Note: the original version of this piece appeared as a three-part series in 2009.
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!!!!!!), 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- to late-'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 certainly been 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. Every four-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.
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 stud, however, was Roland. Few represented the black and 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.
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. 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 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 (actually, it's really not), 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 justifiably) 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 fourth-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. The Cowboys 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, they were just 16-34 -- 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 Cowboy team that would go on to finish 3-7, and while Lane didn't need to do much, 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. He ended up getting selected 10th overall in the 1966 NFL Draft and played for nine seasons in the league with the Giants, Packers, and Chiefs. He also served as Northwestern's head coach from 1986-91; he passed away in 2013, at the age of 69.
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
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; 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, though.
Running back 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 three-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 Heisman winner NFLer 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 two-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), tied Colorado (10-10) but 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 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. With a bullet dodged, it was time to start preparing for the biggest game of the season.
Missouri 23, Iowa State 7
** MIZZOU CLASSIC **
October 30: No. 3 Nebraska (6-0) at Missouri (4-1-1)
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 gone just 24-45-1 with nary a winning season. 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 seasons 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 successor Tom Osborne.
In Devaney's debut season in Lincoln, Nebraska went 9-2, losing only to Missouri and Oklahoma before beating Miami 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 (the Huskers 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. The Huskers 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 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 No. 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 or start forcing the issue. Led by quarterback Fred Duda and running backs 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 one-yard fullback plunge to make it 14-7.
NU quickly got the ball back thanks to a suddenly conservative Mizzou offense, and the Huskers 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 --and keeping this explosive offense to two touchdowns in three quarters was a pretty heroic performance -- the Tigers 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.
Again, fourth downs killed Missouri. This time, it wasn't necessarily the play itself, a short-but-good-enough run by Chuck Winters. Instead, it was 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. Unless you're Charlie Strong, anyway.)
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.
Wachholtz kicked a 26-yard field goal into the grass horseshoe end of Missouri's Memorial Stadium, and a couple of Nebraska players on the sideline were actually seen to be jumping up and down joyously. "Why, they almost look like kids," said Publicity Man Don Bryant. "How 'bout that?"
The victory was probably the finest of Bob Devaney's sparkling career, the most crucial, the sweetest comeback, all of that. It practically insured him of his first perfect (10-0) record, a goal he has come very close to but never quite made. It seems now that an awful lot of huge Cornhuskers will have to be out sick for Nebraska to lose to any of its last three Big Eight rivals, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Nebraska's talented middle guard, Walt Barnes, summed up the whole thing—the strength of both teams and the fierce game that it was—when he said, " Missouri almost blew us off the field all day. It's too bad a team like that has to lose."
He is right. Last Saturday the team from Missouri would not have lost to very many others.
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
November 6: No. 9 Missouri (4-2-1) at Colorado (4-1-2)
On November 6, the Tigers, whose loss to Nebraska had moved them up in the polls, faced a stiff rebound test from a resurgent Colorado team. Under head coach Eddie Crowder, a Bud Wilkinson disciple (not to mention an Okie from Muskogee), the Buffs had slowly improved over three years. Taking over a squad that had gone 2-8 in 1962, Crowder managed only duplicate 2-8 records in his first two seasons, but they had been relatively competitive against Devine's Tigers: they lost 28-7 in '63 but only 16-7 in Columbia in '64.
Overall, the Buffs' fortunes had begun to turn in a positive direction. They were 4-1-2 when Mizzou came to town, having just beaten Oklahoma in Norman the week before. Granted, this wasn't OU of the 1950s, but winning in Norman is always something of an accomplishment, no?
Apparently not. Mizzou was unimpressed and swiftly took care of business in Boulder. A 16-yard Lane keeper was the only offensive touchdown Mizzou managed, but it was the only one they needed. A couple field goals and a pick six by Kenny Boston provided the 13-point victory margin, and once again Mizzou had deftly side-stepped a potential trap game.
Missouri 20, Colorado 7
November 13: Oklahoma (3-4) at No. 8 Missouri (5-2-1)
With Colorado turned away, it was time for Mizzou to travel back home to face an Oklahoma team that, after starting 0-3 (scoring 9 points in those three contests), had begun to figure things out against the dregs of the Big 8. They had beaten Kansas (21-7), Kansas State (27-0), and Iowa State (24-20), with the aforementioned loss to Colorado as the only blemish since early October. It was not to be for OU in Columbia, however.
On a chilly, cloudy Senior Day, Gary Lane scored three touchdowns (ball hog!) and passed for another, and the Sooners could not even remotely move the ball. This one was never close, and Mizzou was 6-2-1.
Missouri 30, Oklahoma 0
November 20: #7 Missouri (6-2-1) at Kansas (6-3)
People sometimes complain nowadays that teams seem to have bowl bids locked up before all the regular season games have been played. It screwed Kansas State in 1998, when the Big 12 bowls were all pretty much lined up on the assumption that KSU would beat Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship Game. When they did not, they fell all the way to the Alamo Bowl despite being 11-1.
Once again it was a different ballgame in the 1960s. Before capping the season against Kansas, Missouri had already agreed to play in the Sugar Bowl.
Heading into a major rivalry game, that could have been the worst thing that could have happened, as Kansas had not yet lined up a bowl game (despite holding the same number of wins as Missouri) and needed a big win. Mizzou's eye could very well have been wandering from the big rivalry game to the Big Easy.
Sure enough, Kansas not only hung around with the superior Tigers in the first half, but twice took the lead.
But then the Tigers' athletes took over. Charley Brown burned the Jayhawks for an 86-yard touchdown run (he had 158 for the game, good enough to give him the conference rushing title at 937 yards); then it was Johnny Roland's turn. From Simply Devine:
I was a little sad as we prepared to play Kansas in 1965, because I knew it was going to be Johnny [Roland]'s final regular-season game at Missouri and really was going to mark the end of an era. There were two great running backs on the field that day--Roland and Sayers.
Johnny finished his career the same way it had begun--by scoring three touchdowns. We won 44-20, and Johnny finished with more than 160 all-purpose yards. When you saw Johnny run, it just seemed so unreal because it was amazing. He was even more amazing when you realize that he was a unanimous All-America selection that year, as a defensive back.
Roland's senior season was the ultimate in talent utilization. After starting his career as a stud running back, Roland agreed to move to defensive back for the good of the team -- Mizzou had a wealth of solid running backs but really needed defensive help. So he switched sides and became a stud defensive back.
In 1965, he added (or re-added) to his repertoire. Not only did he stay on defense and return punts, but he also became a red zone running back, coming into the game when Mizzou was in solid scoring position. 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, 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.
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.
Clearly wins and national prowess are important, but another reason Devine is so highly regarded in Mizzou circles is that he almost always took care of business against Kansas. In all, Devine's Missouri teams went 8-3-2 against the Jayhawks, a level of success that further emphasized successor Al Onofrio's failures in that regard (Uncle Al went 1-6 against KU).
Missouri 44, Kansas 20
** MIZZOU CLASSIC **
No. 6 Missouri (7-2-1) vs Florida (7-3)
Throughout history, how often do you figure a team has stopped a soon-to-be Heisman Trophy quarterback on three two-point conversions? I'm willing to bet it isn't a very common occurrence. It takes a team with an infinitely supply of testicular fortitude to pull that off. Luckily, Mizzou's defense proved it had just that.
In 1965, Missouri had been on both ends of comeback attempts. Against UCLA, the Tigers had fallen behind 14-0 in the fourth quarter before putting together the most unlikely of comebacks with two special teams touchdowns. And against Nebraska, it was the other way around. By this point in the season, the Tigers were probably pretty unimpressed with double-digit leads or deficits.
Good thing, too, because lesser teams might have panicked in the face of a mad comeback attempt by a stud quarterback.
Heading into the Sugar Bowl, you'd think the attention had to be on the offenses, right? Gary Lane, Big 8 leading rusher Charley Brown, and do-everything Johnny Roland versus Steve Spurrier (11 months prior to winning the Heisman) and All-American receiver Charley Casey. But for both teams, defense took top billing. Missouri's defense featured Roland and a stout secondary, and had only given up more than 14 points twice in ten games. Meanwhile, the Florida defense entered the Sugar Bowl ranked #7 in the country, highlighted by All-Americans of their own in defensive end Lynn Matthews and defensive back Bruce Bennett.
Sure enough, it was a defensive show early. Neither team scored in the opening frame, as both teams were feeling each other out. But in the second quarter, Mizzou's rushing attack got rolling. The Tigers put together a 59-yard drive that was highlighted by Charley Brown's lovely diving catch of a Gary Lane pass. Brown then jetted in from 10 yards out to give Mizzou a 7-0 lead.
The teams then traded punts, only Florida muffed a return, and Mizzou was handed good field position. They took advantage immediately with a halfback option pass from Johnny Roland to Earl Denny, and it was 14-0.
Florida finally got rolling on offense after that. The future Ol' Ball Coach drove the Gators to the Mizzou 10, but a penalty dropped them back to the 25, and Mizzou end Dan Schuppan recovered a Spurrier fumble to stop the drive. Missouri sneaked in a field goal and took a commanding 17-0 lead into halftime.
The story of the first half was by far Mizzou's defense. Never mind Roland and the secondary -- this time it was linemen like Schuppan and Tom Lynn raising a ruckus and continuously harassing Spurrier. After the game, Devine said about Spurrier, "We have never hit a quarterback so often or so hard, but he hung in there to do a great job."
To shut out the potent Gators for a half was quite impressive, but to do it for another half would be impossible, right?
Well, maybe not. The D picked up where it left off in the second half, shutting UF out in the third quarter and, more importantly, tacking on another field goal to increase the lead to 20-0. As you remember, Mizzou went into a shell against Nebraska and failed to score after two easy TD drives in the first quarter; it was key for Mizzou to remain aggressive against the dangerous Gators, and though it was only a field goal, it made a world of difference.
Heading into the final quarter, Mizzou had the dagger in its hands. The Tigers faced a third-and-1 from the Florida 15 and a chance to end any hope of a Florida comeback, but Carl Reese was stuffed for no gain. Devine then had a choice to make: go for a third field goal and technically keep Florida within three possessions, or go for the first down, score a touchdown, and end the game. Devine, who showed against UCLA that he had no problem going for the win when he went for two down 14-6 in the fourth quarter, went for the jugular. And missed. Reese was stuffed again on fourth down, and Florida was given life.
Six passes later (all completions), it was 20-6. Spurrier took the Gators 85 yards in the blink of an eye, but for some curious reason, Florida coach Ray Graves decided the Gators should go for two. The attempt failed, and Florida was down a full 14 points. That did nothing to discourage the Gators, however. On the second play after the Florida kickoff, Earl Denny fumbled and Florida recovered on the Mizzou 11. Two plays after that, Spurrier plunged in from a yard out, and it was 20-12. Ken Boston, however, broken up Spurrier's second two-point attempt, and the lead remained at eight points. If they had just attempted PATs, they'd have been down just six.
After a Mizzou punt, Spurrier had to lead Florida 81 yards for a chance to tie and did exactly that. And once again, it didn't take long. A spectacular juggling catch by Casey (who finished with five catches, 108 yards, and the career SEC receiving record) did the deed, and the score stood at 20-18 with four minutes left. But this time it was Jim Whitaker stepping up to the plate for the Tigers: he broke up a pass intended for Barry Brown (who had nine catches for 88 yards on the day), and Mizzou continued to hold on for dear life.
Florida got the ball back one last time, but Mizzou's defense finally responded, quashing the rally, closing out a dramatic Sugar Bowl win, and allowing the 12,000+ Missouri fans in attendance to exhale for the first time in about an hour.
Missouri 20, Florida 18
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 No. 10 overall to the New York Giants. Lineman Butch Allison was drafted in the second round by the Baltimore Colts. 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, defensive backs Jim Whitaker and Bruce Grossnickle, linebacker Bill Powell, and running backs Charley Brown and Earl Denny were also 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 Alabama-Nebraska Orange Bowl did.
That's right, Missouri was potentially 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.
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.