.  In football, there may be even more leeway than that.)

In the end, the penalty may have made the difference.  NU gained eight yards in three plays, and instead of facing a field goal from the 24, they faced one from the 9.  NU kicker Larry Wachholtz atoned for his missed PAT by banging home the chip shot, and NU took a 16-14 lead with under 6:00 remaining, then held on for the exhausting win.

After the game, Husker lineman Walt Barnes said, "Missouri almost blew us off the field all day. It's too bad a team like that has to lose."  But as has usually the case with Missouri against Nebraska over the decades, Missouri did lose, and it had almost certainly cost them a shot at the Orange Bowl.  There was plenty left for the 4-2-1 Tigers, but after such a heart-breaking defeat, it might be tough to rebound.

Nebraska 16, Missouri 14


Next: Mizzou does indeed rebound and sets a date with Steve Spurrier.