Sunday, April 01, 2007

"Off Season"

For those who have visited this site, thanks for coming by. Unfortunately, with time being a real issue, I'm going to be very erratic in terms of entries. For awhile, I was getting one or two every week, but it's an uphill battle at this stage.

I will periodically check back--if not to actually create an entry (still possible)--to see if anyone has any comments to bring forth. Again, 'preciate your time.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

From Sweet Sixteen to Elite Eight

Nope, not college basketball, but football. In the prior entry, I ran down a list of what ended up by chance being 16 teams from the decade that I felt at least needed further consideration for the top rankings. I should note here that it's not entirely based on win-loss or titles, and not entirely based on pure power.

In the latter case, Michigan State's 1965-'66 squads would have easily made the top five. This group ended up giving the NFL four high first-round draft picks in '67, for instance, and simply mauled much of its opposition.

But the criteria, really, became--following going unbeaten--who did you beat and who did you get close shaves from, with the latter being less important than the former. After all, if those narrow escapes didn't prevent a team from taking the national title, then mostly the only thing counting was the 'W.' Conversely, it makes more of a difference, the way I see it, to knock off top competition. That's one reason the 1961 Alabama team, for instance, didn't go further in this analysis; it simply didn't play enough stellar opponents, even if it won everything put in front of it. We're talkin' comparing top vs top, so there must be some tie-breakers. For that reason, too, the sweat-outs against the puny penalized some teams, but not as much as they were boosted by their triumphs over impressive foes.

Anyway, with that noted, it's down to the "Elite Eight." Kinda interesting to me that four, or half, didn't quite win the national championship. Here, only in order by year and alphabetically, is that smaller group
["Trials" are either setbacks or narrow wins over weaker squads. "Triumphs" are victories over any squad better than 6-4]:

'62 Ole Miss (10-0)-Trials: ahead by just one point with five minutes to go against mediocre Miss State (3-6 W-L) before scoring to make the final 13-6.
Triumphs: over Houston (7-4 record), at LSU (9-1-1), and Arkansas (9-2). *USC won the national title, but as noted in prior entry, felt this Rebels version was sightly better overall, and its coming up a bit short wasn't due to stumbling.

'63 Texas (11-0)-Trials: win at SMU (4-7) and at Texas A&M (2-7-1).
Triumphs: OU (8-2), Baylor (8-3), and Navy (9-2). *Texas the national champ.

'64 Arkansas (11-0)-Trials: home win over Oklahoma State (4-6)
Triumphs: over Tulsa (9-2, Golden Hurricane not powerful, but still good), at Texas (10-1), Nebraska (9-2). *Alabama, due to bowls not counting in the main polls, won the national title. Like with Ole Miss in '62, though, Arkansas did nothing to prevent it from winning. 'Bama just snuck in a hair ahead.

'65 Michigan State (10-1)-(the only one of the finalists with a defeat. Chose it over its better known successor due to the magnificence of its wins, while the '66 group only had one "quality" win to its credit.)
Trials: lost to UCLA, 14-12, in the Rose Bowl that cost it the country's championship. A caveat, though, in that the Spartans defeated the Bruins to start the season. Deeply difficult to beat a stellar opponent twice in the same season. No close contests against so-so opponents.
Triumphs: UCLA (early season), (8-2-1 record), Ohio State (7-2), at Purdue (7-2-1) and at Notre Dame (7-2-1).

'66 Notre Dame (9-0-1)-Trials: tie at Michigan State, if can consider it a setback. Basically blew everyone else off the map.
Triumphs: Purdue (9-2), at USC (7-4) (can consider the MSU game on this side of the ledger too). *National champion

'66 Alabama (11-0)-Trials: none, really
Triumphs: Ole Miss (8-3), at Tennessee (8-3) (one pt win), Nebraska (9-2) (Sugar)

'68 Ohio State (10-0)-shaves at Illinois (1-9), Mich St (5-5), at Iowa (5-5)
Triumphs: SMU (8-3), Purdue (8-2), Michigan (8-2), USC (9-1-1) (Rose for national crown) *National champion

'69 Texas (11-0)-Trials: none vs mediocre opponents
Triumphs: at Arkansas (9-2) (for inside track to national title at end of season), Notre Dame (8-2-1) in Cotton Bowl to clinch *National champion

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Finalists for Best College Football Teams of the Sixties

I must be suffering from gridiron withdrawal. It seems to happen about this time every year, as the bowl season and ensuing recruiting national signing day have begun to move into the rearview mirror. Oh sure, I get a bit of a fix from snippets of spring training (depending on which team you're following, as they hold spring drills at different times).

But it's hard to get much of a gauge there, because if the offense is doing well, is it because of the offense being impressive or the defense simply stinking? Difficult to tell in a number of cases. Plus, time and again I see a springtime superstar become an autumn outcast, barely even making the two-deep, if that, in some instances.

So, with baseball season not quite here, now is my chance to discuss my overall favorite sport: college football.

My first task is/was to gather the best of the bunch, and not necessarily every national title team will be among the top teams for the decade. Additionally, there may be more than one team from a particular season that I believe merits lofty consideration. One season the latter proved true is undoubtedly the 1966 campaign.

Here are the teams I'm currently looking more closely at to develop a precise pecking order. As of now, I'm just talkin' with ya about it, listing the teams and a blurb or two. Obviously, I'd love to have others join the fray. [If you don't have a blogger account, it's now done thru setting up a simple google account, much as you would for hotmail, yahoo, or some other highly-used and FREE email account. Here's a good place to get started: Blogger Help--Getting Started]

1960 Ole Miss--Minnesota may have won the national title (its nation-leading fourth since the advent of the AP poll in 1936), but I believe this Rebel squad deserved note ahead of that Golden Gophers group. Why? The titlists lost two games, while Mississippi went 10-0-1. A tie to an LSU team that stunningly went just 5-4-1 (after finishing #3 and #1 nationally the prior two seasons) is the only blight of the bunch. But the list of wins was impressive, including road wins at Arkansas and Tennessee (24-3) and a Sugar Bowl victory over Rice (when the Owls regularly flew high). Eight of the 11 opponents were held to a TD or less on the season.

1961 Alabama--Bear Bryant's (pic) squad took every national title poll except for the Football Writers. It finished by nearly blanking a strong Arkansas squad, 10-3. Not an absolutely overwhelming offense (as many teams didn't possess in those days of defensive-minded football with none of the rules that currently favor the offense), but it shut out five straight opponents to end the regular season and allowed just 25 points in 11 games! This may have been the greatest defensive team since the end of the second World War, even factoring in the rules of the time.

1961 LSU--despite Woody Hayes' Ohio State Buckeyes capturing the only other noteworthy national title (Football Writers), I thought this Tigers' bunch was a bit better. It upended Ole Miss, giving Johnny Vaught's Rebs their only regular season loss (the other was to Texas in the Cotton Bowl). The Tigers also whipped previously one-loss Colorado, 25-7, in the Orange Bowl. In all, the opponents had a clearly better W-L mark than 'Bama's did.
However, a loss at Rice, 16-3, prevented a perfect season. It should be recalled--with fondness by old SWC fans--that the Owls could and often did put a hurt on plenty of good teams in that period still.

1961 Texas--In contrast to LSU's loss to Rice, the Longhorns hammered the Owls, 34-7. This was perhaps Darrell Royal's best team that didn't win a national title, at least until 1968, and even then there's some argument. In an era when points were pretty rare (compared to nowadays' scoring orgies), Texas rang up some high-level offensive numbers. I noted 'Bama's victory over Arkansas, 10-3, in the Sugar Bowl; Texas destroyed the Hogs on the road, 33-7.
One could say, including the Longhorns' upending of the powerful Ole Miss Rebels, they had bragging rights on the SEC that season (also noting again the whipping of Rice compared to LSU's losing).
But, much as the Ohio State Buckeyes stubbed their toe to TCU (7-7 tie), Texas saw its national title aspirations wilted (6-0 defeat) by a dramatically underperforming Horned Frogs bunch. The Frogs were giant killers that year, but little else on their way to a particularly peculiar 3-5-2 mark.
Otherwise, this Texas team was arguably better than anyone period in 1961.

1962 Southern Cal--the Trojans won it all in every main poll and defeated QB Ron VanderKelen's Wisconsin Badgers in a wild Rose Bowl, 42-37. USC did narrowly beat also-ran opponents Navy and Iowa (both with five losses), but besides the Badgers, it defeated a standout Duke team and held eight of 11 opponents to seven points or less.

1962 Ole Miss--yet another great Johnny Vaught (pictured) team, the Rebs went unbeaten, including defeating Arkansas (only other loss, 7-3, to then top-ranked Texas, in Austin) in the Sugar, 17-13. It was arguably the better team vs USC, as it also defeated otherwise unbeaten LSU, 15-7, on the road, walloped Houston, 40-7, and punctured several others. Arkansas' 13 points was the most the Rebs allowed all season, otherwise not giving more than seven in a game.

1963 Texas--not exactly glamorous in terms of offensive fireworks (unlike its 1961 non-#1 counterpart), but it continually found the way to win--all the way to the national championship--allowing just 71 points in 11 games. Additionally, the 'Horns came alive most in the biggest games, dominating both Oklahoma, 28-7, and Navy, 28-6. The lack of offense wasn't apparent in those contests. This era, though, seemed to breed the old adage of defense, kicking, field position and turnovers as the keys to victories, and Texas succeeded better than anyone else at that game. Defense particularly pleased in an astounding 7-0 shutout of high-octane Baylor. The only thing preventing this UT edition from possibly being considered higher on the all-decade list are two very close games against mediocre opposition. Still, the title crowning gave Darrell Royal something he'd narrowly missed a few times previously in a young but already decorated tenure at Texas.

1964 Alabama--once again, Bryant's Tide rolled, this time under the signal-calling of Joe Namath. Declared national champs prior to the bowls that season, 'Bama did get upended by another superb squad, Texas, in the Orange Bowl, 21-17. Despite that "asterisk" of sorts, this team was mighty potent when needed, taking on a pretty impressive list of opponents. Down went LSU (just one loss other than vs the Tide), Georgia Tech, Georgia, and Florida, all with only two other losses. Other than the Gators, everyone else was handled by at least a TD and often more.

1964 Arkansas--Razorback fans still understandably chafe at their unbeaten group getting bumped out of the AP and UPI national title by the more popular Crimson Tide that season. However, they did get such recognition by a number of other polls, including the Football Writers.
The Hogs had some arguing in their favor. While Texas beat 'Bama in the Orange, Arkansas gave the 'Horns their only loss, a 14-13 midseason nailbiter in Austin. It also beat a very sound Nebraska squad (one other loss) in the Cotton Bowl, 10-7 (pic of Hog defense doing its thing vs the Huskers). The only relative low point all year was a close home opening contest vs a paltry Okie State bunch, 14-10.
In the process of this unbeaten campaign, the Hogs shut out five straight opponents (latter half of the season) and held eight of 11 teams to just seven points or less!

1965 Michigan State--another case of perhaps the better team not winning the coveted national title trophy; This was the first year since the AP poll's advent that allowed the bowls to count in the rankings, and MSU lost narrowly in the Rose to UCLA, 14-12. The Spartans got sandwiched, because the AP went back to the pre-bowl final poll system for the following two years.
Something to note, here, though, is State had already beaten the Bruins to open the season, 13-3. It also beat everyone else, including a number of very strong opponents. With the likes of Bubba Smith and George Webster, the Spartans defeated Ohio State (32-7), Purdue (away) and Notre Dame (away). Including their triumph over UCLA, that gave Duffy Daughtery's group wins over four top 15 teams.
[It's naturally asked what Alabama, the only team ending above MSU, did. The Tide, in a sense, "earned" its spot above the Spartans by way of defeating previously unbeaten Nebraska, 39-28, in the Orange, when it was known to have a great shot at the crown after prior unbeatens were felled on New Year's Day. Still, this team lost and tied games earlier in the year, with the loss coming to Georgia (which dropped four contests on the season). As a result, it's narrowly out of contention]

1966 Notre Dame As noted in one of the earlier paragraphs, this season ultimately illustrates multiple valid claims to the mythical national title. In the end, the Irish took the honors, despite a late season tie with Michigan State. In fact, that tie--at East Lansing (pic below)--is a bit more favorable to the Irish than the Spartans. Not only was it on the road, but the Golden Domers were handcuffed with the loss of their top skill position personnel to various injuries. Additionally, they fought back to tie the game after being down 10-0. The only tarnish is that Ara Parseghian opted for the deadlock rather than the win, but the circumstances likely made it foolish to pel-mel go for the jugular in this case.
In all, it's a harsh chore to argue effectively against giving the Irish the championship. There were no games of close consequence, and victories included over an otherwise one-loss Purdue and a 51-0 destruction over USC at the Trojans' domain. In its 10-game sked, ND blanked six opponents and routed eight of its nine victims by at least 24 points.

1966 Michigan State--alas, the Spartans again played the AP bridesmaid to someone else. Duffy's powerhouse couldn't even prove its mettle in the Rose Bowl, due to the Big Ten's no-repeat clause for the Grandaddy game. A squad with four early-first round draft picks gave Purdue its only other loss (beyond the Boilermakers' ND defeat) on its way to mirroring the Irish's 9-0-1 mark. The only stain of sorts, other than the ND tie, was an 11-8 escape over an uncharacteristically moribund Buckeyes' squad (4-5-1 record). That game, in fact, opened the door for Notre Dame's national title.

1966 Alabama--one of the best of many Bear Bryant juggernauts, this one just happened to be left out in the midst of the two midwestern maulers, but it could play with anyone, as evidenced by a 34-7 Sugar Bowl rout of previous one-loss Nebraska. The Tide went 11-0, with additional triumphs over stout squads Mississippi and Tennessee. Despite the trend in scoring generally moving upward by this point (at least partly due to specialization and the phasing out of the two-way player), Bryant's boys shut out six opponents, including four in a row at one stretch. There were no close calls even, other than the 11-10 road win vs the Vols.

1967 Southern Cal--though a shocking 3-0 loss at Oregon State (7-2-1 mark) prevented a perfect season, the Trojans still claimed the country's championship on the strength of OJ Simpson's scampers, and specifically a 64-yarder that beat top-ranked UCLA and Gary Beban, 21-20. The opposition was fairly strong over the course of the season, and victories included three otherwise one-loss foes (Notre Dame, UCLA, and Indiana in the Rose Bowl).

1968 Ohio State--featuring one of at least three groups of highly impressive sophomores (Texas and Arkansas being others), the Buckeyes rebounded from eight losses over the prior two campaigns to upend all ten opponents. It also captured the crown with a Rose Bowl win over defending champ USC, with OJ Simpson. This team wasn't without its struggles, even in victory, as close shaves with has-beens Illinois, Michigan State, and Iowa clouded greatness.
On the other side, USC had been unbeaten, and the Buckeyes also beat SMU, Purdue, and Michigan (50-14), with the latter two losing just one game otherwise.
*[special note this season should go to Texas, which, in warming up for even better things, annihilated all its foes following a sputtering start. That beginning (a tie and loss) is the only thing keeping this rendention of the 'Horns from being considered among the top. From the standpoint of pure power over the bulk of the season, it cannot be conquered. It culminated by blasting a potent Tennessee team, 36-13 (opened up a 28-0 lead), in the Cotton Bowl]

1969 Texas--the Longhorns, after Ohio State went down to Michigan, were unquestionably the top team in the land this season (though Arkansas and Penn State could brag on their accomplishments for varied reasons). This squad, as the cliche goes, had it all: it drove many opponents below the (artificial) turf and into the concrete, including one-time nemesis TCU, 69-7, on its way to numerous school, conference, and NCAA records. Most importantly, it had the inner stuff to fight back against the odds against immensely stellar opposition. It showed this to the nation in season-ending comeback wins over then-unbeaten Arkansas (road) and a Joe Theismann-led Notre Dame program playing in its first bowl game in 45 years (above rendition of Steve Worster on a rampage vs the Irish). Both of these games brought everything expected, as did the 'Horns' foes. In the end, an 11-0 season captured Darrell Royal's second national crown.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sports Snapshots: March 6, 1966

The Philadelphia 76ers vaulted over the reigning champion Boston Celtics and into first place in the Eastern Division with a 113-110 triumph in Boston. Wilt Chamberlain led the Sixers with 32 points. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers expanded their Western Division lead over the Baltimore Bullets to seven game with a 126-105 thrashing. Elgin Baylor, slowed much of the year with an injured right knee, poured in 37 points. The St Louis Hawks, in coming from behind to defeat the New York Knicks, 119-106, have snuck within one game of the Bullets for second place.

As the collegiate cagers prepare for NCAA tourney play tomorrow night, the final UPI standings featured Kentucky (23-1) at the top, Duke (23-3) at #2, Texas Western (23-1) #3, Kansas (21-3) #4, and Loyola (IL) (21-2) at #5. The longtime leader of the Kentucky program, Adolph Rupp (pic), won the UPI Coach of the Year award, doing so with the same group that went just 15-10 the prior year (his worst) and no player taller than 6-5. His Wildcats last won the national title in 1958, but he thinks this team could be a bit better. They’ll potentially face strong competition from the likes of Don Haskins’ Texas Western bunch. Like Kentucky, the Miners were unbeaten until a regular season-ending upset prevented a perfect mark.

The bad news for the New York Mets is they’re coming off the worst record in the majors (50-112) and 47 games out from the first-place Dodgers. The good news is they can only improve. Rookies always breed hope and optimism even in the most dire settings, and a couple of future stars provided a glimpse of sunshine last year, in flamethrowing Tug McGraw and power-hitting Ron Swoboda.

Pitching’s obviously at a premium anytime your team loses 112 games (most of any team since the ’62 Mets), and further hope beyond lefty McGraw (pic) is on the way in the form of strikeout rook Dick Selma. He came up for a preview last September 2 and, a mere nine days later, shut out pennant hopeful Milwaukee (Braves), 1-0. In so doing, he fanned a club record 13 batters. Another youngster providing promise is Bud Harrelson, considered Roy McMillan’s heir apparent at shortstop.

Gay Brewer, who vaulted into first place without firing a shot, won the Pensacola Open by three strokes, finishing 16-under-par for the tourney and collected his biggest payday ($10,000) as a pro. Doug Sanders, ahead by four strokes after two rounds, suddenly was eliminated when he failed to sign his scorecard. Bruce Devlin, starting the final day seven behind Brewer, made a relentless run but couldn’t seal the gap, finishing three strokes back.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sports Snapshots: March 3, 1965

New leader for the champions; rookie skipper Red Schoendienst and the St Louis Cardinals greeted one another to open the spring circuit. Included in the welcome were Bob Gibson, Ray Sadecki, and Curt Simmons, vital cogs to last year's magic.

The reason Schoendienst is in his enviable position is due to the surprise so-long from the latest New York Yankees’ manager, Johnny Keane (pictured with Mickey Mantle). After downing the pinstripes in the ’64 World Series, he decided to join ‘em and hopes to become the first to win back-to-back pennants and world titles with teams from two different leagues. Keane recognizes the difficulty the Cardinals have in repeating for the National pennant: “Here the Braves are playing their last season in Milwaukee (on their way to Atlanta) and whoever heard of a pennant winner shifting to another city? Well, the Braves have a fine chance of bowing out of Milwaukee in style.”

Keane, a former longtime St Louis servant, didn’t slight his old group. “Make no mistake about it, the Cardinals are a fine ballclub with a lot of speed. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to leave them.” The manager, though, felt too far at odds with company leadership as the season progressed and decided it best to finally move on. Now, he replaces Yogi Berra, the man he defeated in the Series.

Bad news for the Pittsburgh Pirates; National League batting champion Roberto Clemente is reportedly hospitalized with malaria in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The superstar outfielder hit .339 last season for the struggling Pirates, who obviously need his help for this upcoming season. The good news is the prognosis is positive and he’s expected back by the end of the month before the season begins.

San Francisco’s mercurial Juan Marichal, a two-time 20-game winner, surprised the Giants by showing up with the rest of the squad for spring training after a potential contract dispute. Brothers Jesus and Matty Alou, meanwhile, are split for the moment, as the latter is one of only two Giants left unsigned.

Los Angeles’ dynamic duo, Elgin Baylor (pictured) and Jerry West, led the Lakers to a 126-117 triumph over Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers. Baylor, with 24, made a couple of key baskets late, while West led all scorers with 34 points. Philadelphia managed to stay close throughout the night despite a poor night from Wilt the Stilt (16 points) and the absence of injured Larry Costello.

Speaking of injuries, the St Louis Hawks—minus four key players, including perennial all-star Bob Pettit—stayed within six games of the Lakers by surviving the New York Knicks, 99-98. St Louis, led by Lenny Wilkins (27 points), appeared to be running away, but Willis Reed led a stormy comeback that fell just short.
The Cincinnati Royals, though well behind the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Division, disposed of the sagging San Francisco Warriors, 121-105. Oscar Robertson piled up 28 for Cincy, while Nate Thurmond led San Fran with 21.

Despite being ranked number one, Michigan hoopsters are still fighting for an automatic NCAA tourney bid, as Minnesota still has some say in the matter. The Wolverines, led by all-America Cazzie Russell, can clinch with a victory over the Golden Gophers Saturday night.
The Southwest Conference is even more peculiar, since leader Texas Tech won’t be going to the tourney due to using an ineligible player. Texas and Southern Methodist are fighting it out for next in line.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

February 25, 1964: Cassius Clay vs Sonny Liston

Challenger Cassius Clay, the “Louisville Lip,” scored one of the greatest upsets in boxing history with a seventh-round TKO of heavyweight title holder Sonny Liston. A big time believer in himself with few of the same mind, the immensely brash Clay gave the champion all he could handle and then some throughout the fight.

While Liston missed badly with most of his biggest shots, Clay’s active maneuvering and lightning punches took their toll as the fight wore on. He finished the first round with a wicked flurry that forced the belt holder to reel back in cover, showing this would be nothing like Liston’s prior two first-round title knockouts over Floyd Patterson.

Dr Alexander Robbins, chief physician of the Miami Beach Boxing Commission, stating why the fight stopped at the seventh round beginning bell; “Liston strained his left shoulder. He couldn’t lift his arm.” In response, the 210-pound frenzied challenger proudly shouted, “Eat your words!” to a previously unbelieving press. [43 of 46 writers polled predicted a Liston victory.]

Cynics immediately figured the fight’s odd ending as a mere setup for a rematch in the near future. In fact, the Miami Beach Boxing Commission opted to hold Liston’s stake until an investigation was completed regarding the finish. Anticipating the wariness, Cassius, bounding around the ring, yelled, “It wasn’t any fix. I closed both his eyes. He didn’t lay a hand on me.”

Clay laid plenty of punches on the 218-pound Liston, though. A steady left jab to the face in the first round developed into a wicked cut under Sonny’s left eye by the third round. He fought back strong to close the round, but the challenger had already piled up the points.

With color and controversy frequently surrounding the contender, he began the fifth complaining that he couldn’t see while his handlers yelled that Liston had something in his glove. The champ stalked Clay the whole round as he ran around avoiding confrontation before booing fans.

While Cassius seemed in control in the sixth between dancing and jabs, Sonny continued to be off in his timing. Yet, there was no hint of a conclusion at this stage, even as the round closed.

When Liston’s trainers waved their hands in concession to start the seventh, the fans flew to the ring as the new champion shouted with bravado and delight.

Clay’s propensity for controversy showed itself in full at the pre-fight weigh-in. Warned that wild antics wouldn’t be tolerated, the challenger nonetheless proceeded to yell maniacally at Liston. Dr Robbins believed it was a coverup for tremendous fear, citing a doubling of Clay’s normally slow pulse of 54 during the outburst. He threw out comments such as “Hey chump! You haven’t fought anybody good yet. I’ll eat you up. Are you scared? I’m gonna get you tonight.”

Perceived as edgy days leading up the fight, Sonny Liston’s pulse remained normal through the spectacle, acting as an interested observer rather than an angry retorter. He even remained steady when Clay moved close and menacingly brought his right hand up as if to hit the champion.

Antics like this from a contender are often a coverup for a lack of confidence. Obviously, that wasn’t the case with Cassius Clay. All the days leading up, he predicted victory, boastfully proclaiming things like “I’ll win in eight because I’m great.” He was very close on that prediction.

* Though the live gate was relatively sparse due to an overwhelming sense that Liston would easily prevail, closed circuit television set a new record of half a million viewers.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sports Snapshots: February 18, 1963

The college basketball world is still reeling from the series of Saturday stunners. When the cager carnage was complete, six of the top ten teams—including both prior unbeaten top two—went down in defeat. Among those victimized: ninth-ranked Georgia Tech, seventh-ranked Mississippi State, sixth-ranked Colorado, and fourth-ranked Illinois (despite 53 points from Dave Downey).

The biggest surprises belonged to the spotless top dogs, though. Second-ranked Loyola, 21-0 going in, fell to Bowling Green, 92-75, as the Falcons’ full-court press, 32 points from Howie Komives and 24 from Nate Thurmond proved too much. Top-ranked and defending national champ Cincinnati, riding a massive 37 game-win streak, stumbled to Wichita, 65-64, as Dave Stallworth (pictured) poured in most of the points (46) for the Shockers, including two clutch free throws at the end.
Despite the first defeat, the Bearcats maintained their stranglehold atop the polls. In light of the size of Loyola’s loss, though, it couldn’t keep pace, falling to third behind Duke. The Blue Devils have reeled off 13 straight wins and are 19-2 overall.

In the NBA, the Cincinnati Royals used a 16-3 streak in the fourth quarter to defeat the Knicks in New York, putting the losers within a game of being knocked out of the playoffs. The Royals, led by Jack Twyman’s 27 points, have almost clinched the third and last spot in the Eastern Division. The relentless Boston Celtics—nine games ahead in the East—fought off a challenge from the Chicago Zephyrs to prevail, 110-107, behind Sam Jones’ 28 points. Walt Bellamy, with 32, kept Chicago competitive all game.
Wilt Chamberlain, relatively “stagnating” without busting any more records, still leads in scoring with an astounding 45.8 average per game, well ahead of Elgin Baylor (34.1). The Big Dipper also holds a slight edge over rebounding machine Bill Russell in boards grabbed. Rookie Terry Dischinger of Chicago is threatening the all-time field goal percentage record with a .527 mark.

Don January blazed to a record-breaking 11-stroke victory in the Tuscon Open, shooting in the 60’s all four days. The 33-year old tall Texan finished 22-under par. Gene Littler and Phil Rodgers, last year’s winner, tied for the distant runnerup position.

Diamond troublemaker Bo Belinsky, playboy pitcher (pictured) for the Los Angeles Angels, got into difficulties again while being late to spring practice for the second day in less than a week. When asked by manager Bill Rigney what his excuse was, Bo told him he was stopped by a policeman for speeding—because he was trying to get to the ballpark on time.

Comedian Jerry Lewis showed his baseball playing should be taken seriously. Appearing for the Los Angeles Dodger all-stars in a benefit game against a group of major league all-stars, he slapped a single in the fourth inning. Though first baseman Lewis and Los Angeles lost, his hit was the first for the squad. It’s doubtful, though, he’ll be a threat to current Dodger first sackers Bill Skowron and Ron Fairly.
Speaking of Dodgers, in light of ‘62’s late season cliff dive, Walt Alston will feel some heat from his seat this year. The dean of managers, nine years with the same club, has dealt with plenty of pressure in the past, though, and often seems to come out a winner.

Bullet Bob Hayes, track superstar from Florida A&M, shattered the indoor world record in the 70-yard dash with a 6.9 time. Running on boards for his first time, he repeated the feat later in the evening.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sports Snapshots: February 17, 1961

The Boston Celtics avenged a loss to the Philadelphia Warriors just one night before with a high-scoring, see-saw 133-128 road triumph. Boston’s Eastern Division edge grew back to 7 ½ games over Philadelphia. Bill Russell (video) registered 28 points, Tom Heinsohn 26, and Bob Cousy (pic) 20, overcoming Paul Arizin's sizzling 49-point effort for the Warriors.
The Syracuse Nationals narrowly defeated the Detroit Pistons, 115-113, dropping them to third-place in the Western Division behind the surging Los Angeles Lakers, who defeated Detroit the previous night on the strength of Elgin Baylor’s 57 point explosion.

North Carolina’s 1-2 punch of Doug Moe and York Larese combined for 56 points, leading the Tar Heels to a 92-68 revenge victory over South Carolina and into first place in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference.
Meanwhile, Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky Wildcats held off a furious late rally by visiting John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins, 77-76.
Ohio State, led by super center Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, remains atop the national scene and have won 24 straight over a two-year period.

[some things similar in 1961, others certainly different, evidenced by occupational pursuits of the best beyond the ballpark];
Major league baseball MVP Dick Groat of the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, in North Carolina as a sales rep for Jessop Steel Company, said “I have been working for this company in the off season for three years now, and I hope to stay with this outfit following my baseball days. Right now, I’m just learning the business. I work out of the Pittsburgh sales office, and I always come through North Carolina on the way to spring training.”
Groat downplayed his own personal success, deflecting the praise toward his team, adding, “We had good help going down the stretch. Wilmer (Vinegar Bend) Mizell, Clem Labine, and Rocky Nelson gave us some valuable performances. There’s a real closeness of the Pittsburgh club…”

Replacing Casey Stengel as New York Yankees’ skipper, Ralph Houk has elected to make a splash before managing his first game. He has a new demo-record sure to create some ruckus with his estimations in it that “baseball is the most difficult of all games, because more tough situations arise…and they occur more rapidly than they do in any other sports.” The pinstriper then adds, “I think the mark of a true athlete is whether or not he can play baseball.”

In Palm Beach, FL, Ingemar Johannson sparred another session in prepartion for his third bout (video) with Floyd Patterson. Annoyed by the continued speculation, the power-punching Swede doesn’t believe he was doped prior to the last clash with Patterson that cost him the crown. Noting he ate a steak at a New York hotel the night before, he nonetheless stated, “Yes, it is true that I lost 5 ½ pounds between that night and the weigh-in. I will admit that is unusual, but at no time was I ill.”

Second-year Cal coach Marv Levy’s smooth-talking tactics have opposing coaches, like Jim Owens of Washington and John McKay of Southern Cal, concerned. Not that there’s been any recruiting rule bending, just that the Golden Bears’ head man has a Dale Carnegie-like approach with the parents, and it’s creating further competition for the top prepsters. Levy, a Phi Beta Kappa, perhaps only half-joked, “There are a lot of good students in this (Long Beach) area, and we hope to get both of them.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sports Snapshots: February 13, 1960

John Wooden and UCLA--a rags-to-riches story this year, temporarily went back to rags against the top-ranked Cal Bears, 53-45, before an overflow Berkeley crowd of more than 7,200. At one point, Cal swelled its lead to 46-26 before the Bruins closed the gap in the final stretch. Ice cold shooting was the story for Wooden's squad, going over 10 minutes in the first half without a bucket. It marked the 19th victory in 20 outings for the Golden Bears, who undoubtedly retain their number one spot.

In other college news, Oscar Robertson (pictured) continues his torrid performances, popping in 31 points to rescue Cincinnati from a close call with the St Louis Billikens. Robertson hit 11 straight points in the waning moments to give the Bearkats the come-from-behind victory. The record-setting Big O easily leads the nation in scoring (36.8 ppg prior to the last contest), while West Viriginia's sensational Jerry West has compiled a near-30 point average. The Mountaineers love their guy, who is an exceptional rebounder for someone 6-3, and who controls the tips when jumping against often taller opponents (like 6-6 Satch Sanders of New York U the other night).

In the pros, the Minneapolis Lakers and St Louis Hawks are set for a two-game series in Los Angeles. It was so arranged by Minneapolis team president Bob Short after he noted the tremendous turnout for a recent Philadelphia-Minneapolis clash there. Despite a driving rainstorm, nearly 11,000 enthusiastically observed the game. St Louis, well out in front of the pack in the Western Division, includes the great Bob Pettit, Slater Martin, and Cliff Hagan, while Minneapolis, sagging with a 16-40 mark, still boasts superstar Elgin Baylor and Hot Rod Hundley.

Pete Rozelle (pictured), the newly appointed commissioner of the NFL, apparently won't possess the power his predecessor, Bert Bell, had. The 12 owners of NFL clubs desire a different direction, and the newcomer is expected to be more of a spokesman than a strong-armer. He'll need the approval of 11 of the 12 for any significant maneuver.
Rozelle, at a prior post in San Francisco, apparently spent so much time at the Iron Horse Restaurant that the owner had a private phone for him. A plaque above it now reads, "From this phone booth, Pete Rozelle left to become czar of all football."

Dick Gallagher, new general manager of the Buffalo Bills, possesses full confidence the rookie American Football League will develop some great teams, and in a hurry. Formerly with the Cleveland Browns, he notes, "The old All-America Conference was formed in 1946 and in 1948 the Browns had one of the best teams in pro football history...I'm thinking of players like Lou Groza, Dante Lavelli, and Marion Motley, three of the greatest in the history of the game."

Cal stunned the football world in its hiring of mysterious Marv Levy one week ago as its new coach. Greats like Duffy Daugherty, Bud Wilkinson, Ben Schwartzwalder, and Sid Gillman confessed to not having even heard of him before the announcement. One guy sure knew about him, though. Wyoming’s Bob Devaney snapped, "Cal got a helluva coach. Personally, I am glad Cal hired him because that gets him out of my hair."
Levy garnered a 6-3 record at New Mexico, a place where success of any kind is rare. UCLA’s Bill Barnes, who also never heard of Levy, gave kudos nonetheless. "He sure did something I couldn’t do at UCLA. He beat the Air Force and as far as I was concerned, the Air Force was one of the best teams I saw all year."
Devaney, when asked why he himseld refused the Cal job, exclaimed, "I had a better deal—and more money—at Wyoming!" Which makes you wonder if the new Golden Bears’ coach will have enough support to succeed regardless of smarts.

The world champion Los Angeles Dodgers are hoping muscled giant Frank Howard (pictured) can crack their lineup. The 6-7, 245 pounder blasted 44 round-trippers, some possibly still orbiting, at various levels last year. He's been moved to first base, where the great Gil Hodges, 13-year holder of the position, will tutor him.

Most of the Winter Olympics--held in Squaw Valley, CA--will be nationally televised live for the first time ever. Millions of viewers will be watching the series of broadcasts by the Columbia Broadcasting Service.

Rocky Marciano, the unbeaten heavyweight champion, announced he is going into motion pictures. The ring retiree will perform in "College Confidential," starring Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows and Mamie Van Doren. Film director Albert Zugsmith said Marciano would play a "rough-and-ready deputy sheriff."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Why the Sixties?

As I mentioned in the initial entries at/near the bottom of this blog, this is the era many of us grew up in and have such wonderful memories of. And, regardless of where each of us lived or our exact ages at the time, a lot of us carry impressions from those days into the rest of our lives.

One of the things I find so fascinating from this period is the immense amount of super-talents, great teams, coaches, and fandom it produced. This is the time where television--especially for pro football--fully blossomed and created a tremendous zeal for the casual fan. He (she) began following the teams with a kind of vigor unapproached in earlier times. The generation of radio was fantastic in its own right, but nothing brought the reality of the events like television, and the growing popularity of color TV thru the decade only magnified that intensity of enjoyment.

Though money always talks--shouts, really--the world of sports hadn't been tainted by it to anywhere near the degree today's breed has been. I recall many pro football players, for instance, taking on off-season jobs; not due to an insatiable desire for the green stuff, but sometimes simply to make ends meet. Were the good ones paid handsomely? Sure, but it was microscopic compared to today's athlete, even adjusting for time.

Bottom line is the world of sports thrived in enormous ways, and there was still a certain purity in the pursuit of sports. We remember the excitement and satisfaction it produced. What's more, we knew quite well who our team would be comprised of. Well before free agency (baseball--the first main sport to undertake it--didn't begin in earnest until the next decade), most players continued with the same team, often through the very end or close to the conclusion of their career.

When you had that continuity, you had not only fan familiarity, but between teammates as well. It made the quality of the game overall superior--each of the players knew what his teammate would do on any given play. It cultivated a confidence that allowed the play to flourish, and hence the games. It's no surprise that complementary play, teamwork, and firm fundamentals were far advanced, even if the athlete himself had yet to generally reach the physical levels of superiority he now possesses.

Each era or decade possesses its share of standouts and superstars. But it's hard to imagine any that surpasses what the Sixties gave us. In baseball, we saw Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, and Harmon Killebrew. In football, we experienced Johnny Unitas (top picture), Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Paul Hornung, Lance Alworth, Ray Nitschke, Dick Butkus, Merlin Olsen, Buck Buchanan. In basketball, there was Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell (pictured together), Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, John Havlicek, Rick Barry, and a young phenon named Lew Alcindor.

Coaches/managers included all-time legends Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Hank Stram, Sid Gillman, Bud Grant, Red Auerbach, Red Holzman, Walt Alston, Gene Mauch, Danny Murtaugh, and Red Schoendienst.

And, of course, there were the juggernaut teams, such as the Green Bay Packers and Boston Celtics, while two New York teams not nicknamed the Yankees (Mets and Jets) stunned the sports world. Predictably, the Yankees, on the strength of the record-setting home run prowess of Maris and Mantle, won their share of championships as well.

It also featured the ultimate David and Goliath challenge--the AFL vs the NFL, with David winning this sports war in the long run.

--and that was just the pros. Will be brief for now on the college game, but it's only fair and just to mention coaches like Bear Bryant and Johnny Vaught (pictured together), Darrell Royal, Frank Broyles, John McKay and Joe Paterno (yes, he was coaching even then, and at the same place!)

There are infinite reasons to relish what the decade of the 1960's offered in the world of sports. In the sense that those occurrences are just as real as the latest champion's success, they're every bit as important to remember. Legendary sportcaster Curt Gowdy's comments are again appropriate:
"There is no doubt that sports is a part of American history. The great moments of the past are firmly anchored in the country's memory. ... They live on as they should, preserved because they aroused interest and excitement in a nation that has always cherished its sports."

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sports Snapshots; February 3, 1962

Jerry West, continuing his recent relentless assault on the nets, poured in 45 points, including the game-winner with eight seconds remaining, as the Los Angeles Lakers stole a victory from the St Louis Hawks, 127-124. Perennial all-star Bob Pettit (39 points) had led the Hawks to a seemingly safe 124-119 home lead with just over a minute to play. But West sank two free throws, Rudy LaRusso (34 points) hit a bucket, and Rod Hundley stole a pass from Lenny Wilkins and fed West for the leading goal. The game’s top scorer then added a couple of insurance free throws to finish his 33-point second half barrage. Los Angeles swelled its Western Division lead over Cincinnati to 10 ½ games, which lost to the New York Knicks, 121-118, despite Oscar Robertson’s 25 points. St Louis, in losing to the Lakers, fell four behind Detroit for third place and a playoff spot after the Pistons defeated the Chicago Packers behind Gene Shue’s 28 points.

Number one ranked Ohio State easily held its position atop the college polls with a 97-61 drubbing of Northwestern. It gave the Buckeyes a stainless 16-0 record and marked their 30th consecutive victory at home. All-America big man Jerry Lucas rang up 24 points in just 27 minutes of action as his team coasted after blowing out to a 15-0 lead. John Havlicek added 14 for the Buckeyes.

Gene Littler, the California Comet, streaked across the course Saturday in firing a four-under par 68 to take a two-stroke lead in the prestigious Palm Springs Classic. Today’s final round will be nationally televised and should show some excitement and tension with Arnold Palmer—three off the pace—being paired with Littler.

A bit of Gene’s thunder was stolen when struggling Dick Mayer found lightning with a $50,000 hole-in-one shot on the second hole at the Classic. “I made it, I made it,” Mayer screamed, flinging his white cap in the air and his 4-iron to the ground. The moment contrasted sharply with his recent years’ difficulties that have led the amiable, generous golfer to drink heavily and suffer health problems. Perhaps a simple but lucrative shot provides the spark to turn his fortunes around. It certainly boosted his emotions and wallet.

Rising star football coach Darrell Royal was appointed athletic director at the University of Texas. He will, of course, keep his head coaching duties as well. Royal took reins of a program suffering from a 1-9 record and in disarray, quickly bringing it to national respectability with several notable first-year stunners in 1957. His program followed that with a breakthrough upset in ’58 of Bud Wilkinson’s otherwise unbeaten Oklahoma Sooners (who, by the way, Darrell happened to shine for as a student-athlete). The Longhorns then tied with Arkansas and TCU for the Southwest Conference crown in 1959, and again garnered a title this past year. Icing on the cake came with a 12-7 Cotton Bowl victory over Johnny Vaught’s powerful Ole Miss and a number three national ranking.

The marine keeps flying; John Uelses continues his vanquishing of the 16-foot pole vault standard by overcoming his one-day record with a 16-ft, ¾ inch effort, thrilling a Boston Garden crowd of 13,417. A mere month ago, the Berlin-born USMC corporal narrowly bested Don Bragg’s world indoor record by clearing 15 feet, 10 ¼ inches. At this rate, “he’ll do 17 feet someday,” gushed his coach, Aubrey Dooley. Uelses was a virtual unknown going into last year’s big winter meets. Now, he’s heavily hounded for autographs and sponsorship deals of all sorts.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sports Snapshots; January 30, 1967

The Boston Celtics, winners of an incomprehensible eight consecutive titles, continued to surge with their tenth straight victory, whipping the San Francisco Warriors behind 32 points from Sam Jones (pictured). Rick Barry matched him with 32 for the Warriors. The Philadelphia 76’ers, due to the dominance of Wilt Chamberlain, remain atop Boston in the Eastern Division with a sizzling 47-6 mark. Though his point totals are down, Wilt appears to be relishing his new role as a playmaker. He’s on track to break his own record for assists by a center, and is still averaging a monstrous 24.2 rebounds per game. The Big Dipper's third in scoring, behind Rick Barry (36.3 ppg) and Oscar Robertson (30.9). Barry’s net scorching has helped bring the Warriors to the top position in the Western Division.

UCLA, on the strength of its 15-0 record under John Wooden, kept its stranglehold of the top spot in both polls, while Texas Western—the reigning champion—moved up to fourth. North Carolina’s Tar Heels remained runnerup to the Bruins, who are led by 7-2 sophomore sensation Lew Alcindor.

Cassius Clay continues to prepare for his title defense against WBA champ Ernie Terrell Monday in the Astrodome. Meanwhile, Championship Enterprises, Inc. has purchased $300,000 in life insurance on Clay.

Yankee Stadium, the “House That Ruth Built,” will be modernized and refurbished, Yankee president Michael Burke announced. Included in the plans are a complete repainting, new sound system, bleacher seats rebuilt, and an entirely new field. The first row of outfield seats are to be removed, preventing overzealous fans from interfering with play. Meanwhile, to keep the strong traditional focus, a telephone Hall of Fame will be installed in the lobby, allowing fans to pick up the phones and hear former greats’ voices.

Frank Robinson (video) of the world champion Baltimore Orioles and Bill Toomey—two-time winner of the decathlon, were presented awards as the pro and amateur athlete of the year from the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association.

Arthur Ashe was decisively handled by Roy Emerson, Australia’s veteran Davis Cup star in the men’s Australian Tennis Championships, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4. Emerson's now captured five straight ATC titles.

Arnold Palmer is back on top after his five-stroke victory in the Los Angeles Open. Palmer, the biggest money winner of all time, took home the $20,000 first prize. Gay Brewer and Bob Goalby followed up Palmer at Palm Beach Gardens.

Chicago Black Hawks’ super center Stan Mikita is on track to become the first NHL player to ever break 100 points in a single season. Teammate Bobby Hull holds the mark with 88 points. He currently leads the league with 30 goals as well. With such combined scoring prowess, it's no wonder the Black Hawks own a comfortable first-place edge on the pack.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Strangest Storm

Miami's Hurricanes are known for a lot of things the past twenty-five years, little of which is losing football. But they once struggled significantly, to the point of nearly dropping the program.

A bit before that crisis point, the 'Canes had come off of two losing seasons in a row and were searching for an identity in 1965.

This independent--no conference affiliation at the time--faced a schedule littered with heavyweights. To no one's surprise, Miami lost its share of games. Disappointments including head-shakers to SMU (4-5-1 record on the year), Tulane (2-8), and Pitt (3-7). When you lose to squads like that, you know the tough guys are going to make a tough sport even more unbearable.

Not this time, though.

Miami traveled to Syracuse to face the ninth-ranked and ground powered Orangemen. It promptly slammed the door on that running game, holding the great Floyd Little to 60 yards in a 24-0 plastering. Meanwhile, Miami's less heralded Pete Banaszak bulled for 104 yards.

The 'Canes later beat Sugar Bowl-bound, 10th-rated Florida and Steve Spurrier, 16-13. But though that came late in the '65 campaign, it wasn't the end of the story.

Facing a powerful and sixth-ranked Notre Dame that including jarring running backs Nick Eddy and Larry Conjar, Miami valiantly held its own with two second half defensive stands. The result; a 0-0 deadlock when the final gun sounded.

The Fighting Irish would capture the national championship the following season with this season's personnel making the bulk of that great group.

This particularly 1965 storm known as the Miami Hurricane (5-4-1 record) blew in the most erratic manner possible. Weakly built programs were unscathed, even left thriving, while stoutly fortressed entities were dealt extensive damage. By the time this Hurricane was spent, the result may have been "the best mediocre club of all time."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Stunning the Strong, Pummeled by the Puny

Texas and Arkansas possessed the most potent one-two punch of any same-league duo in college football in the 1960’s, leaving the rest of the once musical chair championship SWC members to scurry for the scraps. In fact, starting in 1960 and all the way through 1973, only twice did anyone besides those two teams claim a conference title: SMU in 1966 and Texas A&M in 1967 (no one else even managed a share). Yet, one common opponent, the league’s stepchild/newcomer, gave the neighboring state juggernauts all they could handle.

Despite the brief interruption to the title trophy, the Horns and Hogs’ dominance resumed in the most visible manner, leading those two schools to play on the nation’s biggest stage—in front of the President of the United States—by decade’s end. During the last four years of the Sixties, they went a combined 38-9-1 against the rest of the Southwest Conference, but only 4-4 against the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Texas rang up three wins against just one loss versus longtime rival Oklahoma, including defeating a ’67 Sooners squad that ended otherwise unbeaten and ranked number three in the nation. It also beat the next year’s OU group that ended #10 and the ’69 squad that entered the contest sixth nationally. Of course, along the way included the huge Arkansas wins, particularly the Big Shootout, a blowout of Tennessee in the 1969 Cotton Bowl and the thrilling come-from-behind national title clincher over Joe Theismann and Notre Dame the next Cotton classic.

Yet, the Red Raiders split with the ‘Horns (something even Arkansas couldn’t manage), giving Darrell Royal’s program its last loss prior to pounding 30 straight opponents. It was, in fact, that contest on a 1968 September night in Lubbock (a 31-22 Tech triumph) that pushed Royal into removing Bill Bradley at quarterback and substituting little-used James Street. The rest, as they say, is history. Texas Tech’s upset over sixth-ranked Texas dropped the ‘Horns completely out of the top twenty, the next to last week that would happen for five seasons.

That shocker, though, was merely a repeat of the prior year in Austin, where an eighth-ranked Longhorn squad’s high hopes were shot down, 19-13, by J.T. King’s Red Raiders. Again, the stepchild had bounced Texas—a gargantuan pre-season SWC favorite—out of the nation’s top twenty. The upset was of national prominence, considering too that Tech had finished the prior season just 4-6.

Dynamic Heisman candidate Donny Anderson had since taken his gig to the bigs (Green Bay Packers) after 1965, but tough and talented runners Jackie Stewart, Mike Leinert, Roger Freeman, and Larry Hargrave (pictured) and dangerous field leaders John Scovell and Joe Matulich carried on quite effectively. Scovell’s 175 yards on darting keepers through the night was the catalyst in the ’67 upset.

The Arkansas Razorbacks were sliced more than once as well. Amidst a sizzling 30-2 mark that began against Tech in 1963 and with a third consecutive Cotton Bowl and conference title within reach in ‘66, the trip to Lubbock proved fatal for those plans. A rock-ribbed Red Raider defense largely shut down the three-touchdown favorite Hogs after the first quarter.

Rather than landing in Cotton again, Frank Broyles’ squad suddenly had nowhere to go for the holidays. The defeat also seemed to temporarily take the snort out of the Hogs, as they fell off the cliff the next year, going 4-5-1.

In that ’67 season leading to the rematch with the Red Raiders, after a nightmarish 1-3-1 start, the Razorbacks appeared to have regained their footing, only losing a shootout to eventual champ Texas A&M. They then decisively disposed of Rice and defending SWC champ SMU. With the Tech game in the home state this time, revenge was on the post-Thanksgiving menu before a rabid bunch of Hogs fans. Texas Tech, meanwhile, came limping in following an upset loss to TCU and a fortunate escape against a winless (in conference) Baylor.

Weathering a Razorbacks’ record-setting day by Ronny South (335 yards passing; including 77- and 73-yard bombs), the Red Raiders pulled off an unlikely repeat befuddler, 31-27; increasingly confounding considering Frank Broyles typically had his squads humming in November. Once again, because of the upending underdogs, Arkansas was left out of the bowl picture.

With these national-scale stunners over the top talent in the conference, what prevented a powerhouse run by the Red Raiders themselves?

Part of it is due to it losing as surprisingly as it won.

While Texas Tech was proving to be a west Texas scorpion—smaller but near-deadly—to a couple of goliaths, a pair of “flyweights” precluded the Lubbock program from attaining any lasting success.

After its win over the Longhorns in 1967, the 2-0 Red Raiders had broken into the top 10. It then welcomed Mississippi State, a team with an eight-game losing streak and in the process of winning just one game until 1969. The win came that weekend, and it sent Tech reeling on a three-game losing skid, eliminating any bowl opportunity and national ranking.

Again following its upset of Texas early in the ’68 season, Texas Tech was flying high, especially after then defeating the prior year’s champ, Texas A&M. Now standing at 3-0-1 and #15 in the country, it next flew to face Mississippi State again. The home Bulldogs this time had exceeded their ’67 losing skid with an 11-game chasm without victory—the last having been against the Red Raiders, of course. Though Tech didn’t come back home with a loss, it did get tied by Tommy Pharr’s running and passing (he had scored the only TD in the last upset win), 28-28. State would finish the year 0-8-2. [Amazingly—or maybe not—the still muzzled and weak Bulldogs would again bite the Red Raiders in 1969]

Like the season before, the blemish versus the big underdog Bulldogs caused bleeding beyond that contest for J.T. King’s group, and record-setting Chuck Hixson’s SMU Mustangs were the benefactor, 39-18. This time, though, Tech turned it around, winning the next two in convincing fashion, leaving them with a sparkling 4-1 conf mark and deadlocked with Texas, Arkansas, and SMU for the conference lead. The upcoming contest with moribund Baylor (1-6, two wins in the last 17 games) inspired a “guns up” mentality, ready to shoot the fireworks.

Unfortunately, the Baylor offense is what exploded, firing off 35 points in a second half blitzkrieg in Waco while coming from behind. Final: Baylor 42-Tech 28. The Red Raiders’ rushing game that pounded Texas for over 200 yards managed all of 71 yards on the afternoon. Even more mind-boggling, Tech’s four scores came on drives only covering a total of 85 yards, meaning the host’s generosity is the only thing keeping this one close. [Sadly, and perhaps unfairly, it wasn’t enough for John Bridgers to keep his job…another story.]

The Baylor Bears had beaten Tech in 1966 and nearly pulled it off the following season. This one, though, was much more devastating. It also left Tech fans pondering what might have been without “having to face” the supposed patsies. The wallop in Waco would be one of only four games Baylor would win in a deeply dark three-year period.

As was the norm, it also led to a shellacking the following week; to Arkansas, 42-7. Again, the Red Raiders would go bowl-less, much less catching Cotton.

Texas Tech could be proud knowing it could play with any big boys on any given Saturday. It also found out the opponent—regardless of how small—could play with Tech. Still, in a period when two schools dominated like the Horns and Hogs did, there’s lingering satisfaction in what was accomplished, even if it could have been considerably more.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Short Yardage

(this will be a "bits and pieces" kind of feature, where we'll relay some facts in between the longer articles. As always, any ideas are more than welcome!)

Deserving and Denied:
Usually, a team--especially one from a major conference--gets rewarded with a highly attractive bowl invite for a superb season. Not so in at least certain cases, however.

The 1966 Michigan State Spartans, cited earlier as part of a bigger picture column, rang up a near-flawless 9-0-1 win-loss campaign, tying top-ranked and eventual national champion Notre Dame, 10-10 (in the infamous "Tie One For The Gipper" battle). The Spartans had just come off a national title season of their own; surely, at minimum, they'd receive a big-time bowl berth. However, the Rose Bowl at the time had a senseless "no-repeat" clause, leaving Michigan State out of the championship Big Ten tie-in with the grandaddy classic. With other major bowls having their own tie-ins and politicking, Duffy Daugherty's Spartans became mere spectators on New Years Day.

The 1969 LSU Tigers, under Charlie McClendon, could relate. After roaring through nine opponents with just one stumble (vs Archie Manning and Ole Miss in a 26-23 thriller), the Tigers were told to sit tight, that the Cotton Bowl with top-ranked Texas would come-a-callin'. They waited by the phone, but it never rang. Instead, the Cotton opted to take Notre Dame, which had awoken from its self-imposed 45-year bowl slumber. With the lure of such a spectacle, the Cotton just couldn't pass that up. LSU, rather than participating in some minor bowl (Sugar had already chosen Ole Miss) versus an easily outmanned opponent, decided to spend the holidays at home.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Oakland's Unexpected Hero

The Oakland Raiders standardized the term ‘excellence’ for the upstart American Football League. With that, several standouts emerged, notably at the most visible quarterback position, including Tom Flores, Daryl Lamonica (pictured), and Kenny Stabler. Yet, a forgotten—before and since—substitute castoff from the New York Jets had his day in 1965’s September sun and played a role in the Raiders’ uprising.

Even few old-school Oaklanders likely will recall the name Dick Wood, who had been dumped by his former team for two ballyhooed rookies, Joe Namath and John Huarte.

Now with the Silver and Black, Wood figured on bench-bound frustration as the regular season approached. "I was pretty discouraged after spending so much time on my back in exhibition games," he confessed after getting belted often behind a mostly reserve offensive line.

Meanwhile, his new team had suffered through many pains of their own. Though head coach Al Davis had directed a surprisingly splendid 10-4 first-year campaign in ’63 (after the squad had all of three wins the prior two seasons), the Raiders fell back the following year to their losing ways. Through 1964, the franchise record sat at 24-44-2.

Heading into the ’65 opener versus inevitably big-time rival Kansas City, Al Davis decided to start two new offensive tackles, including Harry Schuh, who would have the “privilege” of drawing all-pro defensive end Jerry Mays all afternoon. He barely survived the first quarter. Quarterback Tom Flores didn't, as pro bowl defenders such as Mays, Buck Buchanan, Bobby Bell and EJ Holub knocked him woozy on the game’s third play and left him in a daze the next several drives.

Fortunate to be behind 7-0 and with a credit of negative 32 yards of offense, Coach Davis decided to make a change to Wood, the former New York Jet who figured not to see the field. Taking over on the 20 yard-line, he led Oakland to a first down, but the Raiders then faced a mountainous third down and 13 yards to go and had completed one pass on the day—for minus-two yards.

The benchwarmer saw Kansas City’s blitz coming, and slung a quick swing pass to fullback Roger Hagberg (another castoff) that resulted in a 17-yard first down pickup. Later in the drive, Wood hit yet another huge third down, this time to tight end Billy Cannon for 26 yards. The clincher came on a 14-yard post pattern to Art Powell in front of Chiefs’ defensive back Willie Mitchell.

Bolstered by rapidly improving protection from rookies Harry Schuh and Bob Svihus along with veteran pro bowler and future Hall of Fame center Jim Otto (pictured), Wood and the Raiders never looked back. He added another touchdown pass (again to Art Powell) and ran in a rollout to the left from the Kansas City four.

The final: Oakland 37-Kansas City 10. As the Chiefs’ head coach Hank Stram agreed, the Raiders’ Al Davis said, “They had us in a hole from the outset. That one play (the first third down toss) changed the game.”

Wood, who got the game ball for his performance, had completed 12 of 25 passes for 196 yards, two touchdowns and added a third via the ground. Not a bad day for someone who began and expected to end on the bench.

Dick Wood didn’t have a star-studded career with the Raiders—who released him the following year—or with anyone else, and was out of football after the 1966 season. But he was the biggest star one September day in Oakland, and helped propel the program toward Al Davis “Commitment to Excellence” with his heroics.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

1968: Year of the "Super Sophomores"

Woody Hayes had already led Ohio State to two national titles in his first seven seasons, including 1957. However, other than a peek into the top ten (#9) in 1961 with a Big Ten conference championship, his Buckeyes suffered through a decade-long drought coming up to 1968, including two losing seasons. No titles of any kind for the last six years created severe unrest amongst the fandom, a growing number of whom wanted the mercurial head man (video) ousted.

Still, some sunshine had crept in over the latter part of the ’67 season. After a putrid 5-8 W-L the past 1 ½ years, Ohio State showed signs of life by winning its final four. Even so, those four feeble opponents had managed an average of two wins apiece, and doubters still had ammo for skepticism.

What did create glittering optimism was the arrival of a highly gifted group of newcomers. For a 55-year old head coach who lamented youths' lack of respect for authority, the highly conservative Woody Hayes would place an enormous amount of trust in sophomores (freshmen were ineligible). Twelve of them—including quarterback Rex Kern—started the season and eleven would still be doing so by year’s end.

The Buckeyes started their season withstanding a 76-pass aerial assault from record-breaking Chuck Hixson and the SMU Mustangs, who would victimize everyone other than three top-five opponents. A Rex Kern mega-tackle breaking run followed by a touchdown pass right before halftime broke open a fairly close ballgame.

After a modest win over Oregon, running the Buckeyes’ winning streak to six games, they hosted the number one-ranked Purdue Boilermakers, led by all-America candidates quarterback Mike Phipps(College FB Hall of Fame) and running back Leroy Keyes (runner-up in the Heisman) . The prior year, the Boilermakers had run roughshod over Woody Hayes’ Buckeyes, 41-6.

Payback was hell, as the Ohio State defense suffocated the talented Purdue attack, with Ted “The Tree” Provost intercepting a first half pass and running it in for the winning touchdown. Ohio State 13-Purdue 0.

Puny Northwestern was next and the outcome predictable, with another patsy, winless Illinois, on the docket. In three of their five contests to date, the Illini had been blown out of the stadium (by forty or more), including 58-8 the week before to Notre Dame.

And Ohio State started out the same way, rolling to a 24-0 halftime lead. The usual offensive leaders—quarterback Rex Kern and fullback Jim Otis (first team all-America who ended up with almost 1,000 yards in a nine-game schedule)—figured in all the touchdowns on the way to a nearly 300-yard first half. The defense—which was highly banged up—had dominated as well in holding Illinois to three first downs.

But, as they say, the game is sixty minutes long, and it became very lengthy for Buckeyes’ fans. A combination of Illini offensive adjustments, turnovers, and penalties shockingly knotted the score, 24-24. Things got even darker when super soph Kern went out with a head injury, bringing in sub Ron Maciejowski.

Championship teams prove their mettle in such circumstances, though, and versus a hostile opponent and crowd, Woody Hayes’ Buckeyes did just that. Backup QB “Mace” had his opportunity and did the most with it, hitting a huge 44-yard pass to dangerous wingback Larry Zelina. Jim Otis plunged in for the winning score, and Ohio State was still unbeaten.

Even with that drama done, the nation’s second ranked squad (behind Southern Cal) faced more of it, surviving mediocre Michigan State (25-20) and Iowa (33-27).

Possessing a shaky but still unbeaten mark in the books, once-beaten and longtime rival Michigan stood in the way of the Buckeyes’ first Rose Bowl trip in over ten years. Creating even more tension, the victor would likely meet Southern Cal for the national championship.

With the largest crowd (85,371) to ever fill Ohio Stadium on hand, the two powerhouse programs put on a fantastic first half show, with the visiting Wolverines striking first, 7-0. After trading touchdowns, making it 14-14, Kern led the Buckeyes on another touchdown march before halftime.

With all-America tackles Rufus Mayes and Dave Foley leading the charge, Woody Hayes’ squad never looked back the final thirty minutes (video). Behind a head coach believing in a “three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy, Ohio State gobbled up 421 yards on the ground.

When the carnage had ended, the Buckeyes had overwhelmed Michigan, 50-14. Salt was rubbed in the wounds against his despised rival when Woody opted to try for a two-point conversion following the final score. Asked why he made such a decision, he reportedly stated, “Because I couldn’t go for three.”

Following the demolition, Ohio State clutched the top spot in the polls, overtaking the Southern Cal Trojans after several weeks waiting in the wings at #2.

By now the Buckeyes, though underdogs to runaway Heisman winner OJ Simpson and the defending national champion Trojans, had plenty of confidence going into the Rose Bowl. After Simpson stunned the stadium with a breathtaking 80-yard run to give his team a 10-0 lead, Kern and the Buckeyes clawed back in. Including the runs of Jim Otis and Leo Hayden, he led them to a 10-10 tie by halftime.

The second half was all Ohio State. Not to be outdone, the Buckeyes’ defense—led by first team all-America performers Jim Stillwagon and Jack Tatum—shut down the Southern Cal attack and forced Simpson into multiple second half turnovers. Ohio State pulled away, 27-16. Woody’s “Super Sophomores,” as the team became nicknamed, had not only given the school its first conference title in many years, but the first national one since 1957.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Purple People Eaters

While the Los Angeles Rams featured the Fearsome Foursome--headed by HOF'ers Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones--further back northeast, the Minnesota Vikings boasted the Purple People Eaters.

The memories are prominent of those late-fall, early-winter Vikes games at old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, where you could see the breath emit from the faceguards of the game's greats of the day. While it's far more comfortable for fans--and players--to escape the elements through the luxuries of the domed stadium, there remains something special about the visuals and atmosphere of those times.

Regarding Minnesota's football fortunes, they mainly rested squarely on the shoulders of its glorious front four on defense. Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, and Gary Larsen. Vikings fans, but fans of pro football period, knew them well. Their motto: "Meet at the quarterback," and they usually wore out their welcome—often very early—with opposing signal-callers and their coaches.

Unlike the Rams' front, these standouts didn't overwhelm with size and strength (though DE Carl Eller, 6-6, 252, could dominate in that manner at times). Being lighter and quicker, they simply sizzled with speed and tenacity beyond what the opposition could handle. [Alan Page so obliterated offenses he became a rare defensive player to win league MVP in '71]

The bottom line: nightmare for the offense, and even moreso if their own offense grabbed a quick or significant lead.

Minnesota didn't enter the NFL until 1961, and the natural growing pains made winning a relative rarity in their first years. But with the hiring of Bud Grant from the Canadian Football League in 1967, the Vikings began forming into one of pro football's premier programs.

By 1969, the parts had fully bloomed. As usual, the pride came from that front four. Examples against the game’s legends and legendary teams illustrate that.

Bart Starr, Green Bay’s ice man, who had led a handful of NFL championships, rudely felt more of the earth against Minnesota than he had in just about any afternoon of his glorious 14 seasons. Starr was slammed eight times for a whopping 63 yards in losses, and when he did manage to avoid that disagreeable outcome, he was often harried into poor throws. His longest completion—and there weren’t many—went for a harmless 13 yards. The Purple People Eaters also forced two fumbles and an interception, the last of which set up the Vikes only touchdown of the day. No matter, Fred Cox (four field goals) was about all the offense needed. Vikings 19-Packers 7.

Alas, an even more accomplished superstar, Johnny Unitas, fared no better the prior week. Normally blessed with the precision of a top surgeon, Johnny U, harrassed and humiliated, failed to complete even 40% of his tosses (8 for 22). His counterpart, Joe Kapp, hurled an NFL record-tying seven touchdowns in a 52-14 Minnesota blitzkrieg. Unitas, afterward, managed enough energy to proclaim the Purple’s pass rush as the toughest he’d ever seen.

Knowing he’d faced the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome, in addition to viewing his own unruly bunch over the years among many others, that statement alone overrides even all the jaw-dropping statistics that defense accomplished.