The countdown reaches the final five ... with four 1960s seasons and, um, one more recent one that you might remember.
Team #9: 1939
Team #8: 1961
Team #7: 1968
Team #6: 1941
#5: Mizzou 1965 (8-2-1)
Best Win: Mizzou 20, Florida 18
Worst Loss: Kentucky 7, Mizzou 0
Dan Devine's program developed in cycles. With a senior class made up mostly of Frank Broyles recruits, Mizzou won the Big 8 and briefly ascended to No. 1 in 1960, but then they peaked again with Devine's own talent in 1962. After a couple of re-grouping seasons, they peaked again in 1965, then again in 1968-69. As a new cycle of more talented recruits gained experience, Mizzou began to dominate, and few Mizzou teams had more pure talent than that of 1965. An early-season upset and a curse word prevented them from contending for the national title, but they were still as stout as stout could be.
When I began diving into Mizzou history last offseason, I began the proceedings with a look at the 1965 season. I encourage you to read (or re-read) those three pieces in their entirety.
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.
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.
Kentucky 7, Mizzou 0
Mizzou 13, Oklahoma State 0
Missouri 28, Minnesota 6
Mizzou 28, Kansas State 6
Mizzou 14, UCLA 14
Mizzou 23, Iowa State 7
Nebraska 16, Mizzou 14 (a Mizzou Classic)
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.
Mizzou 20, Colorado 7
Mizzou 30, Oklahoma 0
Mizzou 44, Kansas 20
It was a perfect move to bring in a bigger, stronger back like Roland after a shiftier, quicker back like Charley Brown had the defense winded, and Roland was scary as both a scorer and a decoy, as his performance against Kansas would show.
In Lawrence, [Gale] Sayers was good (he was always good), but Roland was better. In his final game against the Jayhawks, Roland a) intercepted a pass, b) recovered a fumble, c) set up a touchdown with a nice punt return, d) completed a pass, e) caught a pass, f) touched the ball 19 times for 178 yards, and g) scored the aforementioned three touchdowns. Sheesh. That's how you become a Mizzou Hall of Famer. And that's how you snuff out the distraction of the Sugar Bowl and put down a rival looking for a big win.
Mizzou 20, Florida 18 (Another Mizzou Classic)
The 1965 Missouri Tigers had a lot going for them: ballsy quarterback, deep stable of running backs, hosses in the trenches, athletic secondary, stout defense, good kicker, great coach, and more than almost any other Missouri team, a mountain of pro prospects. Roland went on to become 1966 NFL Rookie of the Year. Lineman Francis Peay was drafted #10 overall to the New York Giants and would also play for Kansas City and Green Bay over a 9-year NFL career. Lineman Butch Allison was drafted in the second round by the Baltimore Colts (and in the second round of the AFL draft by the Oakland Raiders). Gary Lane became a Cleveland Brown. Bruce Van Dyke had his choice of the AFL Chiefs and NFL Eagles.
And that says nothing of the juniors--in 1967, kicker Bill Bates, DBs Jim Whitaker and Bruce Grossnickle, LB Bill Powell, and RBs Charley Brown and Earl Denny would also be drafted.
This was as stocked a roster as Dan Devine ever fielded, and in the end, the results showed that. Missouri was possibly one ticky-tack unsportsmanlike conduct penalty away from not only playing in the Orange Bowl, but playing for even more than that. In a year when nobody went undefeated and Alabama won the national title at 9-1-1, a win over Nebraska could have meant that, after a January 1 slate that saw favorites lose across the board (except for Missouri in the Sugar Bowl), a Missouri-Alabama Orange Bowl would have decided the national champion, just as the Missouri-Nebraska Orange Bowl did. That's right, Missouri was denied a potential shot at the national title because a referee was offended by Bruce Van Dyke's dropping an s-bomb in the fourth quarter of a huge battle. At least when the 2007 Missouri team was denied a shot at the title, it was because they were beaten fair and square!
In 1967, Missouri returned another strong, talented senior class and welcomed future Missouri Hall of Famer Roger Wherli into the mix, but the offense struggled with the losses of Lane and, to a lesser extent, Roland. Mizzou started 4-1 but limped to a 2-2-1 finish, never scoring more than ten points in a game down the stretch (impressive that they managed two wins and a tie!). They sat out a bowl at 6-3-1 and again at 7-3 in 1967 before meeting Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide in 1968 and handing them the worst loss of Bryant's career at the time. But that's another series of posts, I guess.