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The Wall of Excellence, Class of 2011: Johnny Roland

Johnny Roland (1962, 1964-65)

You go with it at first.  Reading 1964 and 1965 game summaries, his name is absolutely everywhere.  Johnny Roland picks off a pass.  Johnny Roland rips off a huge punt return.  Johnny Roland scores two touchdowns on the ground.  But then you realize ... this was the mid-1960s.  Guys didn't play both ways anymore.  Oh, but Roland did.  One of the best defensive backs and running backs in Missouri's history, Roland, who chose Mizzou over Oklahoma at the last minute, did whatever his team needed over three amazing seasons.  As a halfback, he was the conference's leading scorer and an all-conference performer in 1962, rushing for 830 yards and 13 touchdowns; in the ultimate pre-cursor of what was to come, he ripped off 171 yards over 20 carries in his Mizzou debut.

Then, after a "tire-swapping incident" got him initially dismissed from school, then just suspended for the 1963 season (he was accused of swapping his tires with those of another student, though Dan Devine always maintained that he was covering for a teammate), Roland did a little bit of everything in 1964 and 1965.  With Charlie Brown taking the lion's share of the carries -- Brown was good enough to still rank 10th in career all-purpose yards for Mizzou -- Roland became a short-yardage and goal-line back (at 6'2, 207 pounds, he was the equivalent of about 6'4, 230 today), led Mizzou in punt returns (1964-65) and kick returns (1964) ... and oh yeah, he became an All-American cornerback as well.  His six interceptions in 1965 have only been topped twice in Mizzou history: first by Roger Wehrli (seven in 1968), then by William Moore (eight in 2007).

Though Mizzou perhaps has more lax standards than most, it still takes quite a bit to get your number retired at Ol' Mizzou.  Simply being a good ball-carrier?  Mizzou had plenty of those in the sixties.  No, Roland got No. 23 retired by doing absolutely everything, leading Mizzou to a 1966 Sugar Bowl title and performing at the highest possible level on both sides of the ball in a time when men just didn't do that.

Hall of Fame Bio: A halfback from Corpus Christi, Texas, Roland lettered at MU in 1962-64-65, and was an all-Big Eight choice all three years. An outstanding two-way player, Roland was team captain and all-American in 1965. Following that season, he played in the Senior Bowl, Coaches All-American Game and College All Star Game. At MU, he led the Tigers in rushing and scoring in 1962, in punt returns in 1964-65, in kickoff returns in 1962 and '64, and in pass interceptions in 1965. Roland ranks 10th at MU in career scoring, and led the Big Eight in scoring in 1962. He played with the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL from 1966-72, earning the league's nod as "Rookie of the Year" in `66 and with the New York Giants in 1973.

From Bob Broeg's description of Mizzou's 1965 win over Kansas in Ol' Mizzou: A Story of Missouri Football:

So Mizzou had a Sugar Bowl bid before the windup at Kansas, where, as usual, the Jayhawks made an argument of it, twice taking early leads before a 41,000 crowd and a regional television audience. But then the Tigers rolled up 468 yards and drubbed KU, 44-20.


[T]he glory went to the man who had come back: Johnny Roland. Playing defense with a rock-sock, intimidating style that earned the all-America recognition his move from offense might have cost him, Roland intercepted a pass, fell on a Jayhawk fumble, and set up a touchdown with a 35-yard punt return.  Additionally, playing offense in the spots where Devine felt his nose for the goal line would be most helpful, Roland threw a completed pass, caught one, and bowed out the way he broke in three years earlier at California. Scoring three touchdowns the 6-2, 207-pound example of quiet dignity figured in 19 plays that were good for 178 yards.

Throw a pass, catch a pass, score three touchdowns on the ground, recover a fumble, rip off a huge punt return, and pick off a pass.  In one game.  That's not supposed to actually happen; that's something you would make up while mythologizing somebody.  Johnny Roland was one of a kind.