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1978 Missouri football: Tigers' 8-4 campaign was dramatic from start to finish

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The Savitar

Throughout Rock M Nation's nearly eight-year existence, we've written a lot about the 1978 college football season (and others), probably more than any 20th-century campaign. It's strange that this would be the case considering Mizzou finished just 8-4 that year, but it was one of the most incredible, dramatic, up-then-down-then-up seasons in Missouri's history.

Why am I bringing this up? Because of this:

The season finale, a 20-15 win over LSU in Memphis, is on YouTube in its entirety. That's fantastic.

I thought it would be fun, then, to present some previous 1978 writing in conjunction with some tasty YouTube offerings. Come along!

(Note: photos below are from the 1979 Savitar, complements of MU Archives.)


Despite a new coach and a new offensive look, the 1978 season featured everything from the general "Mizzou Football in the 1970s" stereotype: ridiculous schedule, ridiculous upsets, ridiculous letdowns, stars at skill positions, and buzz. Mizzou has had plenty of 7- and 8-win seasons in its history, but despite the disappointments--the season almost ran off the rails in October after back-to-back upset losses--few are remembered as fondly by Mizzou faithful as Warren Powers' first year at MU.

Upon Al Onofrio's firing following the conclusion of the 1977 season, Powers was hired over the likes of Woody Widenhofer (who would interview again in 1984 and get the job), Merv Johnson (who also interviewed again in 1984), Pat Dye (who would, three years later, embark upon a successful--and eventually probation-filled--run at Auburn), Lavell Edwards (who interviewed but probably wouldn't have taken the job--he did, after all, say no to Texas a few years later), and St. Louis Cardinals RBs Coach Joe Gibbs (maybe you've heard of him?).

Powers was just 37 when he took the job--only a decade earlier, he was a starting safety on the Oakland Raiders' Super Bowl II squad. He had played under Bob Devaney at Nebraska and had quickly gained the reputation as a coaching wunderkind. After just one year as head coach at Washington State, Powers was hired over some very impressive names in Columbia.

Powers inherited a Mizzou squad that had been, under Al Onofrio, maddeningly inconsistent. In Onofrio's last two years as head coach, Missouri had gone just 10-12--7-9 versus teams with winning records and 3-3 versus teams with losing records. Missouri had the reputation of scheduling ambitiously and knocking off a host of top-ranked teams, but for every win at Ohio State (1976), or at USC (1976), or at Notre Dame (1972), there were a couple losses to Iowa State (1973, 1976, 1977), Colorado (1973, 1975), or of course, Kansas (Missouri was just 1-6 versus the Jayhawks). The upset wins raised expectations, which made the upset losses hurt all the more.

Plus, Mizzou had gone just 1-7 in games decided by a touchdown or less in 1976-77. Their inability to come through in the clutch (which, we now know, eventually doomed Powers as well) helped signal the end for Onofrio. Plus, it showed that Missouri was not too far away from being a very successful team. And with a newly-expanded (by 10,000 seats) Memorial Stadium and a brutal schedule ahead, Powers and new Athletic Director Dave Hart had to hope that a quick turnaround was in the cards.

Known as a bit of an offensive innovator, Powers dumped Onofrio's I-formation in favor of the spread offense of its day--the veer. From an August 20, 1978, Missourian article:

Like the miniskirt, the flat top and the jitterbug, football has had its fads. Recently, it was the Wishbone. Once, it was the "T." Before that, it was the shotgun.

Now, it's the Veer that has captivated the college game.

Two running backs split behind the quarterback, each about five yards off the line of scrimmage. A quick-hitting, versatile offense. One that provides equally for running and passing. the potential for explosiveness, yet conservative, ball-control type football. The Veer.

...

The "I" officially is dead at Missouri, thanks to new Coach Warren Powers. Al Onofrio's offense is buried. No more fullback-up-the-middle on first-and-10. Hello, option plays.

...

"It's something we ran pretty well last year at Washington State," he says. "We like the pressure it puts on the defense. We like the versatility of it. It makes a team defend the entire field. What it does is stretch a defense, make them play both the run and the pass."

...

"We have to throw to make it go. ... We can throw any number of passes--the drop-back, sprint-out, play-action pass--and we can utilize our quarterbacks in the running game at the same time, if they have the ability to put pressure on the defense."

Seriously, that sounds exactly like the '70s version of the spread. It also sounds like, from what we now know about what kind of quarterback Phil Bradley was, a perfect match for Bradley's skills.

But the sophomore from Macomb, IL, took a while to separate himself from the pack. August news stories were dominated by the 4-way QB race that included Bradley, sophomore Jay Jeffrey, senior Monte Montgomery, and junior Paul Miller. While WR Leo Lewis and TE (and preseason All-American) Kellen Winslow were the more known quantities in the passing game, a large stable of running backs were battling for playing time, including senior Earl Gant, junior David Newman, junior Gerry Ellis, and a JUCO transfer from Sikeston by the name of James Wilder.

The veer looked like a pretty good fit with Missouri's offensive personnel, but what about the defense? As the season began, it appeared that Mizzou would be relatively strong on that side of the ball. Senior LB Chris Garlich was the leader and captain, the guy who made the biggest plays in the biggest games. DT Steve Hamilton was a vocal leader. But the most talent perhaps resided in the secondary, where sophomore CB and future San Francisco 49er Eric Wright was beginning a strong run with the Tigers, senior CB Russ Calabrese was backing up strong (and crazy) words with action, and freshman Kevin Potter was threatening to make his way into the rotation.

On paper, the team looked pretty solid. Of course, it did in 1977 too, but poor clutch play and the usual tough schedule (featuring USC and Arizona State in non-conference play) led to a 4-7 record and Onofrio's firing. Could they break through against a schedule that started with two Top 5 teams (Powers would eventually start complaining about the ridiculous non-conference slates and scale back a bit, among other things dropping an early-1980s series with Penn State) and would end up featuring six games against teams that would win at least eight games in 1978?

September 9: Missouri (0-0) at #5 Notre Dame (0-0)

This reveals my age, I realize, but living in Columbia while my father finished his doctorate, my mother went into labor with me on September 9, 1978. One problem: her doctor was in South Bend at the time. It's no wonder that I was born a football nerd--as I was trying to introduce myself to the world, Missouri was giving the defending national champions a run for their money on their home turf.

The last time Missouri had made a trip to South Bend, it was Al Onofrio's second season at the helm. Missouri had gone 1-10 in their first season and was 2-3 in 1972, coming off of a humiliating 62-0 loss to Nebraska in Lincoln. All they did was beat the highly-ranked Irish, setting in motion the trend of major road upsets the Onofrio Administration would bring.

Six seasons later, Notre Dame was the defending national champion and a preseason Top 5 team. Missouri legend Dan Devine had led the Irish to the 1977 national title, and in 1978, his offense returned starting QB Joe Montana and top RBs Vegas Ferguson and Jerome Heavens (a high school teammate of Mizzou DB Eric Wright, and soon to become ND's all-time leading rusher). Their defensive line had taken a hit with DEs Russ Browner and Willie Fry moving on to the NFL, but their LB corps, led by Bob Golic, was possibly the best in the country. Devine's team was loaded, and after the 1972 debacle, he would make sure his team did not overlook Warren Powers' Tigers.

Heading into the mother of season openers, Mizzou was not lacking in confidence. Russ Calabrese suggested that Notre Dame--a 17-point favorite--was "just another team*" and Phil Bradley said they had the offensive talent to offset whatever the Irish tried to do defensively. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Powers was telling his boys that all they would need was a field goal to win this game--they were going to shut Notre Dame out. In the grand scheme of things, Powers probably didn't really mean that, but never say this team didn't take him literally. It took 47 minutes, but Missouri finally got that field goal. Surely that wouldn't really be enough, right?

* Calabrese was a loudmouth's loudmouth. The week before the game, he also stated that he hated Notre Dame, hated the entire state of Indiana, and hated all Irish people. This came a month after a visit to Columbia by President Jimmy Carter; a few Missouri players were excited about the chance to meet the president. Calabrese, on the other hand, said he was "just a peanut farmer" to him, and that he was a Nixon man. I'd love to have seen what would have happened if Calabrese had played in the Internet age.

If ever a team stretched the "bend but don't break defense" idea as far as it could possibly go, it was Missouri on September 9, 1978. Punter (and fourth-string QB) Monte Montgomery struggled mightily in the first half, and Notre Dame continuously took the ball in good field position. By game's end, Notre Dame would put together nine decent scoring opportunities.

But time after time, the Mizzou defense made plays. Chris Garlich recovered a Montana fumble inside the Mizzou redzone in the first quarter, then intercepted a pass in the second. Notre Dame began to drive again, but this time Montana was picked off by Eric Wright (his future San Francisco teammate) deep in Mizzou territory. In a scoreless first half, Montana (or should I say, "Potentially the Greatest QB in NFL History" Joe Montana) went 4-for-17 with the aforementioned two picks.

The Mizzou defense had clearly brought its A-game, but it only seemed like a matter of time before the Irish took over. Mizzou's offense had been able to generate first some first downs and move the ball in the middle of the field, but they were losing the field position battle. Usually a defense can only hold onto a shutout for so long.

In the third quarter, Notre Dame threatened even more. A 19-yard Montgomery punt set the Irish up near midfield, and after a reverse to Dan Stone, ND was at the Mizzou 20. Three plays and nine yards later, it was 4th-and-1. Even though a field goal would give them the lead in a 0-0 game, Dan Devine chose to go for it. When it came to scoring, Devine had an aggressive mindset at Mizzou, and he hadn't lost it on his way to South Bend (via Green Bay). However, the plays he chose to call remained conservative. Mizzou knew ND would go straight up the gut in those situations, and sure enough...Montana attempted a sneak, and Mizzou was having none of it. The fourth down stuff gave Mizzou the ball.

Another crisis averted, Mizzou's offense took the field and immediately turned the ball over. Gerry Ellis fumbled at the Mizzou 7, and Notre Dame had a goal-to-go situation. On third down from the 4, Montana sneaked ahead and was barely kept out of the endzone. Fourth-and-inches...and Devine went for it again. And again Mizzou was ready. The awesomely-named Vegas Ferguson took the handoff...and was met at the 4 by Garlich (who would predictably go on to win Big 8 Defensive Player of the Week) and DE Kurt Peterson. Mizzou ball. Again.

Again, Mizzou couldn't move the ball, and a poor Montgomery punt set ND up at the Mizzou 36. Montana found WR Kris Gaines (not this guy) for a long gain to set the Irish up at the Mizzou 3. Only Gaines, who had clearly read Russ Calabrese's trash talk the week before the game, couldn't resist an opportunity to rub it in and slapped Calabrese on the helmet after the play. Personal foul, Notre Dame. Ball on the 18 instead of the 3.

Backed up by 15 yards thanks to Gaines, Notre Dame gained four yards in three plays and without hesitation this time, Devine sent on the field goal unit. Due probably to lack of use, holder Joe Restie bobbled the snap, and Mizzou stuffed the resulting emergency pass. Crisis averted, yet again.

As is usually the case, when your offense has missed too many opportunities to score--men stranded on base in baseball, shots rattling in and out in basketball, good shots not finding the net in soccer or hockey, break points wasted in tennis--eventually, your opponent will find a way to strike. For Notre Dame, in a baffling 0-0 game, their defense finally showed cracks late in the third quarter.

With a couple of screens to Earl Gant, Mizzou moved the ball near midfield. Then on 3rd-and-10 from the ND 40, Phil Bradley found David Newman for 15 yards. Three plays generated nine yards, and without flinching, Warren Powers sent on the field goal unit on 4th-and-1 (his quote after the game: "No, hell no. I wasn't thinking of going for it."). With 12:50 left in the game, Jeff Brockhaus' kick split the uprights, and Mizzou had an improbable 3-0 lead.

Of course, the game wasn't over. Notre Dame threatened again, and Mizzou held. The Tigers got the ball back with a chance to run out the clock, but couldn't. At their own 29, Mizzou lined up to punt one last time.

Despite all of Notre Dame's offensive talent, for most of the game, their best offensive weapon had been Monte Montgomery, Mizzou's punter, he of a 1-yard first-half punt. But if you thought recent Mizzou kicker Adam Crossett (who missed a 20-yard chip shot FG in the 2005 Independence Bowl before banging home a go-ahead 50-yard in the fourth quarter) had a flair for the dramatic, Montgomery had him beat. With Mizzou hanging on by a thread, Monte uncorked a 52-yarder. Notre Dame return man Randy Harrison, probably as shocked as everybody else in the stadium, muffed the return. Mizzou recovered, and just like that, they were able to kneel down in Victory Formation and take home the most improbable of victories.

In the end, Notre Dame won the yardage battle (334-288), the first downs battle (18-12), and the overall field position battle. But Mizzou won in turnovers (+3) and testicular fortitude. Notre Dame had advanced inside Mizzou's 25 five times and come away with 0 points. But instead of elaborating further about how momentous this moment was for the Missouri program and its fans, I'll let this September 10 Missourian article tell you all you need to know:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Black and gold banners were flying high. Chorus after chorus of that familiar fight song could be heard loud and clear. Strangers were hugging each other.

Yes, by gosh, those Missouri Tigers did it again. The coach's name is different, but tradition remains. It happened against Notre Dame in 1972. Against Nebraska in 1973 and 1974. Against Alabama in 1975. Against USC and Ohio State in 1976.

Once again, Missouri rode inspriation and intensity -- not to mention their defense -- to unbelievable heights. The result Saturday afternoon was a 3-0 upset of Notre Dame in the lion's own den.

The crowd outside the locker room was parted to make way for Linda Powers, the coach's wife. As she walked down the corridor, she was fighting back tears. It was a losing battle. She began weeping.

Moments later, after a big kiss from her husband, Mrs. Powers was escorted outdoors. Under her arm was the game ball.

The chant began.

"Defense! Defense! Defense!"

As soon as it ended, another began.

"Bama! Bama! Bama! Bama!"

Missouri 3, Notre Dame 0


September 16: #1 Alabama at #11 Missouri (1-0)

A home opener against the #1 team in the country is going to be a pretty hot ticket no matter what, and sure enough pretty much every hotel room in the city of Columbia had already been booked before Missouri went out and beat Notre Dame? But after the huge upset and Missouri's meteoric rise from unranked to #11 in the country? Let's just say it was a good thing that the university had just completed the stadium expansion in the South endzone.

Led by QB Jeff Rutledge and RBs Tony Nathan and Major Ogilvie on offense, and DE E.J. Junior, DT Marty Lyons and LB Barry Krauss on defense, the Tide were loaded. After a cold (for them) stretch in the late-1960s, Alabama had caught fire in the 1970s, having gone 11-1, 10-2, 11-1, 11-1, 11-1, 9-3, and 11-1 since 1971. They were in the middle of a stretch (from the end of 1976 to the middle of 1980) that saw them win 43 times in 45 games.

Bryant, however, had never beaten Missouri in his Tuscaloosa tenure. Missouri had won their two previous matchups, both in relatively dominant fashion--a 35-10 win in the 1968 Gator Bowl, and a 20-7 season-opening thumping in Birmingham in 1975. Mizzou was also a bit of a sandwich game for them--it was a tricky road trip between home games (in Birmingham) against Nebraska (#10 at the time) and USC (#8). If anything, though, Mizzou's win over Notre Dame served as a bit of a wake-up call. Now the Tigers were also a highly-ranked team, and the game at Faurot would take place in front of both a record number of fans in the stands (73,655) and a record number of national journalists covering the proceedings.

From the outset, Bama was ready. On a muggy, 85-degree afternoon in mid-Missouri, they took only six plays to move 71 yards on the opening possession, and a Major Ogilvie run put them up 7-0. An all-too-quick Mizzou possession led to a quick punt, and Alabama quickly scored again (Jeff Rutledge to TE Rick Neal) to make the score 14-0. Missouri apparently hadn't yet shaken off the hangover of the previous week's win, and they were already on the verge of getting blown out of the water.

Three minutes into the second quarter, the Crimson Tide kicked a field goal to go up 17-0, and finally Mizzou woke up. Led by James Wilder and Phil Bradley, they methodically marched down the field, scoring when Earl Gant plowed in from four yards out. The Mizzou defense was perking up by this point, and they quickly forced an Alabama punt. After a short Wilder run, Bradley ran a picture-perfect option keeper to the right, found a crease, and shot out the backfield like a cannonball. With great downfield blocking, he weaved his way through the entire Alabama defense for a 69-yard touchdown. Bradley went crazy in the endzone, the crowd (many of whom were basically just standing outside the north endzone) were doing the same. Suddenly Memorial Stadium was a hornet's nest, and the #1 team in the country was stumbling.

Then it got even worse for Alabama. On their second play of the following drive, Rutledge threw an out toward Neal, but it hung in the air too long. Russ Calabrese stepped in front of Neal for the interception, and weaved his way into the endzone for a pick six. After sleepwalking through the first 18 minutes of the game, Missouri had woken up and played 12 of the best minutes a Mizzou team had ever played. They would take an improbable 20-17 lead into halftime.

Bear Bryant won a lot of games in his career. In the process, there were probably quite a few times where he had to light a fire under an underachieving bunch at halftime. It was probably pretty familiar territory for him, and to say the least, he said the things that needed to be said. 'Bama came out of the locker room having been verbally slapped around a bit, and in turn they decided to slap Missouri around.

Missouri got the ball to start the second half and was quickly forced to punt. For an attempted momentum-changer, Bryant sent the house at punter Monte Montgomery, and it worked--E.J. Junior blocked the kick, LB Ricky Gilliland recovered it, and amid a convoy, returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. 24-20 Alabama. Mizzou fumbled, and Alabama drove for a touchdown. 31-20. Mizzou fumbled again, and Alabama again drove for a touchdown. 38-20.

Momentum was Missouri's best friend and worst enemy on that muggy afternoon. In the end, the Tigers only really played well for about one full quarter, and no matter how amazing were in that stretch, that's not good enough to beat the #1 team in the country. Sans the Bama partisans in the crowd, most of the 70K in attendance went home disappointed, but they had gotten glimpses of how good this team would be, and 60,000 of them would be back to see even more glimpses seven days later.

Alabama 38, Missouri 20


September 23: Ole Miss (1-0) at #17 Missouri (1-1)

Here is the opening paragraph to Kelly Klames' September 24 Missourian article:

It has been quite some time since Missouri has put together such an awesome overall performance.

If there were still lingering concerns about Phil Bradley's overall abilities as a quarterback, his performance helped to alleviate them. Bradley went 14-for-19 passing (spreading the love to seven receivers) with 178 yards and 2 TDs while adding 34 rushing yards. In all, Mizzou rushed for 327 yards and passed for 207. They sacked Ole Miss QBs ten times and held the Rebels to 186 total yards, and the only reason this game was even as close as it was, was because of four first-half Mizzou fumbles.

Leo Lewis muffed an early Rebel punt, which set up Ole Miss for a quick 7-0 lead. Mizzou fumbled the ensuing kickoff as well (shades of the 1984 Iowa State game!), but three straight sacks kept Ole Miss from going up double digits. Then it was fullback Gerry Ellis' turn to fumble. Once again, Mizzou's defense held, however, and then Ellis atoned for his mistake by busting a 77-yard touchdown run. Butter fingers kept Mizzou from pulling away for a while (it was only 17-14 Mizzou at halftime), but it was only a matter of time. The Mizzou running game went crazy in the second half--Ellis ended up with 114 yards, James Wilder 75--and Mizzou used a 21-0 fourth quarter surge to make the final score look a little more accurate.

Seriously, this game might have been about 59-7 without the fumbles.

So through three games, Mizzou had beaten the #5 team on the road, led the #1 team at halftime, and thoroughly dominated a not-great-but-not-terrible SEC team at home. They had clearly established themselves as one of the top teams in the country. That was the good news. The bad news? The schedule wasn't getting any easier. Thanks to a USC win over Alabama, there was a new team at #1; and thanks to the schedule makers, Mizzou got to play their second top-ranked opponent in three weeks. Brutal.

Missouri 45, Ole Miss 14


September 30: #14 Missouri (2-1) at #1 Oklahoma (3-0)

History hasn't been as kind to Barry Switzer as it has to other great coaches. Maybe it's because he left the program on probation (then again, have you ever checked out the violations some of the other great historical coaches have committed?). Maybe it's because of his restless, caricature-like personality. Whatever the reason, it maybe be a bit hard to forget just how ridiculously good OU was for most of the 1970s, before the dry spell of the early-'80s and their (at least partially illegal) resurgence of the mid- to late-'80s. When Kansas upset the Sooners, 23-3, in 1975, it was Switzer's first loss as OU head coach...and it was his 31st game. Heading into 1978, Switzer's worst season had been a 9-2-1 affair in 1976, heading into the Missouri game, his career record was a ridiculous 54-5-1.

Oh yeah, and he had Billy Sims running the ball.

First OU possession: 80+ yards, capped by a 42-yard Sims touchdown. 7-0.

Second OU possession: 80+ yards, capped by a 3-yard Jimmy Rogers run. 14-0.

Third OU possession: 80+ yards, capped by a 50-yard Sims touchdown. 21-0.

After the game, OU offensive tackle Sam Claphan said that the OU O-line "could be one of the best a college football team has ever had." Considering how easily OU's backs got downfield--now's a good time to remind you that Missouri had shut out the defending national champion three weeks prior--it was hard to argue. Missouri's offense got rolling in the second half and made things respectable, but in the end, OU was simply untouchable. Sims ran for 166 yards, David Overstreet (yes, that David Overstreet) put up 153, QB Thomas Lott ran for 87, OU averaged 8.0 yards per play, and Mizzou never had a chance.

In the losing cause, Earl Gant and James Wilder combined for 237 rushing yards of their own, but clearly most of that came when the game was well out of reach. Mizzou now faced a different type of challenge: after playing three Top 5 teams in four games, they approached the easiest portion of their schedule. Could they keep their focus? Could they find a second wind?

Oklahoma 45, Missouri 23


October 7: Illinois (1-2-1) at Missouri (2-2)

On a perfect October afternoon in Columbia, with the temperature in the low 60s and 60,000 fans in the stands at Memorial Stadium, Mizzou took the field against a team that a) had beaten them in back-to-back seasons and b) wasn't very good. Missouri was out for revenge in this one, which helped to allay any fear of a letdown after the spectacle that was the Tigers' September schedule (and the thumping they had just taken in Norman). Gary Moeller's Illini were coming off of a nice 28-14 win at Syracuse and had the confidence of knowing they'd beaten Mizzou last time they had traveled to Columbia and the belief that they could do it again. But belief wasn't enough this time around.

Mizzou started the beatdown quickly. A flawless first drive finished with James Wilder scoring untouched from a yard out. Mizzou quickly took a 10-0 lead, and then it was time to stick in the dagger with the least-complicated pass pattern in the world: go long. Seldom-used (and wonderfully-named) freshman WR Stevie Sly, possibly the fastest player on the team (we'll call him the Greg Bracey of his day), burned down the left sideline, and Phil Bradley hit him in stride. 17-0.

Leading 24-3 in the second half, Mizzou punished a hopeless Illinois offense. The Illini fumbled five times (losing two) and threw two interceptions, one hitting Mizzou LB Chris Garlich in stride for an easy pick six. After a short Gerry Ellis touchdown run, the scoring was capped by a 50-yard Bill Whitaker punt return. Mizzou put up 26 first downs to Illinois' 9 and 429 yards to Illinois' 201. Illinois punted eleven times to go with their four turnovers, and this one was a laugher.

Missouri 45, Illinois 3


October 14: #20 Iowa State (4-1) at #19 Missouri (3-2)

Next up came a different type of challenge. Mizzou had already faced some of the game's all-time heavyweights in 1978--Notre Dame, Alabama, Oklahoma--but now an up-and-comer was visiting Columbia. Iowa State was not known as a big-time football program by any means--from 1955-1969, Missouri went 14-0-1 against them--but they had become pretty adept at hiring good coaches. Woody Hayes protege (and soon-to-be Ohio State head coach) Earle Bruce had taken over the Iowa State job when Johnny Majors left for Pittsburgh (quick show of hands: how many of you knew that either of those guys had coached the 'Clones?), and after a slow start to his tenure (three straight 4-7 seasons), ISU had gotten hot. In back-to-back 8-win seasons, Iowa State had, among other things, managed to win two straight against Missouri for just the second time since 1933-34.

Iowa State was led on offense by a bouncy, dynamic running back by the name of Dexter Green and a strong offensive line. They did not show much threat in the passing game, but they didn't have to. Green and a rugged defense had made for a winning combination. The defense was powered by Outland Trophy hopeful DT Mike Stensrud and the linebacking Boskey brothers, Tom (soon-to-be 1st-team All-Big 8) and Chris (soon-to-be Big 8 Defensive Newcomer of the Year).

On a cloudy October afternoon in Columbia, the 63,000 in attendance saw a physical contest, determined by big plays and big hits. It started out looking like an offensive showdown. On Missouri's first drive, Phil Bradley moved the Tigers 69 yards for a field goal. ISU responded with a Dexter Green-centric touchdown drive to go up 7-3. Mizzou came right back, marching away. A 13-yard option keeper by Bradley put Mizzou up 9-7, but Jeff Brockhaus missed the PAT.

At this point, the Mizzou defense settled in, and thanks to a Larry Lauderdale interception and a long Brockhaus field goal, they took a 19-7 lead into halftime.

But then Mizzou got conservative. The exciting offense of the first half disappeared, and ISU seized all momentum with a third-quarter blocked punt for a touchdown that made the score 19-13. With under nine minutes left, ISU drove again. They faced a third-and-six from the MU 11 when Earle Bruce got a little too fancy. Green took the handoff and ran right, but pulled up for an across-the-field lob back to the quarterback, who was supposed to be wide open. DE Wendell Ray, however, sniffed the play out and picked off the pass.

Mizzou's offense was still stagnant, however. With under four minutes to go, Brockhaus (notice that he was punting now instead of Monte Montgomery) booted a 45-yard punt to 'Clone return man Tom Buck. Buck eluded tacklers and broke into the open field, but deep snapper Paul Gadt separated him from the ball with an annihilating hit. Mizzou recovered at the ISU 31, and an Earl Gant touchdown finally put the game out of reach.

Iowa State ended up outgaining the Tigers for the day, 384-331, but blocked punt aside, Mizzou made the big plays. They were +5 on turnovers for the day, and ball control moved them to 4-2.

Missouri 26, Iowa State 13


October 21: #13 Missouri (4-2) at Kansas State (2-4)

After a dogfight against ISU (and only a couple of breathers in their first six weeks of the season), Mizzou needed an easier game to recover. What a great time to travel to Manhattan! Jim Dickey was the latest to take on the K-State reclamation project, and to date the results were mixed. Yes, KSU was putting up more passing yards in the conference thanks to Dickey's passing mindset and a decent QB in Dan Manucci, and yes, the Wildcats had already won as many games (2) in 1978 than they had in 1976-77 combined. But with a shaky offensive line and defense, they were still a long way from being competitive against the big boys, and it quickly showed.

In front of just 24,500 in Manhattan, Mizzou was clicking on all cylinders. Earl Gant had 103 yards rushing on just seven carries. Kellen Winslow caught two touchdown passes. Manucci went just 10-for-27 with three interceptions, two by emerging DE Tony Green. Star DT Steve Hamilton had two sacks. Chris Garlich had eight tackles. After KSU took a 7-0 lead, Missouri would score eight of the game's final nine touchdowns.

In other words, this one was over very quickly.

Missouri 56, Kansas State 14


October 28: Colorado (5-2) at #13 Missouri (5-2)

Homecoming 1978 saw an interesting matchup between a Mizzou team that was undefeated against teams not ranked #1 in the country and looking to lock down a bowl bid and stay in contention for their first Big 8 title since 1969, and a suddenly desperate Colorado team that had been creeping up the rankings before a shocking 24-20 loss to Oklahoma State and a humiliating 52-14 loss to Nebraska. Buff coach Bill Mallory was suddenly on the hot seat despite leading Colorado an unlikely Orange Bowl bid (their first in fifteen years) just two seasons earlier. Whether Buff alums were aiming a little too high for their program or not (they would go on to fire Mallory and embark on six straight losing seasons), the calls for Mallory's resignation had fired up the Buffs.

A huge game for both teams was made even more intense by a record crowd of 71,096 in attendance, and early on Mizzou responded positively to the moment. After an early Phil Bradley fumble had led to a CU touchdown, the Mizzou offense drove 79 yards for a touchdown, capped by a perfect Bradley-to-Kellen Winslow pitch and catch. Mizzou took a 14-7 lead into halftime and took control in the third quarter. James Wilder took a simple screen pass and zig-zagged his way to a 60-yard touchdown. The PAT snap was botched, but Mizzou still had a 20-7 lead. Four minutes later, Gerry Ellis scored from two yards out, and Mizzou had a 27-7 lead. They had their foot on Colorado's throat, and they were less than 20 minutes away from a 6-2 record, a potential Top 10 ranking, and good positioning for a big-time bowl game.

And then, their proverbial foot eased off the proverbial throat. Colorado went into desperation mode, and things started to click. QB Bill Solomon found Eddie Ford for a short touchdown, and it was 27-14. Midway through the fourth quarter, Solomon hit tight end Greg Howard on three straight passes to set up a Solomon keeper, and suddenly it was 27-21. The botched PAT attempt was suddenly looming large.

Stunned, Mizzou quickly had to punt, and a game that looked well in hand was suddenly in major danger. With five minutes left, danger turned to crisis as Ford trotted in from 15 yards, and somehow Colorado was up 28-27.

Mizzou had plenty of time to salvage a win, however, and they moved the ball near midfield when they caught a break. Earl Gant, Missouri's most proven tailback, wheeled into the Colorado secondary uncovered. Bradley pounced on the missed coverage and hit Gant between the numbers at the Colorado 25...

...and Gant, sniffing the endzone, dropped it. After the game, he said "I tried to run before I caught the ball. Right when it hit my hands, I tried to go for the score."

All was not lost, however. Bradley kept the drive moving, and Mizzou advanced to the CU 26, and with time running out, the field goal unit came onto the field to redeem itself for the missed PAT. Two weeks earlier, Brockhaus had followed up a missed PAT with a 47-yard bomb. This time, it was a 42-yard attempt for the win.

Not to be. The snap was once again iffy, the hold was iffier, and the kick--which Brockhaus did well to get off in the first place--sailed well under the crossbar. The 1978 season had been shaping up to be Missouri's best of the 1970s, but Mizzou fell asleep at the wheel, and a shocking collapse to a dead-in-the-water Buffalo squad threw everything into the air.

Colorado 28, Missouri 27


November 4: Missouri (5-3) at Oklahoma State (2-6)

How often do you see a team suffer a shocking loss and then run off the rails? About a million times, right? Make it 1,000,001. Mizzou said all the right things following the surprise loss to Colorado, but they were taking on an Oklahoma State team that had suddenly gotten hot. After starting 0-5, the Cowboys had upset Colorado and thumped Kansas, then put a righteous scare into Nebraska the week before Mizzou traveled to Stillwater. This still wasn't a great team, but this was the absolute worst time to play them.

It started well enough. On their opening possession, Missouri easily marched down the field and scored on a 19-yard swing pass from Phil Bradley to Gerry Ellis, and a paranoid Mizzou fanbase was able to exhale for a moment. Mizzou looked like they had come to play.

It was 7-7, though, when OSU gambled. On fourth-and-1 for the 'Pokes on Mizzou's 15, OSU decided to go for it against a Mizzou defense that had repeatedly stuffed teams like Notre Dame in short-yardage situations. The gamble worked--RB Worley Taylor went up the gut for 15 yards, and OSU was up 14-7.

Despite a non-existent running game and uncharacteristic mistakes, Mizzou stayed close. OSU led 20-7 in the third quarter when Phil Bradley caught fire. He found Lamont Downer for 66 yards, then scrambled in from the 3 to cut the deficit to 20-14. Mizzou got the ball back, and Bradley completed three straight passes to move the Tigers into OSU territory. However, a holding penalty knocked Mizzou backwards, and the drive stalled. OSU got the ball back and was forced to punt, but sure-handed Mizzou punt returner Bill Whitaker not only fumbled, but fumbled inside the Missouri 5.

Here's where the game was decided. OSU, still apparently determining whether or not they wanted to win the game, took the gift Missouri gave them on Whitaker's fumble and...fumbled right back. The ball rolled into the endzone and went through the hands of almost every player on the field. Officials unpiled a mass of humanity to find that OSU WR Mel Campbell had possession of the ball. Touchdown, OSU. 28-14 (after a two-point conversion). Ballgame.

Both teams put up another touchdown, but it was all academic. OSU hadn't overpowered Missouri or tricked them in any way--they just lined up and beat the Tigers. Mizzou's bowl hopes were not only on life support, but in a full-fledged coma. They would have to pull something special in their final two games to salvage their first bowl bid since 1973.

/foreshadowing

Oklahoma State 35, Missouri 20


November 11: Kansas (1-8) at Missouri (5-4)

Throughout the history of the Missouri-Kansas rivalry, there have been plenty of instances of underdogs pulling upsets, or one rival adding insult to injury and prolonging a losing streak. Lucky for Mizzou, as poorly as the last two weeks had gone for them, the whole season had gone that way for KU, so while the former was still a concern, the latter helped Missouri. For the season, the Jayhawks had only played one team with a losing record, and only a surprise upset of UCLA had prevented them from being winless. Still, though, this was the Border War (or whatever it was being called then). Throw out the records, etc.

Or not. Here's your entire scoring rundown:

Q1: James Wilder 21 run, 7-0

Q1: Phil Bradley 4 run, 14-0

Q2: Earl Gant 11 run, 21-0

Q2: Earl Gant 27 run, 27-0

Q3: James Wilder 40 run, 34-0

Q3: Earl Gant 16 run, 41-0

Q4: Earl Gant 30 run, 48-0

Gant and Wilder combined for 294 yards and six touchdowns, Mizzou forced five turnovers and racked up 11 tackles for loss. In front of 64,263 on Senior Day, Missouri positively destroyed the hated Beakers. They sat at 6-4 heading into the season finale, and lucky enough for them, a win would put them in strong bowl position despite the untimely back-to-back losses. Not as lucky: the finale was in Lincoln, and Nebraska was one win away from a shot at the national title.


November 18: Missouri (6-4) at #2 Nebraska (9-1)

Set the scene for us, Todd Donaho:

As fate would have it, the schedule maker played a big part in giving Mizzou an exciting, nostalgic, sentimental, revengeful, and upsetting finish to the 1978 regular season. For the only time in Missouri football history, the Tigers final regular season game was against Nebraska.

And, as fate would have it, Missouri was led by first-year head coach Warren Powers who played football and was an assistant coach for eight seasons at Nebraska. If Powers could beat his alma mater, Missouri would earn its first bowl game in five years.

While Warren Powers was attempting to knock his alma mater out of national title contention, Tom Osborne was trying to officially lock up the love of Nebraska fans. The hand-picked successor to Bob Devaney, who retired after the 1972 season, Osborne had done fine in Lincoln, winning at least nine games every year. But Devaney won a national title in his second-to-last season, so the bar was set extremely high, especially since Barry Switzer was kicking so much behind in Norman. Not only did Switzer win national titles in his first two seasons at OU, but he also won his first five head-to-head matchups with Osborne.

But 1978 was different. After a season-opening loss to Alabama in Birmingham, Nebraska had ripped off nine consecutive victories, including, just seven days before the Missouri-Nebraska game, Osborne's first win over Switzer and OU. Nebraska had moved to #2 in the country and was sixty minutes away from a likely Orange Bowl matchup against #1 Penn State.

For both Osborne and Powers, this was the biggest moment in their careers, and every player on the field played like it. You know I'm one who loves a good boxing reference, and this was as close to a toe-to-toe slugfest as a football game could be. One team score, the other responded. With wind chill near zero, in front of 75,000+, both offenses came out throwing haymakers.

On the first play of the game, NU's speedy Rick Berns raced 82 yards for a touchdown. Mizzou took more than one play to respond, but they drove rather effortlessly for their own touchdown, a 9-yarder by James Wilder. Led by Berns again, NU struck right back to go up 14-7 and quickly added a field goal to take what looked to be a double-digit lead into halftime. But as they would all game, Mizzou responded. On their last first-half drive, Wilder was dominant, accounting for half the drive's yardage. Phil Bradley found a tiptoeing Kellen Winslow in the front corner of the endzone, and the score was a much more manageable 17-14 at intermission.

After Mizzou stalled to start the second half, it was Berns' turn to give NU another cushion. His 2-yard run put NU up 24-14 five minutes into the third quarter. The Huskers could not land the knockout blow, however. Mizzou responded again, thanks to its most recognizable names. Earl Gant for 7 yards. Wilder for 20. Bradley across the field to Winslow for 16. After a busted play, Bradley avoiding pressure and finding Winslow again for 16 yards to the 1. At this point, Nebraska stiffened and stuffed three straight Mizzou runs, leading to the first "play of the game" situation. After a timeout, Bradley bobbled the snap and barely got the handoff to Wilder, who dove into the endzone. 24-21.

Mizzou then went from counter-punching to dictating the action. In a game not remembered for fantastic defense, Mizzou's Chris Garlich was unbelievable. Never mind the 21 tackles--it was the number of huge plays he made that stood out. He stuffed an NU run on the Huskers' first play of the next series, then dropped into the coverage and stepped in front of NU's Junior Miller for a bobbling interception at the NU 31. On the ensuing drive's second play, Phil Bradley burned by, spun around, and plowed through Husker tacklers on a 27-yard run that set up a mean James Wilder touchdown run. Late in the third quarter, it was 28-24 Missouri, their first lead of the game.

Of course, you knew Nebraska was going to respond. After a near-disaster on the kickoff return, when NU attempted a Wychek-to-Dyson style full-field lateral that got eaten up near the Husker 10, NU converted a 3rd-and-long by the skin of their teeth, then got rolling. A 16-play drive culminated with backup QB Tim Hager sneaking up the middle to paydirt. 31-28 Nebraska.

As the third quarter ended, a game that featured 700 rushing yards and over 1000 total yards turned into a defensive slugfest. Well, sort of. Bradley found Winslow for 30 yards and Leo Lewis for 33 yards, and Mizzou had a goal-to-go situation. On third down from the four, a bad exchange between Bradley and Gant put the ball on the ground, and Nebraska recovered. Both teams would punt, then Nebraska had a chance to put the game away.

Four yards at a time, Nebraska moved inside the Mizzou 30 and faced a 4th-and-5 from the Mizzou 27. The Tiger defense was exhausted, and sensing the opportunity to end the game and move on to the national title game, NU went for it. A swing pass to Junior Miller came up two yards short, however, and with under six minutes remaining, Mizzou would get one last chance to mount a touchdown drive. it was almost too efficient.

I haven't been able to nail down their official names, but on the recording I have in my possession, it sounds like the Mizzou announcers for this game are named Steve Grass (play-by-play) and Bob Roe (color commentary). Their call of MU-NU was amazingly homerific (in favor of Missouri), and in the best possible way. They were living and dying with every possession, grumbling about bad calls and Roe (?) in particular whooped after every great play. Here's the play-by-play of Mizzou's final drive, with associated commentary:

  • James Wilder 2-yard run (Grass: "Missouri's got plenty of time showing on the clock, they've also got two timeouts left in this half." Roe: "Let's just hammer the ball down the field, pick up three or four, give it to our horses--Ellis, Wilder--let 'em pick up three or four at a time, get Kellen down across the middle...then score!")
  • Gerry Ellis pounds up the gut for 11 (Grass: "Covered up, Gerry BANGS away at the 35 and 40!" Roe: "Boy, I tell you what. We've got one Nebraska player down. That's what happens every time you try to tackle Ellis or Wilder--somebody might get wounded.")
  • Option pitch to Wilder, who is hit and fumbles...the ball rolls forward and out of bounds (Roe: "Well, we got five yards on that play!" Grass: "That's a good play, coach!")
  • Wilder straight ahead for six yards and a first down (Roe, on replay: "Watch this, watch Wilder. We've said it once, we've said it a thousand times. The guy is just tremendous. He's one of the greatest backs in the Big 8. How he was overlooked for 2nd-team or Honorable Mention, I'll never know")
  • Kellen Winslow seam route for 33 yards (Grass: "Bradley's gonna pass, HE'S GOT WINSLOW OVER THE MIDDLE. COMPLETE! AT THE 20...15...14...FIRST DOWN." Roe: "ALRIGHT, KELLEN. Here we go again! The famous pass--Phil Bradley to Kellen Winslow! We just sent Kellen down with the seam...guy's sittin' right there, behind the linebackers, in front of the defensive backs. A guy that high, you've gotta give him some room.")
  • Wilder straight ahead for 8 (Grass: "Jim Wilder...cover it up, Jim...at the 10...WILDER fights his way to the 6-yard line. Oh I can't stand it...what a football game we've got today." Roe: "I'm going to tell you right now, Jim Wilder. I'm going to buy you the biggest steak dinner you can eat." Grass: "I think he's a vegetarian, isn't he?" Chuckles all around)
  • Wilder literally shoves a tackler aside, pounds ahead into the endzone (Grass: "WILDER!" Roe: "WILDER!" Grass: "JIM WILDER!" Roe and Grass: unintelligble loud noises. Roe: "DID YOU SEE THAT?? DID YOU SEE HIM?? DID YOU SEE HIM TAKE THAT MAN AND THROW HIM DOWN?? Grass: "You will not believe what Wilder did." Roe: "He had a guy wrapped around his waist, he just grabbed hold of him and threw him into the ground like he was a piece of turf!" Grass: "Unbelievable!")

Seriously, just about the greatest play call ever on the touchdown there. These guys were freezing in the press box, and ready to find somebody to plow through themselves. Roe actually started humming the fight song after the PAT went through. Bananas.

Instead of grinding out the rest of the clock and putting the game away, Missouri had taken only seven plays to go 74 yards. That left Nebraska with over 3:40 to try to save their national title hopes. It didn't start so well for the Huskers. Wendell Ray flew in and sacked Tom Sorley on the first play of the drive for an 8-yard loss (Roe called him "Mr. Wonderful"). After a Berns run, NU faced 3rd-and-11 from their 19. Sorley, who had gotten briefly knocked out of the game in the third quarter, threaded a perfect pass on a deep out, finding a receiver at midfield, out of bounds. Still 2:30 left.

No prevent defense here for Missouri. They blitzed a safety on first down (an imcomplete pass), then blitzed a corner on second down, when Sorley found Berns on a perfectly-called screen pass. Eleven yards, first down at the MU 39.

With plenty of time to run and pass, NU attempted a delayed draw for four yards, called timeout, then handed to Berns for three more yards. After a Missouri timeout, Sorley handed to Berns again, but Chris Garlich flew through the line and knocked Berns off-track before Larry Lauderdale and Steve Hamilton wrapped him up. The play ended up losing two yards, which set up Nebraska's final chance, a fourtth-and-four attempt from the MU 33. Take it away, Steve Grass.

"They've got to do it. If they do it defensively here, the game will be over. They're gonna pass...deep...INCOMPLETE!!!" Roe: "Missouri takes over!" Grass: "No flags! There are no flags on the field! Missouri takes over! 1:03 left! Nebraska has one timeout remaining! Missouri can run four plays, and this football game will be over!" Mizzou defenders left the field with their arms raised. Mizzou fans in the stands were hugging each other. The sea of red was silenced, and Missouri was going to win the game.

Some of the best games ever have been decided by a 35-31 tally. OU-NU 1971. Super Bowl XIII (Pittsburgh-Dallas). The score suggests a blow-for-blow game rather than one of crazy plays and weird scoring lines. Sure enough, there have been crazier games just in the three seasons we've now covered in this series (1965: Mizzou 20, Florida 18...1984: Wisconsin 35, Mizzou 34), but none better. This was a well-executed game with the big players making big plays, and Mizzou, traveling to the den of the #2 team in the country in nearly sub-zero temperatures, was simply the better team.

A loss like this one is hard to take. For Tom Osborne, who came just one or two plays short in his quest for the national title game, the loss (and the pressure of living up to the standards that Bob Devaney set) almost sent him running to a new location. After a 6-5 season, Colorado fired Bill Mallory and offered Osborne nearly an almost 250% pay increase to lead the Buffaloes to the promised land. He visited Boulder, interviewed for the job, met the players he would be coaching if he took the gig...and declined. He decided to come back to bring a national title to Lincoln. It would take him 16 long years.

Missouri, on the other hand, had weathered an intense downward spiral at the end of October and beginning of November, and escaped with both momentum and a bowl bid. Their win over Nebraska landed them a spot in the Liberty Bowl. Warren Powers' first season in Columbia had brought Mizzou seniors their first bowl trip, and Mizzou's first overall in five seasons. The 1978 season had begun and ended with unlikely, dramatic, heart-tugging, memorable wins, and while not everything in the middle had gone as planned, those wins would make 1978 one of the most fondly-recalled seasons in Missouri history.

The question was, could Missouri top off the big wins with a bowl trophy?

Missouri 35, Nebraska 31


** LIBERTY BOWL **
December 23: #18 Missouri (7-4) vs Louisiana State (8-3)

From The Missourian's gameday article:

Missouri vs Louisiana State.

It's being billed as the battle between two Tigers, as both teams own the same nickname. And LSU Coach Charlie McClendon is among the crowd that doesn't believe this is just another game.

He says television makes it special.

"This one is for mom and dad and girl friends and next-door neighbors," he says. "They all can see it. That's where the pride factor comes in."

If pride is a factor, Missouri probably would have the edge. Nobody on its 102-man roster has ever played in a bowl game. M U hasn't been in a bowl game since 1973. The players are hungry.

"It's an important game for the whole state of Missouri," says flanker Leo Lewis. "This is a good time to prove Missouri is back."

Warren Powers, recently named Walter Camp Coach of the Year, took Mizzou into battle against an underdog LSU team (Mizzou -7 was the line) led by two QBs--David Woodley (a future Miami Dolphin) and Steve Ensminger--and a star running back, All-American Charles Alexander. Charlie McClendon, who had played for Bear Bryant at Kentucky (seriously, who in the SEC didn't have ties to Bryant?), was coaching his 17th season in Baton Rouge (he would retire after 1979). The Bayou Bengals ran a step behind Alabama most of the time, but McClendon had still led LSU to at least eight wins in eight of the last 11 seasons, going to the Sugar Bowl in 1967 and the Orange Bowl in 1970 and 1973. They had hit a mid-1970s slump before rebounding with eight wins in 1977 and 1978.

LSU was clearly not going to be intimidated by Powers' physical Missouri team. They had faced heavyweights themselves in '78--they lost 24-17 to 9-2-1 Georgia and 31-10 to 11-1 Alabama--but they had yet to beat a team that finished with a winning record.

Alexander and James Wilder got most of the pre-game billing, but in the end, defense won a game that encapsulated Missouri's entire 1978 season, for better and worse.

it started well enough for Missouri; they took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards for a touchdown. Earl Gant took it in from 13 yards out, and Mizzou was up 7-0. It was 7-3 when LSU made a key mistake--a roughing the punter penalty gave Mizzou new life in a second-quarter drive, and Phil Bradley found Kellen Winslow, playing in his final Mizzou game, for a 14-3 lead. With the MU defense dominating, Mizzou got one more chance to score before halftime and took advantage. As was expected from him by this point, Wilder plowed through a series of LSU tacklers on the way to a 3-yard touchdown, and a 20-3 lead with 1:20 left in Q2. Mizzou actually got another chance to score after an interception, but a holding penalty knocked them out of field goal range, and they took a 17-point lead into the locker rooms.

Strong start, good running game...sounds like the first half of Missouri's season. Now, it was time to remind everybody of the Colorado collapse. Missouri's offense went into a shell, and the lead began to evaporate. LSU finally got Alexander rolling and scored five minutes into the second half. Mizzou blocked the PAT, however, and the score was 20-9. Mizzou's offense stalled, and LSU was driving again before Bill Whitaker picked off a Woodley pass.

The fourth quarter started with LSU driving once again. With the ball on the MU 25, Woodley rolled right out of a shotgun formation, but was hocked down by DT Norman Goodman and fumbled. Eric Berg, who had already picked off a pass while starting in place of injured LB Billy Bess, recovered. Another bullet dodged. With 5:30 left, the defense had to step up again--this time it was DE Kurt Peterson coming up with an interception.

But with Mizzou's offense in hibernation, LSU got the ball back and drove yet again. On fourth-and-goal with 1:33 left, Woodley snuck in from a yard out, and it was 20-15. Berg, named Missouri's defensive player of the game, intercepted the two-point conversion pass, however, and LSU was unable to close within a field goal.

Mizzou recovered the inevitable onsides kick attempt, but get this--they stalled again. LSU used its timeouts and actually got the ball back again with seconds remaining, but one completion ate up the rest of the clock, and as they had in November on the verge of collapse, Mizzou had come through. It wasn't pretty, but it was a 20-15 win, Missouri's eighth of the season.

Missouri 20, LSU 15


Mizzou had sent the seniors--Kellen Winslow, Earl Gant, etc.--out as winners in one of the most memorable seasons in Mizzou history, but there was no whooping and loud celebrating in the Tiger locker room. Just a few handshakes, a few hugs, and contented quiet. Everybody in that locker room felt there were big things ahead for the Mizzou program, and considering how far they had come in just one year under Warren Powers, how could they think otherwise?

Of course, this was about as good as it was going to get under Powers. As we will read in the future, Mizzou remained strong and competitive--going 7-5, 8-4, and 8-4 over the next three seasons and upsetting ranked teams like Mississippi State in 1981 and Oklahoma in 1983--but the dramatic heights of the 1978 would not be matched in the remaining six seasons of Powers' tenure. That fact probably makes the 1978 memories even more fond for long-time Mizzou fans that would soon become long-suffering Mizzou fans.

And really, that's what is so great and so cruel about college football. Every group of departing seniors and incoming recruiting class completely changes the complexion of the program. You never really know how long success is going to last, and you learn to treasure certain victories and certain moments. The 1978 season was as full of those moments as any season ever had been, from the goal-line stand against Notre Dame, to the Phil Bradley option run and Russ Calabrese pick six against Alabama, to the whooping of Illinois, to the Q4 Wendell Ray interception against ISU, (to the collapses against CU and OSU), to every second of the Nebraska game, and the bowl win over a game LSU team. It was, without a doubt, a great season to be a Missouri fan.