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Countdown: Missouri Football (1920-2010): #9-8

So if you've payed close attention as the Mizzou countdown unfolded (or if you just read the "catch-up" post), you've probably noticed that only four teams from the 1960s have made an appearance so far.  There are six 1960s teams remaining with only nine spots left in the countdown, so you probably have a good idea of what's coming down the pike.  That said, it's not all 1960s teams, as exemplified by the first team in this post...

#90-86, #85-81, #80-76, #75-71, #70-66, #65-61, #60-56, #55-51, #50-46, #45-41, #40-36, #35-31, #30-26, #25-23, #22-20, #19-17, #16-14, #13-12, #11-10

#9: Mizzou 1939 (8-2)

Best Win: Mizzou 27, Nebraska 13 -or- Mizzou 7, Oklahoma 6
Worst Loss: Ohio State 19, Mizzou 0

(More on this season here, here and here.)

This was the first season in which Mizzou truly mattered in the world of big-time football.  As we have learned in this countdown, Mizzou had already succeeded at a high level before, going 25-6-2 from 1924-27, winning the unofficial "best in the midwest" title by earning a bid in the 1924 Los Angeles Christmas Festival, and taking on and tying/beating some of the best teams in the midwest and south (Northwestern, Chicago U., Tulane, etc.).  But football began to rise in stature in the 1930s, as the South officially made this their game.  The SEC was formed from the cumbersome, 20+ team Southern Conference in the early-1930s, and after a couple decades of midwestern dominance, football spread quickly.

While football was growing, Mizzou was falling apart.  The Frank Carideo years had demolished the program, and Mizzou was a nothing in terms of national prestige.  Don Faurot came aboard in 1935 and immediately set about changing that.  His great coaching immediately righted the ship, but his signing of state stars such as Paul Christman, the Orf brothers, Stillman Rouse, and eventually Bob Steuber, Darold Jenkins, etc., got the program moving, quickly.  In 1938, with a sophomore-laden team, Mizzou went 6-3-1, setting the stage for the magnificent 1939 season.

Mizzou hit the ground running in 1939, blowing out Colorado at home, 30-0.  They hit a snag, however, in the second game.  As good as Christman and the offense could be, they were still no match for midwest powerhouse Ohio State.  The defense gave the Buckeyes all they could handle, and the score was only 7-0 midway through the fourth quarter, but with no major offensive threat, the defense eventually gave out, and Ohio State won, 19-0.  The Tigers responded with a casual 14-0 takedown of Wash. U., held off Kansas State, 9-7, and easily dispatched of Iowa State.  The stage was set for Mizzou's most noteworthy stretch of football in their 50-year history.

As October turned to November, #10 Nebraska came to Columbia to take on the Tigers.  Christman guaranteed victory before the game, then went out and backed up his words.  In front of 18,000 at Memorial Stadium, the Tigers raced out to a nearly insurmountable 20-6 halftime lead.  They then traveled to NYC to take on the #17 Violets of NYU.  In front of a full house at Yankee Stadium, Mizzou took control in the second half.  A series of blown scoring opportunities led to a 7-6 halftime deficit, but for Mizzou it was just a matter of time.  Mizzou scored early in the second half, then put the game away in the fourth quarter with a touchdown pass from Christman to Ron King.  The 20-7 win took place in front of more media members (including the immortal Grantland Rice) than Mizzou had ever played for, and nobody could stop talking about the passing display put on by Pitchin' Paul.

Now ranked 12th in the country, Mizzou returned home to take on #5 Oklahoma.  Special teams ruled the day, as Charley Moser blocked a Sooner punt, and Bob Orf snagged the deflected ball for a touchdown.  On a soggy field, it was all the scoring Mizzou would need; they won 7-6.  They demolished Kansas, 20-0, to wrap up an 8-1 campaign and finish sixth in the country.

As a reward, the Tigers got to travel to Miami for their second ever postseason contest, the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech.  After a downpour at kickoff time, Mizzou's aerial game was grounded.  They scored to take an early 7-0 lead, but with players slipping and sliding, Tech's misdirection offense worked to perfection.  There was very little film review in those days, so the first time Mizzou truly got to see what Tech's deception was about was when the game was underway.  The conditions were perfect for a Tech win, and Mizzou was sent home with a 21-7 defeat.  That did very little to dampen the season as a whole, however.  First, bowl games were afterthoughts, exhibitions really.  Plus, nothing that happened in Miami could change the fact that Christman and Mizzou had entered the nation's consciousness for the first time.  They featured an innovative passing attack, they beat the conference's two known powers (Oklahoma and Nebraska), and they put on a show in front of the nation's media at Yankee Stadium.  Mizzou mattered for the first time in 1939.

#8: Mizzou 1961 (7-2-1)

Best Win: Mizzou 6, Minnesota 0 -or- Mizzou 10, Kansas 7
Worst Loss: Oklahoma 7, Mizzou 0

The 1939 season was a breakthrough one for Ol' Mizzou, while 1961 was a rebound after a breakthrough season.  Mizzou had reached #1 in the country for the first time in 1960, coming within one game (a tainted loss at the hands of KU) of a national title.  After losing a batch of crucial seniors -- Danny LaRose, Mel West, Norris Stevenson, etc. -- they were expected to take a step backwards in 1961.  They did, of course ... but not much of one.  The offense had to be rebuilt from scratch, but the defense got even better, allowing just 57 points all season.

Though the defense indeed dominated all year, the offense looked like it might do the same in the opening game.  In front of a record Memorial Stadium crowd of 37,000, the offense racked up 329 yards, and the defense picked off four passes in an easy 28-6 win over Washington State.  The season truly began, however, the next week, when Mizzou traveled to Minneapolis to take on the defending national champions.  Minnesota had won a share of the national title when Mizzou faltered against Kansas, and it was time for the Tigers to get revenge.  In faltering weather (a little bit of rain, a little bit of snow, and lots of mud), they did just that.  Early in the second quarter, Bill Tobin scored from a yard out, giving Mizzou a 6-0 lead they would not relinquish.  Early in the fourth quarter, Minnesota attempted a bomb that was picked off by Carl Crawford in the Mizzou end zone.  Minnesota would not threaten again.  Mizzou drove down to the Minnesota 2 as time expired, but they knelt on the ball instead of scoring the garbage-time TD, walking off with a damn impressive 6-0 win.

In front of 40,000 the next week, Mizzou took a step backwards.  The offense struggled mightily against a bad Cal team, and Mizzou trailed 14-6 late in the game.  They rallied, however.  Ron Taylor found Larry Nichols for a 36-yard completion, and Taylor capped off a clutch, 77-yard drive with a four-yard plunge.  Daryl Krugman dove in for the two-point conversion, salvaging a 14-14 tie.  It wasn't impressive, but it was infinitely better than a loss.

Mizzou held Oklahoma State to 26 yards rushing the next week in a 10-0 win, and then, in a trip to Ames, backup Paul Underhill led the charge with 62 tough rushing yards in a 13-7 win.  The injuries were starting to pile up for the Tigers, however.  They dominated Nebraska on Homecoming the following week, with another backup back, Vince Turner, doing most of the damage in a 10-0 win.  Mizzou fumbles prevented the game from being a blowout (NU never had a chance, rushing for 6 yards in the first half), but they got the job done and moved to 5-0-1 despite growing depth problems.

After such a strong start, however, offense problems temporarily doomed the Tigers.  Mizzou began November with a nationally-televised trip to Boulder, but an outstanding Colorado team tripped them up, 7-6.  Down 7-0 in the final quarter, Mizzou drove 64 yards, seemingly for the tying score.  But after Don Wainwright's 10-yard touchdown reception, the conversion attempt failed.  Mizzou got the ball back with one more chance, but a Bill Tobin field goal missed the mark, and despite holding a dangerous Colorado offense to just one touchdown, Mizzou fell.  The next week saw more of the same.  OU came to Columbia and scored early in the second quarter after a Mizzou fumble.  Twice, Mizzou drove deep into OU territory (once all the way to the OU 2), but both times the OU defense stiffened, and the Sooners upset Mizzou, 7-0.

The two-week slump would prevent Mizzou from qualifying for their third consecutive Orange Bowl, but the Tigers bounced back.  First, they thumped poor Kansas State, 27-9.  Then, in the season finale, the 6-2-1 Tigers traveled to Lawrence to take on the 6-2-1 Jayhawks of Kansas.  Kansas had won six in a row after a slow start and had averaged 39.3 points per game in their last four games.  They had just traveled to Berkeley and taken down Cal, the team who had tied Mizzou, by a 53-7 margin.  They were as hot as any Kansas team had been in a decade or more.

And they got totally shut down by the Mizzou defense.  Ron Taylor's passing led to a touchdown and a field goal, and thanks to the dominant D, that was all Mizzou needed in a 10-7 win, perhaps one of the most satisfying of Dan Devine's career.  The win did not make up for KU's tainted upset win (and later forfeit) the year before, but it came as close as possible.

Despite a host of sophomores in the Mizzou backfield, and despite a rash of injuries, Mizzou went 7-2-1 in 1961, allowing fewer than six points per game.  Mizzou's defense in the early-1960s was as good as anybody's, anywhere.  And it would only get better the next season.