Road Warriors or Road Kill for Mizzou in the 1970's- Part I
As the Missouri Tigers prepare for their first season as members of the Southeastern Conference, its important to learn a little about their history .One of their more colorful (and frustrating, as well as exciting for their fanbase) decades was the 1970's.Rarely has any one program experienced so many unlikely, big wins in a brief period only to end the year with relatively little to show for it. Missouri, of course is coming into the SEC from the Big XII which evolved from the Big 8 bringing in four schools from the now defunct Southwest Conference in the fall of 1996. The Tigers were part of the Big 8 and were original members of the 'Big 6' in 1928 that later added Colorado in 1948 and Oklahoma State in 1960 to arrive at "8".
Coincidentally, yet fittingly, Six Flags over Mid-America, near St Louis and now called Six Flags over St Louis, opened in Missouri in 1971 and complimented Mizzou's own rollercoaster ride in the 1970's
When reminiscing about the former Big 8, Nebraska and Oklahoma typically garner most attention. And, for good reason. Oklahoma had incredible teams in the 1950's compiling a 47 game winning streak, many conference titles and national titles. The 1970's saw the Huskers and Sooners dominate not only the Big 8, but the Nation at times with the two winning shares of at least four National Titles and competing for more. The two marched through the 1980's with Oklahoma winning a National title along the way and Nebraska winning back to back titles in 1994 and 1995.
However in the 1960's, Oklahoma and Nebraska fielded good teams with the Sooners winning or sharing two league titles and the Huskers winning or sharing four conference titles. No National Titles emanated from the Big 8 but there were some near misses. But neither the Sooners nor the Huskers had the best winning percentage in conference play in the 60's. The team with the best conference record from 1960-1969 was none other than the Missouri Tigers, who coincidentally won the league title to start the decade as well as the last year of the decade. The Tigers won 51 Big 8 games in the 60's to Oklahoma's 48 and Nebraska's 47.
Nebraska's win over Miami and George Mira (10) in the second and final Gotham Bowl in New York City in 1962 help give the Huskers a 6-5 edge over Missouri in bowls in the 1960's. Probably few if any of the 6,200 at Yankee Stadium that day in 14 degree temperatures knew these two would play monumental Orange Bowls in the 1980's and 1990's
As the 1960's ended with only 9 post season bowl games, it wasn't unusual for teams with seemingly strong records to fail to conclude their year in a bowl game. Not only was Missouri the only Big 8 team in the 1960's to not field a squad with a losing season, their five bowl games were second only to Nebraska's six who were aided by playing in the second and final Gotham Bowl in New York City. Oddly enough in addition to participating in two Orange Bowls as the Big 8 champion the three other bowls were against members of Missouri's new conference, the SEC.The Tigers downed former member Georgia Tech in the Bluebonnet Bowl in 1962, Florida and Steve Spurrier in the Sugar following the 1965 season and Alabama in the 1968 Gator Bowl (coincidentally, in both two loss seasons in 1965 and 1968 one of Missouri's losses those seasons was to SEC member Kentucky).
Good grief, Charlie Brown (22) helped lead Missouri to a Sugar Bowl win over Steve Spurrier and Florida after the 1965 season.
The Tigers' three non-conference games each year weren't littered with cupcakes,either. Missouri played several games versus solid programs of that era, including Air Force, SMU and Penn State. In addition to those three, Missouri played Minnesota several times including a win in Minneapolis in 1961 the year after the Gophers' had won the 1960 National Title and would be the lone Big 10 team to play in consecutive Rose Bowls until Ohio State's 1974 berth due to the league's antiquated 'no repeat' policy coupled with league champion Ohio State's faculty senate voting down the bid in '61 and the Rose and Big 10 selecting runner-up Minnesota. Missouri also had a two game series in 1965 and 1966 with UCLA in years the Bruins finished the season in the Nation's final top five.And, to close out the decade Missouri walloped Big 10 champion and Rose Bowl participant Michigan, 40-17 in Ann Arbor.
Missouri's record in the 1960's wasn't padded with cupcakes. In 1961 the Tigers defeated Minnesota and Sandy Stephens (15), the first black starting QB for an AP National Title team who led the Gophers to the 1960 National Title and 1961 Rose Bowl.Here he is leading the Gophers to a Rose Bowl win over UCLA in the 1962 game making the Gophers the only Big 10 team to make consecutive Rose Bowl appearances until 1974 due to the league's "no repeat rule" ,but after the '61 season champion Ohio State's faculty senate voted the bid down so runner-up Minnesota was selected
So as the 1970's began for Missouri with a tough 10-3 loss to #2 Penn State in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day 1970 there was no reason for the Tiger faithful to not think the 70's wouldn't be as good ,if not better for Missouri than the 1960's were. The Tigers' strong decade and strong 1969 season had them ranked #11 in the 1970 pre-season AP poll. Now ranked #9 Missouri traveled to St Louis for the second time in three games ,this time to face #20 Air Force. Little did anyone know at the time this game itself was a microcosm for not only the 1970 campaign, but the entire decade of the 1970's in terms of its 'uniqueness'.
The 1970 Missouri Tigers were counting on JC transfer John Matuszak, who was dismissed prior to the first game for disciplinary issues. "The Tooz" resurfaced at Tampa where he led the Spartans to a Tangerine Bowl win over Kent State and a DB named Nick Saban as well as current Missouri coach Gary Pinkel in 1972 before being the first player selected in the 1973 NFL Draft the following Spring
For starters, the game at St. Louis' Busch Stadium was on Astroturf and while the baseball Cardinals weren't in town that weekend, the football Cardinals were playing the Redskins at Busch the following day.But the baseball Cardinals did have one more home stand so the stadium crew was still in 'conversion' mode where obviously the pitcher's mound was removed the dirt remained for the infield and home plate area so the field was lined for football across the artificial surface as well as the baseball field dirt. Because of rain the morning of the game and the night before, stadium officials forbade the Missouri marching band from performing on the field before the game because of concerns they would wear out or rub the lines marking the yardage on the dirt infields and astroturf.
Missouri coach Dan Devine was livid at the condition of the field and the school band being prohibited from performing on it. Air Force, who would go finish its season in the Sugar Bowl, had no problems with the field nor the Tigers and roared out to a 30-0 halftime lead behind two Bob Parker touchdown passes of 67 and 44 yards to All-American Ernie Jennings as well as six Mizzou turnovers. Missouri did score twice in the second half to make the final a more respectable 37-14 defeat. Still, in the Big 8 coach's conference call that Monday, Devine's remarks focused more on the field than the loss to the Falcons. Whereas Missouri had played Illinois in St Louis the prior year and Baylor at Busch just two weeks earlier, this game did turn out to indeed be the last Division I game played at the 'original' Busch Stadium.
Even with the loss to Air Force who shot up to #10 after this game, Missouri remained in the top 20. Two other 1969 final top ten teams with a September loss , LSU and Tennessee dropped out completely.A win over Okie State moved Missouri back up to #16 which was followed by a tough loss to eventual National Champion Nebraska 21-7 who scored two late touchdowns. Not only did the Tigers lose a tough one to Nebraska, they lost their All-American candidate running back Joe Moore who was leading the nation with 610 passing yards and 6 touchdowns headed into the game in Lincoln. Again, with the clout Missouri had built during the 1960's, they remained the lone ranked team with two losses. The following week against then #3 Notre Dame, Joe Theismann rallied the Irish from a late third quarter 7-3 deficit as Notre Dame pulled away to a 24-7. The Tigers fell out of the rankings for good .
The 1970 Missouri Tigers were led by Playboy All-American Joe Moore (in the ,er,black #45) along with future SEC member players Carlos Alvarez of Florida (blue 45), Chip Kell of Tennessee and Archie Manning of Ole Miss along with Arkansas' Chuck Dicus and Bill Bennett
A season that started with so much promise, even with youth, never could gain traction. After being the only Big 8 team to go through the 1960's without a winning season, Missouri would finish 5-6 and endure its first losing season since 1956, Don Faurot's (for whom the school's football field is named after)last year in Columbia as head coach.Injuries throughout the year coupled with youth hurt the Tigers.In addition to Moore, six other Tigers were held out of the Notre Dame game due to injuries.Also, a junior college transfer with much hype and promise, John Matuszak, was dismissed from the squad for disciplinary reasons and transferred to the University of Tampa.Missouri lost something even bigger following the season, head coach Dan Devine who took over as head coach and general manager of the NFL's Green Bay Packers.
After the 1970 season Missouri would have to replace Dan Devine and his fine 92-38-7 record over 13 seasons which included two Big 8 titles, two Orange Bowls and one Sugar Bowl
Devine followed Phil Bengston, who had the unenviable task of replacing Vince Lombardi who resigned after winning Super Bowl II. Bengston, a solid defensive coach and architect of the Pack's great defenses in the 1960's couldn't transition from assistant to head coach . Green Bay, who won five NFL titles from 1961 to 1967, was only 20-21-1 in Bengston's tenure. The 1970 season started off with a humiliating 40-0 season opening loss to Detroit at once feared Lambeau Field.Bengston resigned under pressure two days after the season finale. Green Bay's initial choice Los Angeles Rams head coach George Allen took the Washington Redskins' head job, which oddly enough, had become open after Lombardi ( who after one season as Packers' GM returned as head coach of the Redskins in '69) succumbed to cancer prior to the start of the 1970 season. After Allen's flirtation, the Packers management looked to the college ranks and interviewed Frank Kush of Arizona State( who took over for Devine when Devine left Tempe to take the Missouri job in '58) and Penn State's Joe Paterno along with Devine. Kush pulled out of consideration and soon after Green Bay hired Devine , an Augusta, WI native over Paterno, who was intrigued by the opportunity of being General Manager as well as Head Coach.
As Green Bay's new coach, Devine replaced Phil Bengston (r) who had the unenviable task of replacing Vince Lombardi after the 1967 season and Super Bowl II
As Mizzou's mentor, Devine complied a fine 92-38-7 record from 1958 to 1970 winning two Big 8 titles. 9 of his 13 teams finished in the Top Twenty with the 1960 squad's number five ranking the highest ever for a Tiger team. Whereas Devine would be certainly missed, the program appeared solid enough with the elevation of defensive coordinator Al Onofrio, the players' and the fans' choice, to be the new Head Coach.One player remarked, "Onofrio made the car, Devine sold it." This alluded to x's and o's, schemes and in-game adjustments that Onofrio had a knack for and was the perfect compliment to Devine's ability to motivate players and be the "face" of Missouri football.
But even though Onofrio was certainly a solid "football coach" he was without a doubt a 'defensive' man.Overseeing the entire squad, especially the offense seemed to overwhelm him in year one. The Big 8 "Skywriters" stop in Columbia in early September 1971 didn't really reassure any of the Tiger faithful that the offense was in good hands. Missouri played four different quarterbacks in Spring and hadn't settled on a starter for the upcoming game vs defending Rose Bowl champion Stanford. But Onofrio knew he had to and would settle on a starter. "There's no way we're going to play musical chairs with our quarterbacks," he said. Or did he ? He then seemed to contradict himself by remarking, "we're gonna play the ones we think are best at that time." Without a doubt Missouri had the greatest disparity between offense and defense (which was still feared) of any school in the Big 8 conference.The writers picked Missouri 5th in the preseason poll, just behind Kansas State.
The offensive concerns were realized immediately. In the season opener at Palo Alto, Stanford shut out the Tigers, 19-0 and limited Missouri's normally rugged rushing attack to just 72 yards. The Tigers did get on the scoreboard the next week with two field goals in a tough 7-6 loss at Air Force.Missouri did win its home opener the following week 24-12 over SMU. That would turn out to be Missouri's lone win as the Tigers swooned to a 1-10 mark and dead last in the Big 8. Certainly the Big 8 was tremendous that season with Nebraska,Oklahoma, and Colorado finishing 1-2-3 in the final AP poll and Iowa State making its first bowl appearance in school history. Still, the Tigers were every bit as bad as the record indicates. In seven games Missouri scored one touchdown or less to finish with only 93 points for the season. The defense, while certainly not receiving much help from the offense, gave up a then school record 603 total yards to Nebraska and gave up 45 points to Iowa State. The 7-2 season finale loss to Kansas was the lone conference game that Missouri came within 16 points of anyone.
Onofrio certainly looked the part ,at least for the times, with short-sleeve shirt, tie and clipboard, as he tries to make a point in a '71 game,but the Tigers still had a nightmarish 1971 finishing 1-10
"Uncle Al" as he was known, wasn't necessarily on the hotseat, but considering what Missouri accomplished in the 1960's, Onofrio's seat was a little warm for the 1972 season. After his year one disaster, a lot of still supportive Missouri boosters and administrators were now saying, um, er "Show me" to the coach wanting some better results sooner than later.
For the 1972 edition of the Tigers, the offense was going to have to improve dramatically. As the season approached during the Big 8 Skywriter's tour stop in Columbia reflections on the prior season included such descriptions about the offense like "a tank without treads, a car without wheels, a boat out of water." If those weren't bad enough this hammered it home, "their running backs had all of the speed of a three-legged turtle."
Onofrio felt better about his squad's chances, especially on offense. For starters, instead of not knowing which of four quarterbacks would start the opening game , as was the case in '71, Jack Cherry would start vs Oregon over Tony Gillick. Also, Missouri had signed two junior college All-American running backs, Jimmy Smith and Tommy Reamon. The defense was the opposite of the prior the year with only one starter, LB Bob Orsi returning. Still, Onofrio said his staff had done a great job since "10 minutes after the Kansas game." With a rebuilt team and good freshman class,"if we get continued improvement, we'll have a good football team."
Missouri's 1972 season opener was against Oregon led by star QB Dan Fouts (11) shown in a 1971 picture with All-American WR Bobby Moore (23) on the back left. Moore was drafted 4th in the '72 draft by St Louis and soon after changed his name to Ahmad Rashad
Missouri equalled its 1971 wins in Game one with a dramatic 24-22 win over the Ducks on 31 yard Greg Hill field goal with :06 left. Cherry matched the more heralded Fouts with two touchdown passes and led the Tigers downfield from near midfield with under a minute left for the winning score.
Game two, also in Columbia, was more like a game from '71 as Baylor shut out Missouri 27-0. A ragged game with 11 fumbles, 7 by Baylor with 3 lost and Missouri losing all four of its fumbles, saw the Bears' wishbone give Missouri fits with 229 yards on 62 carries. Missouri's offensive woes were on the passing side,too, with 4 interceptions, one short of their completions on just 19 attempts.
Other than ripping up the #11 jerseys Baylor had for QB Neal Jeffrey and forcing him to wear #35 (shown in this picture) David Johnson and the rest of the Tigers didn't do much to slow the Bears down
The third of three home games to start the season featured another Pac 8 team, California. Missouri won this one,too, doubling its '71 win production with a 34-27 win. Next up was a trip to Stillwater to face surprising Oklahoma State who had just drubbed then third ranked Colorado, 31-6.
The game went back and forth with the Tigers showing flashes of its old self against the much improved Cowboys. Oklahoma State took a 10-9 lead into halftime as kicker Eddie Garret made a field goal as time expired. Missouri re-took the lead at 16-10 and OSU had one last chance. The Cowboys made it to the Mizzou 36 before being knocked back to their own 46. With under two minutes left, Oklahoma State faced a fourth down and 28 yards to go. Suddenly QB Brent Blackman hit streaking WR Steve Pettes down the sideline for what resulted in a 54 yard touchdown pass. Garrett's conversion gave Okie State a 17-16 win.
Up next was a trip to Lincoln to take on two time defending champion Nebraska. The 'Huskers were going for a "three-peat" in '72 but were stunned in the season opener by UCLA 20-17. Since the loss to the Bruins in game one, Nebraska , now #6, were trying to get back to #1. Since the upset in Los Angeles, the Huskers had been on a blitzkrieg outscoring their next three opponents 163-14 including a 77-7 win at Army.But, the Huskers were coming off an open date and Missouri hung tough with an improving Oklahoma State team. Nebraska coach Bob Devaney, who announced his retirement at the end of the season, was concerned about Missouri's passing game as the Huskers "got to prepare for more than with most wishbone teams." While Onofrio lamented the loss of four players due to injury including three running backs,many felt the Tigers would give it their all before Nebraska's power and depth pulled away in the second half.
Slotback Leroy Moss ,and the rest of the Tigers, must have felt the entire record crowd of 76,511 at Memorial Stadium were on the field, not just Joe Blahak (27) ,Willie Harper (81) Dennis Henrichs (75), and friends
That afternoon in Lincoln is where the roller coaster throughout the 70's really started. And for Missouri, this particular ride almost fell off the track and crashed like a movie in the 1970's,"Rollercoaster". Nebraska won, 62-0 in a game that really could have been worse. The Cornhuskers did whatever they wanted to while the Tigers couldn't get anything going. A 28 yard pass by Dave Humm to eventual Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers early in the second quarter led to a 21-0 halftime lead. But just six minutes into the third quarter, Nebraska led 41-0. Devaney cleared his bench, coincidentally using 62 players but that just spread the wealth. Back up QB Steve Runty turned out to be the leading rusher with 41 yards. Nebraska recorded 31 first downs and 544 total yards to Missouri's 8 first downs and 168 total yards. Three years earlier Missouri finished in the top ten and played in the Orange Bowl. Now on the heels of a 1-10 season they had lost 62-0.
As if Nebraska in Lincoln wasn't bad enough, Missouri would have to regroup and get ready for Notre Dame in South Bend. Bob Devaney in assessing the Missouri-Nebraska game commented on the Tigers' injuries on both sides of the ball which made the game even more difficult for the Tigers. Devaney also suggested when discussing Missouri's next game vs Notre Dame that it "appears to be whether Ara Parseghian wants to score more points than we did." The Irish had the nation's 5th ranked offense at the time to go along with the second rated defense. Notre Dame had actually dropped in the polls after routing Pittsburgh, 42-16 to fall to eighth behind LSU who basically swapped with them which also didn't bode well for Mizzou.
But the Tigers were led by a man who wouldn't go down without a fight. As big of names as Nebraska and Notre Dame were in 1972, Al Onofrio had fought an even bigger foe 28 years earlier. After military training as part of the V-12 program at Arizona State ,where he made "All-Border Conference" and was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers of the NFL, he was shipped out for active duty and stormed the beach at Normandy on D-Day. As stinging as the Nebraska loss was, and as formidable as Notre Dame was (and the Irish were 31 point favorites at kickoff time), Onofrio was going to South Bend with a plan. As a cold rain pounded Columbia that week, Onofrio moved his offense in -doors and let the defense practice outside."It was wet and slippery outside and if affects the offense more than the defense," Onofrio told writers."We need a good offensive workout."
Gunnery Officer Al Onofrio (bottom row ,far right) in southern France in 1944
Somehow,someway Missouri played their best game in years, and certainly best game on offense considering the opposition. After failing to score against Nebraska the prior week and being shutout earlier against Baylor, Missouri never trailed in the cold fog in South Bend. And it was in this setting where Missouri's rollercoaster ride took off, at least in an upward movement.
Missouri had been plagued not only by injuries but turnovers in the first five games. This time it was the opposition to aide its opponent with turnovers.Notre Dame's Tom Clements threw his first of two interceptions on the opening drive and Missouri had the ball at the ND 46. 12 plays later, Leroy Moss scored to give Missouri an early 7-0 lead. Notre Dame got untracked and went on a 66 yard touchdown drive and the first period ended tied 7-7.The Tigers then responded with a drive highlighted by John Cherry's passing. Cherry who had been less than stellar in earlier games played a tremendous game against one of the best defenses in the nation.Cherry completed a 32 yd pass to the one. After the Irish dug in, Missouri scored on 4th down to go up 14-7. Again, Notre Dame responded with a long drive and the two were knotted at 14. Cherry's passing drove the Tigers deep again and like the last drive RB Don Johnson scored from the one as Missouri took a 21-14 lead into halftime. The Tigers' offense kept the ball for over 20 minutes in the first half keeping Notre Dame's explosive offense in check.
Souvenir program from game that started the rollercoaster ride back in the right direction
Most of the 59,075 in attendance and thousands more listening nationwide on Mutual Radio assumed it was only a matter of time before the Irish got things going.Notre Dame's defense forced a three and out to start the 3rd quarter, but the Irish fumbled WR Jack Bastable's (who doubled as punter) punt and Missouri had the ball at the ND 38. Not wanting to coast, Cherry hit Bastable on a 30 yd pass on the next play to set up first and goal, but this time the Tigers did settle for a field goal and they led 24-14. This time Notre Dame fumbled the kickoff and Missouri had the ball right back at the Irish 20. Again, Notre Dame held on third and goal and on fourth down Missouri's Greg Hill booted his second field goal and it was 27-14.
Again the Irish fumbled the kick, but recovered this time and Missouri forced Notre Dame to punt. Missouri put together a good drive that stalled at the Notre Dame 8. A bad snap, the second of three in this quarter on field goal attempts --the first Missouri survived, cost the Tigers as they couldn't get the kick off and the third quarter ended with Missouri up 27-14.
Missouri moved the ball again, this time led by RB Tommy Reamon, one of the two JC All-Americans signed for '72. Reamon almost broke for a td but did get a big 29 yard run. Again, Missouri had to settle for a field goal and this time Hill's kick was good and Missouri had a 30-14 lead with 10:13 left in the game.
Finally, someone woke up the echoes, or at least Notre Dame's offense and Clements led Notre Dame on an 11 play 81 drive and scored on a 13 yard run himself to make it 30-20.But, Clements' two point conversion pass was batted away and the margin remained 10.
The Irish forced a three and out and took over with 5:44 left. Notre Dame moved the ball across midfield but Missouri held and pushed them back to the Tiger 49 where the Irish faced a fourth and 18. Just like what happened two weeks earlier in Stillwater, the Irish completed a huge gainer this one a 36 yarder. Whereas the fourth down conversion didn't result in a touchdown as in the Oklahoma State game, the Irish scored two plays later with 4:10 left in the game.Again Notre Dame went for two and again Missouri held and the Tigers clung to a 30-26 lead.
Notre Dame's defense rose up again and after exhausting their timeouts they got the ball back at their own 13 with 2:26 left. The Irish had to go 87 yards with no timeouts, but after getting burned on the last drive flashbacks to Stillwater were on every Tigers' mind. But on first down, Missouri CB Mike Fink picked off Clements' pass to Darryll Dewan near midfield and returned it 29 yards to the Notre Dame 15. After a couple of keepers by Cherry the clock expired and Missouri had come away with an incredible 30-26 win over Notre Dame. Just one week after a humiliating 62-0 loss to Nebraska, the Tigers regrouped in the House of Rockne and upset the 8th ranked Irish.After being shut out twice , Missouri put up 30 points on a Fightin' Irish defense which had given up just 30 points in 4 games. Unbelievable.
"You just never know what will happen in this game,"said Onofrio."A tremendous victory for us; our biggest since I've been a coach at Missouri." The accolades would continue to roll in to Columbia and one had a surprising twist just like the Notre Dame game.Like most conferences, the Big 8 chose an "offensive player of the week" and a "defensive player of the week". Schools were limited to nominating only one player for each award.Missouri nominated guard Scott Anderson for his superb play against Notre Dame All-American Greg Marx. In addition to Don Johnson score one of his rushing touchdowns behind Anderson, John Cherry was able to have a good passing day due in part to the lack of pressure put on him by the Irish DL.Not only did the panel of sportswriters agree with Anderson as offensive player of the week, the writers on their own awarded the weekly award to Johnson and Cherry as well for an unusual three way tie for players from the same team.While Anderson had to share Big 8 Player of the week honors, he was Sports Illustrated's lone recipient for National lineman of the week.
But the celebration couldn't go on too long as for the third time in three weeks the Tigers' upcoming opponent was ranked in the top 10. This time it was #7 Colorado, fresh off an emotional 20-14 win over then second ranked Oklahoma.The Buffaloes were considered the 'third' of the Big Eight's 'Big Three' as they had finished in the final polls in 1971 third in the nation behind only Big 8 brethren Nebraska and Oklahoma. This time at least, for the first time in four games, Missouri would be playing at home, homecoming nonetheless.
Both coaches, Missouri's Onofrio and Colorado's Eddie Crowder were fearful of letdowns. Not necessarily that either was taking the other lightly just that Missouri had just had the improbable Nebraska and Notre Dame hurdle while Colorado also just had a huge win under its belt and had mighty Nebraska awaiting them after the clash with Mizzou.Both coaches were very complimentary of the other squad saying all the right things with Crowder commenting on "Missouri's toughness" and Onofrio saying the Buffs were probably better now "than five weeks ago when they were No. 3 in the country."
Like most teams at this point of the season, injuries plagued both teams. Missouri's Moss who scored the first touchdown against Notre Dame pulled a hamstring and was out. Colorado's all-star running back Charles Davis would not start due to a shoulder injury suffered in the game against Oklahoma the prior week.Davis' injury was a result not from a hard hit vs a Sooner, but in a collision with one of the ABC-TV trucks that lined Folsom Field during the telecast of the game. The Tigers fed off the loud homecoming crowd and after a scoreless first quarter, took a 10-0 lead into halftime after a Hill kick and Reamon td run.
Crowder had originally wanted to hold Davis out of the entire game with Nebraska up next but inserted him in the line up for the second half. The decision paid off quickly as Davis scored from three yards out to narrow the lead to 10-7.Colorado forced a three and out and then returned the ensuing punt 40 yards.This time the Buffaloes scored a three instead of six and tied the game at 10.
As the fourth quarter began, Missouri's offense had begun moving again.Cherry's passing to Reamon and Bastable set up a play action fake to Reamon that found Jim Sharp all alone for a 7 yd td and 17-10 lead.Missouri's seemingly inept offense just two weeks prior had now put up 30 on Notre Dame and more vs Colorado than the Buffaloes had allowed against explosive Oklahoma.But Colorado wasn't ranked in the top ten for nothing.Once again Davis led Colorado downfield and with 7:43 in the game Bo Matthews, from Huntsville,Alabama who originally committed to Alabama and would have been the Tide's first black football player but changed his mind oddly enough while getting to know Buffalo players at the 1969 Liberty Bowl with Colorado playing Alabama, scored from one yard out and the extra point tied the game at 17.
But now Missouri had become an offensive threat.Once again thanks to another great game by the offensive line and strong running by Reamon, John Cherry led the Tigers right now field but the drive stalled at the Buff 20. With under 2:00 left in the game entered kicker Greg Hill. Hill had made three field goals in the mist and fog in South Bend and had made the game winner in a similar situation earlier vs Oregon. Of course, in 1971, in a similar situation in Colorado Springs, he missed a short one at the end in a 7-6 loss to Air Force. Unlike two of three snaps and holds in the win vs Notre Dame, this snap and hold was true and Hill's 37 yard field goal....sailed wide left.Still, there was time and Missouri still had its timeouts.
Missouri's defense rose up and forced Colorado to go three and out and punt. The Tigers took over on their own 45 needing a field goal to win.After missing a wide open Sharp for a td on first down, Cherry tucked and ran 17 yards to the Buff 38. Two consecutive first down runs gave Missouri a first down at the Colorado 13. With :06 left in the game, Hill got one more chance. This time he made it and Missouri had a 20-17 win over Colorado. Two weeks after a 62-0 beating, Missouri had now defeated two straight top ten teams.
Missouri kicker Greg Hill leaps for joy after a second try gives the Tigers their second straight win over a top 10 team. His 30 yarder with :06 left downed Colorado , 20-17.
Just eight days earlier Missouri's season, and probably Onofrio's job seemed about to collapse. After the Nebraska debacle, expected losses to Notre Dame and Colorado would not only have put Missouri at 2-5 but Onofrio's overall record at 3-15. But with two straight huge upset wins, Missouri was at 4-3 and suddenly being mentioned for a bowl game.
Next up was a road trip to the "Little Apple", Manhattan, Kansas to face the Kansas State Wildcats.The Wildcats were coached by brash Vince Gibson who took over the then perennially beleaguered program in 1967 promising "(w)e gonna win !".After a 1-9 mark in year one, the Wildcats did start to win with a shutout win in Lincoln over Nebraska which put Kansas State in the AP poll for the first time ever. In 1969 the Wildcats gave eventual #2 Penn State its closest game losing a tough 17-14 game, handed then #11 Oklahoma their worst loss ever (at the time) 59-21 and were ranked #12. The Wildcats did produce a winning season in 1970, their first since 1954, but were hit with NCAA violations in mid year and started to sputter. By mid 1972 the Wildcats were headed back to their old losing ways. The Missouri-Kansas State game would not change the Wildcats' direction.
Missouri won a rather methodical game, 31-14. The Tigers rushed for over 300 yards and never trailed.Kansas State did give Missouri a game behind two touchdown passes and Missouri led only 17-14 going into the 4th quarter. However, two Tiger rushing touchdowns put the game out of reach and Missouri was now 5-3.
Now ranked 14th in the nation, the Tigers would travel to Norman to face #7 Oklahoma. Both coaches, Onofrio and OU's Chuck Fairbanks mastered 'coach speak' during game week. Onofrio said Mizzou would "have to play a much better game than we've played up to now if we win.We can't make any errors." Fairbanks said Missouri was "always tough for us.If we're going to win the game , we're going to have to run the ball. We have never beaten Missouri throwing."
Missouri, now referred to as 'giant killer' was indeed facing a giant of college football at the time as the Sooners were in year two of an incredible run where they would finish in the AP top 10 every year from 1971-1980 winning outright or sharing 10 straight Big 8 titles. Seventh ranked Oklahoma, looking to move up in the polls as three teams ranked ahead of them, Nebraska, Ohio State and LSU would not win (the Huskers tying Iowa State and the Buckeyes and Bengal Tigers losing) ran an NCAA best 87 rushing plays vs Missouri and held the Tigers to only 97 total yards.But, the Sooners only led 10-6 going into the final quarter. Finally, All-American Greg Pruitt got four of his 195 yards early in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach as Oklahoma won, 17-6. The Sooners piled up 422 yards rushing for the day,but fortunately for the Tigers, fumbled four times losing three.Fairbanks said afterwards it was probably the Sooners' best offensive day, but "there were too many penalites and untimely errors."
Even with the loss, Missouri remained ranked in the top 20 falling to 19th. Up next was another ranked opponent, the Tigers' fifth in its last six games. Unlike the previous 4 teams, this ranked team was a virtual newcomer to rankings and bowl games. 12th ranked Iowa State, fresh off a stunning 23-23 tie of Nebraska was coming to Columbia for a game moved up an hour for regional television. Iowa State, under Tennessee legend Johnny Majors, had played in their first ever bowl game the previous season and word out of Memphis was a win over the Tigers on Saturday would ensure their second bowl bid as bowl bids couldn't officially go out until November 18th at 6:00 p.m. While the Cornhuskers had been a huge favorite over the Cyclones, only a missed extra point by Tom Goedjen with :24 left prevented Iowa State from winning.
If anyone should have been impressed by Iowa State's game versus Nebraska ,it was Onofrio, and he certainly was. Nebraska had been on a mission since its season opening loss to UCLA and even with a loss, many experts were under the impression the 1972 edition of the 'Huskers were even better than the 1970 and 1971 teams which indeed go unbeaten and win the National Title.Onofrio assured reporters that the tie in Ames "was no fluke" and that the Cyclones "were on par with Nebraska and Oklahoma." Majors fretted about "rugged Missouri" while lamenting the possible loss of four starters.
Iowa State also only got in one day of practice outside as heavy snow prevented the Cyclones from going outside for practice. Whereas Columbia didn't have snow for the game, temperatures stayed in the 40's and wet and windy conditions greeted each team. Bowl scouts from the Liberty,Sun and Fiesta (only in its second season) watched 5-2-1 Iowa State and 5-4 Missouri go at it with a bowl most certainly assured for Iowa State with a win and maybe assured for Missouri with a win.Goedjen redeemed himself somewhat with a 35 yard field goal in the first quarter to give Iowa State a 3-0 lead. Iowa State then stopped Missouri on downs at the Cyclone 1, but later Missouri got moving again and Hill booted a field goal as the half expired and the two broke for halftime tied at 3.
In the third quarter Goedjen missed his second field goal of the afternoon. But Missouri went three and out and Iowa State LB Brad Storm proceeded to block Bastable's punt through the endzone for a safety and unusual 5-3 lead.Iowa State looked to add to the lead as this time they drove to the Missouri 1.But on fourth down, ISU QB George Amundson, whom earlier in the week Onofrio said should be a Heisman candidate, was stopped at the goal and Missouri took over.Missouri couldn't move and Iowa State took over with good field position.
Cherry (12) was hurried all day by Iowa State's defense but led them on one final winning drive
They Cyclones were able to move the ball across midfield with under six minutes left. This time Amundson threw an interception and Missouri had the ball at their own 23.With time running down, not only on this game but Missouri's sudden improbable run for a winning season and possible bowl game, the Tigers finally started moving the ball.Behind the running of Johnson and Reamon and Cherry's passing, Missouri moved to the Cyclone 6 yard line with 1:30 left in the game. On fourth down Greg Hill came in for what would be his third game winning field goal. His 23 yarder was true and Missouri had come away with an unusual 6-5 win during a most unusual season.Hill, a Columbia native who grew up living next door to Onofrio, would be named Big Eight offensive player of the week.
After the game Missouri accepted a bid to the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe,Arizona to face the Western Athletic Conference champion, which would be either home standing Arizona State, Arizona or Utah.(In the other locker room, Iowa State did indeed receive a Liberty Bowl bid. Unfortunately for the Liberty and the Cyclones, at 5-3-1 Iowa State would go on to lose its last two games and enter the bowl at 5-5-1.The loss to Georgia Tech gave the Cyclones a losing record at 5-6-1 and also lost their coach to the Pitt Panthers.)
Next up was the regular season finale vs the Kansas Jayhawks. Whereas the "Border War" never has resonated nationally like Alabama-Auburn, Michigan-Ohio State, or Nebraska-Oklahoma for this era at least, the Kansas-Missouri game was huge to the teams and the fanbases.Kansas, at 3-7, was looking for some redemption for a team that at times showed it was better than the record indicated while 6-4 Missouri had risen from the dead after leaving Lincoln in shambles six weeks earlier.Both teams said records meant nothing and Onofrio went so far to say he'd rather be coaching Kansas in the game as the psychological edge was on the Jayhawks' side.
A sellout crowd on a wet,gray day was on hand at Memorial Stadium for the 81st meeting between the two. Actually, before the game Memorial Stadium was being dedicated and changed to Don Faurot Field in honor of the former Missouri head football coach and athletic director. Fortunately, Faurot , a 37 year veteran of the Tigers' athletic department, was still in good health to be on hand for the dedication.In light of Onofrio's midweek comments, perhaps Faurot should have coached the Tigers as he had a tremendous 13-4-2 mark vs the Jayhawks.
Al Onofrio's record vs Kansas fell to 0-2. Whether Missouri just ran out of steam and an incredibly emotional hot streak of outstanding football or Kansas playing its best game and showing how 'close' they were to going to a bowl, Missouri fell 28-17 to the Jayhawks. After a Hill field goal put Missouri up 3-0, Kansas' QB David Jaynes got going and threw the first of his two touchdowns, this one a wide open 40 yarder as Kansas went up 7-3.Still Missouri led 17-16 in the third, but Jaynes,who passed for over 250 yards on the day, continued to pick Missouri's secondary apart and produced the final margin. Missouri's offense which had come alive up to the Oklahoma game ,struggled again and Cherry only completed 6 of 22 passes and threw 3 interceptions.
Kansas' QB David Jaynes had a huge day in the rain and mud in Columbia in '72. Oddly enough it was the Jayhawks' only game on natural grass during the season
Still, after a losing season in Devine's last year , a 1-10 mark in 1971 and horrible start to 1972, a winning season and bowl bid made this a successful season. Next up was the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Fiesta Bowl, played in Sun Devil Stadium, Arizona State's home field. Ironically both teams were coached by men Onofrio and ASU's Frank Kush, who replaced Dan Devine.( Devine left ASU in 1957 to head to Columbia.)
Not only would Missouri be playing a bowl game against a team on its own home field, Arizona State would be looking for validation nationwide as a solid program that just happen to compete in a mid-level conference, the WAC. In 1970 the Sun Devils were unbeaten but barely got any consideration from the Cotton,Sugar or Orange and defeated North Carolina in the Peach Bowl. At least that edition of the Sun Devils received a bid. In 1967, 1968 and 1969 Arizona State went 8-2 all three years and were not invited to a bowl. Most gnawing was in 1968 when hated Arizona got the near by Sun Bowl bid while telling the bowl officials to extend the bid before the game with ASU or they wouldn't accept, period. The Sun did and Arizona State crushed Arizona 30-7 in Tuscon as both finished 8-2 but it was the Wildcats who would go on to face Auburn in the Sun Bowl. In 1971 Arizona State won the inaugural Fiesta Bowl 45-38 over Florida State to finish 11-1 and 8th in the Nation. From 1967 through 1971 Arizona State compiled a 46-7 record but started the '72 season ranked only 12th.
Regardless the game was seen as one pitting the "best" 6-5 team versus the "worst" 9-2 team. While the Sun Devils' best win was over a 7-4 BYU team, Kush and his troops were tired of hearing how overrated they were. While the Sun Devils' defense was seen as its weak link, few argued about the explosiveness of their offense and Kush wanted them hitting on all cylinders. Earlier that day football fans were treated to an NFL playoff game who's fireworks ,and there was indeed a nuclear bomb, all happened in the game's final 1:13 in Pittsburgh's still controversial 13-7 win over Oakland in the 1972 AFC Divisional playoffs. Fiesta Bowl fans would see wild plays and scoring from start to finish.
Whereas the Fiesta Bowl was a shootout from start to finish, earlier that day the AFC Divisional Playoff between Oakland and Pittsburgh had its fireworks at the end.This explosive play still reverberates throughout the Raider Nation
Arizona State started off early with two touchdowns by All-American running back Woody Green to take a 14-0 lead after the first quarter. Missouri couldn't move to start the second, but dual threat punter/WR Jack Bastable punted down to the Sun Devil 2. ASU QB Danny White, who would later replace Dallas' Roger Staubach, wanted more points and heaved one deep but it was picked off. Missouri finally got moving and got inside the Sun Devil 20 before stalling. On 4th down, the Tigers went for it and Cherry found Bastable open for a first down. On the next play Johnson scored and it was 14-7.
After and exchange of punts, ASU's offense got going again through the air and on the ground as the Sun Devils went into halftime ahead 28-7.It could have been worse as Arizona State had 365 yards of total offense at halftime while Missouri had 120. But since the Notre Dame game, Missouri had developed a resolve where they just wouldn't go away. Amazingly, Missouri shut out Arizona State in the third quarter while two Cherry to Chuck Link touchdown passes cut it to 28-21 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Arizona State's Danny White led the Sun Devils to a Fiesta Bowl win an 718 total yards
But here came the Sun Devils with the running game in high gear and Green, who would finish with 202 yards rushing , scored from two out and it was 35-21.And just like that, Mike Fink, one of the heroes on defense in South Bend returned Juan Cruz' kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown and it was 35-28.White got the passing game going for ASU and connected on a 55 yd td for a 42-28 lead.After a Missouri fumble, Green got his fourth touchdown of the game and it was 49-28. Tommy Reamon scored on a 31 yard td to end the scoring and Arizona State had its second straight Sun Bowl win, this time 49-35. The Sun Devils piled up an astonishing 718 total yards with 452 yards on the ground. The total yardage by ASU would stand as a bowl record until the 2011 Alamo Bowl when Baylor put up 777 on Washington.
Whereas the 1972 season ended on a thud with two losses, the positives outweighed the negatives. A bowl trip after losing seasons in '70 and '71 and the rough start to '72 was exciting.However, tendencies of the Onofrio era which would plague Missouri's hopes and dreams for the next several years emerged. Missouri was 3-3 versus ranked teams. But they were also 3-3 versus unranked teams.The Tigers could upset, but then be upset.
The rest of the Onofrio era ,and the 1970's would be much of the same. Huge wins and equally stunning defeats.