The 50th Anniversary of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos

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The 50th Anniversary of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos

Sat 12/1 Northwood & Tet/Cronkite/LBJ/New Hampshire
Wed 12/5 Southwestern & Prague Spring
Sat 12/8 Maryville & French Student Protests
Wed 12/12 Nebraska Wesleyan & RFK
Sat 12/15 Sewanee & MLK
Wed 12/19 William Jewell & the Chicago Convention
Sat 12/22 Colorado College & the Mexico City Olympics
Wed 12/26 Ouachita Baptist & the Dallas Cowboys
Sat 12/29 Texas Lutheran & Apollo 8

Today: Sat 12/1 - Northwood & Tet/Cronkite/LBJ/New Hampshire

The long, hot summer of 1968 was winding down when students returned to the campus of Austin College. Political crises both at home and abroad had been the norm since June. Roo Head Coach Floyd Gass and the 1968 Austin College Kangaroo football team were looking to put the events of that year behind them as classes resumed in the fall. There was instead focus on a new gridiron season, building upon the successes of the prior year.

Gass had come to Austin College in 1955 during the Gene Babb years as an assistant to Head Coach Joe Spencer; he took over in 1961 after Spencer’s departure. The 1968 season would be his last in Sherman. His 43 wins (vs. 28 losses) ranks him as the third winningest coach in AC history behind Larry Kramer and Mel Tjeerdsma. Tjeerdsma will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this week.

The success of the 1968 season at AC sparked the interest of Gass’s alma mater, the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Gass would depart Sherman after the season and lead the Cowboys from 1969 to 1971 against Oklahoma, Nebraska and other Big 8 schools. Gene Babb came along as his Stillwater assistant. After finding a coaching replacement in 1972, Gass continued as OK State Athletic Director until 1978. He finished his career where it started, in Stillwater.

Back in 1944, Gass was an Oklahoma All-State running back from Hominy, OK, within an hour of Stillwater. Gass also led his Hominy HS to a Class B basketball state championship in 1945, just before graduation. His Hominy teammate on the 1945 squad was Bill Long, a Roo assistant coach during the 1968 AC season. Gass and Long both headed to Oklahoma State in 1945, where they became members of the junior varsity football squad. They spent their freshman year watching the Oklahoma State varsity roll to an undefeated season and national championship.

By the fall of 1948, Gass was a contributor to an Oklahoma State squad that went 6-4 and earned a trip to the Delta Bowl in Memphis. The regular season ended with a disappointing “Bedlam” loss in Stillwater to OU. Sooners QB and future Longhorns coach Darryl Royal barely edged Gass and the Cowboys; the 19-15 Sooner win at Lewis Field (now T. Boone Pickens Stadium) was earned when a last minute Cowboys drive stalled. Cowboys RB and Gass teammate Jim Spavital, whose grandson was named Texas State Head Coach just this week, was stopped on 4th down near the Sooner goal line. OK State students left Lewis Field disappointed. T. Boone Pickens, a 1948 classmate of Gass, was likely one of them.

Coaching at the high school level in Oklahoma followed graduation in 1950. In 1955, Gass moved to the college ranks when Joe Spencer asked for his assistance in Sherman. Gass’s tenure at AC showed consistent improvement after taking the reins in 1961. A winning season was achieved in 1964, and a 7-win campaign followed in 1965. The 1968 Roos were coming off of a 6-3 season the prior year with much of the team back.

The season opener for Austin College was in Sherman against Northwood Institute, a small NAIA school only three years in existence and playing its first ever season of football. Press after Northwood’s first season commented on the administration’s scheduling bravery, noting that the school “had the audacity to schedule such small college powers as Austin College.” QB Wes Eben hit WR Roland Rainey on a 25-yard TD pass early in the game, and AC never looked back. RB Joe Meade, a transfer from TCU, scored twice; Randy Reedy and Charley Schreiber added TDs of their own.

The Kangaroo offensive line (LT Paul Neubach, LG Bob Sheffield, Center Rick Page, RG Keith Johnston, RT Steve Josephson) dominated the line of scrimmage. The Kangaroos shutout Northwood 41-0; Gass’s crew was off and running. From Johnston:

“[Northwood] had recruited a lot of talented athletes and they looked impressive in their pre-game warm up, but having never played together, they were quite disorganized and coach Gass had us running like a well-oiled machine.”

The year of 1968 had begun for the United States in a similar manner to Northwood’s football season.  Promises of victory “just around the corner” after four long years since the introduction of U.S. forces in Vietnam were questioned after the Tet Offensive in late January 1968.  Although technically a military defeat for North Vietnam, the early success of the campaign showed quite clearly that the conflict would be a bloody affair for an indefinite period of time.  Tet moved American war protest to the mainstream, when network anchor Walter Cronkite famously concluded a February 1968 broadcast with the following:

“To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”

It's a myth that President Johnson said “if I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the war.”  But it might as well have been true.  Johnson’s failure to quickly win an intractable war had hurt his popularity nationwide, and his failure to end the conflict had hurt his popularity within his own party.  The antiwar insurgency of Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire caught the sitting president off guard.  Although he pulled off the narrow victory, Johnson saw the writing on the wall.  His frustration with Vietnam and its damage to his legacy, combined with his failing health, convinced him to “neither seek nor accept” the nomination of his party for another term.  American politics began 1968 with high drama and would not let it go all year.

The 1968 Roos were honored 50 years later at Homecoming in Sherman before an Austin College game against Memphis’s Rhodes College (previously known as Southwestern). Coach Floyd Gass had called this group “the best football team we’ve had since I’ve been at Austin College.” Now 1-0, the 1968 Roos prepared to meet Southwestern in the second game of the season. There would be no Southwestern victory over AC in week #2. However, like nearly every opponent that faced one of Austin College’s best football teams in history, Southwestern certainly tried and “did the best they could.”

Next Up: Wed 12/5 - Southwestern & Prague Spring

Members of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos:
Chris Nyvall, Dee Dearen (request sent), Eddie Farley (request sent), J.B. Cole (request sent), John Fain, John Sheridan, Keith Johnston, Mark Burtner (request sent), Nick Jones (request sent), Paul Neubach (request sent), Phil Fuller (request sent), Randy Reedy (request sent), Rick Page, Bob Sheffield, Roland Rainey (request sent), Steve Schiff (request sent), Vb Atchison, Bruce King (request sent), Jerry Moore, Bob Schucany, Bobby Anderson (passed), Charlie Schreiber (passed), Clay Fulcher, Dennis McEntire, Don Fields, Eddie Brister, Fred Maples (passed), Gary Watkins, Hobart Collins, James Moore, Jay Weigel, Jeff Smith, Jim Baccus (passed), Joe Meade (passed), John Clendennen, John Menefee (passed), Kelly Hester, Ken Hewett, Kent Streit, Larry Elliott, Lonnie Cooper, Mark Beardsley, Mike Moore, Mike Skinner, Mike Toon (passed), Mitchell Dickson, Neil Crockett (passed), Pat Marushia, R.J. Hagood (passed), Ron Hagood (passed), Richard Bass, Robert Snider (passed), Ronnie Cooper, Steve Hays (passed), Steve Josephson, Teb Baker (passed), Tim Jubela (passed), Tim Miller, Wes Eben (passed), Head Coach Floyd Gass, Assistant Coaches Duane Nutt (h/t Kelly Nutt), Bob Mason, Bill Long, Slats McCord

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Oklahoma State University
Oklahoma State Cowboy Football

Roos who like Oklahoma State: Debra Epps Caffey, Billy Kuykendall, Aimee Liles Hale, Douglas Tsang, Tracy Barrett Curry, Cooper Gross. You get included too Misty Lawson Gaeke.

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The 50th Anniversary of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos

Sat 12/1 Northwood & Tet/Cronkite/LBJ/New Hampshire
Wed 12/5 Southwestern & Prague Spring
Sat 12/8 Maryville & French Student Protests
Wed 12/12 Nebraska Wesleyan & RFK
Sat 12/15 Sewanee & MLK
Wed 12/19 William Jewell & the Chicago Convention
Sat 12/22 Colorado College & the Mexico City Olympics
Wed 12/26 Ouachita Baptist & the Dallas Cowboys
Sat 12/29 Texas Lutheran & Apollo 8

Today: Wed 12/5 - Southwestern & Prague Spring

Alexander Dubcek, a leader of Third Reich resistance during WW2, was a committed reformer within the Czech communist party. His faction achieved power in Prague in the mid-1960s, and began to push political openness and trade liberalization. Brezhnev and Moscow watched with increasing worry. “Socialism with a human face” began to take root as winter turned to spring in 1968. Czechs were enthusiastic about their newly won freedoms; Dubcek’s popularity soared.

The Soviets had crushed the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Dubcek thought “Prague Spring” would be different, as he guaranteed Brezhnev that Prague would remain a faithful member of the Warsaw pact regardless of internal reform. Dubcek was wrong. Reform in client states meant possible reform in the USSR itself, and the prospect was non-negotiable.

As the 1968 Roos were going through two-a-days at Calder stadium, Soviet forces entered Czechoslovakia to end Dubcek’s experiment in freedom on August 20th. Inspired by individuals such as MLK, Dubcek pleaded with his countrymen to resist peacefully and continuously. The Czech author and playwright Vaclav Havel took up the call. As Soviet forces occupied the country, Havel became increasingly political, earned constant KGB surveillance, and even spent years in prison.

Fresh off a victory over Northwood, Austin College was more than ready when Southwestern (Memphis, TN) came to Sherman. Now known as Rhodes College, Southwestern and Austin College share a special connection to a Southwest Conference dynasty.

Jess Neely, born and raised in Tennessee, became head coach of Southwestern in the 1920s. Cecil Grigg, born and raised in Texas, became head coach of Austin College in the early 1930s. Both were lured to Rice. Over a quarter century after 1940, with Neely as head coach and Grigg as his able OC, the Owls established something of a “glory years” dynasty. They captured four SWC titles, numerous winning seasons, and went .500 against the mighty Longhorns of Texas.

In 1963, JFK challenged America to go to the moon at Rice Stadium and famously asked “Why does Rice play Texas?” The answer was clear. The Southwestern / Austin College combination of Neely & Grigg. Grigg passed away in September of 1968, just two weeks before AC’s win over Southwestern in Sherman. With Neely and Grigg in attendance at Rice Stadium in 1963, JFK emphatically declared “we choose to go to the moon.” Kennedy was 240,000 miles away from the moon when he made those comments; by the end of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroo season, Apollo 8 was just miles from the lunar surface.

The 1968 Southwestern Lynx were overwhelmed by the AC offense. Wes Eben connected for two touchdowns, one to Mike Toon and a second to Roland Rainey. RB Joe Meade added two scores of his own on the ground. Neil Crockett and Charlie Schreiber added two late scores. The Kangaroo defense recorded a 40-0 shoutout.

The defensive front line limited the Lynx to just 55 yards rushing; Kelly Hester and NAIA All-American Don Fields each had an interception. Coach Floyd Gass called the 1968 team “the best defensive team I ever had at Austin College.” Members of the Roo defense are pictured in “100 Years of Football”: Clay Fulcher, Bob Schucany, Steve Schiff, Teb Baker, Don Fields, Jerry Moore, Chris Nyvall, Mike Skinner, Dennis McIntire, Steve Hayes, and Dee Dearen.

From offensive lineman Keith Johnston:

“As in most years at Austin College, there are freshmen that start and have a big impact on the team. Our defense was awesome in 1968 and there were 4 freshmen on that team that started or played a significant role. Clay Fulcher took [his] position in the defensive backfield alongside Chris Nyvall and Don Fields, John Clendennen, and John Fain. Depending on who we were playing, we rotated defensive tackles. The two Johns started for us much of the season.”

“I remember the first time I had to block Teb in practice. He lined up on my outside shoulder and we were running a sweep to my side. I looked at Teb's big body and figured I would have no trouble stepping out and cutting him off. Teb beat me to the sideline and then I found out that he had been an All American Defensive tackle at a junior college. He moved faster laterally than he did straight forward. The newspaper in Colorado Springs referred to him as the Tremendous Teb Baker after seeing him stop Colorado College in 1968. The nickname stuck.”

On November 17, 1989, Czech security forces violently responded to a student demonstration in Prague. The Berlin Wall had fallen just 8 days earlier, and the regime was determined not to follow suit. Students responded by calling for another, large demonstration on November 24th, and asked Dubcek and Havel to join them. 500,000 Czechs, led by the former and future leader of the country, peacefully demonstrated as security forces looked on. Communist party rule in Czechoslovakia was done. Your humble author followed it all as an international relations student and Roo football fan in Sherman.

The 1968 Roos were honored at Homecoming in 2018, 50 years after their memorable season. The Homecoming game pitted AC vs. Rhodes (formerly Southwestern), the same team that had journeyed to Sherman in 1968 and had failed to put up a single point. The 1968 Roos were 2-0, and Maryville University (MO) was headed to Sherman next. The boys from Missouri would meet the same fate as their neighbors in Tennessee.

Next Up: Sat 12/8 - Maryville & French Student Protests

Members of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos:
Chris Nyvall, Dee Dearen (request sent), Eddie Farley (request sent), J.B. Cole (request sent), John Fain, John Sheridan, Keith Johnston, Mark Burtner (request sent), Nick Jones (request sent), Paul Neubach (request sent), Phil Fuller (request sent), Randy Reedy (request sent), Rick Page, Bob Sheffield, Roland Rainey (request sent), Steve Schiff (request sent), Vb Atchison, Bruce King (request sent), Jerry Moore, Bob Schucany, Bobby Anderson (passed), Charlie Schreiber (passed), Clay Fulcher, Dennis McEntire, Don Fields, Eddie Brister, Fred Maples (passed), Gary Watkins, Hobart Collins, James Moore, Jay Weigel, Jeff Smith, Jim Baccus (passed), Joe Meade (passed), John Clendennen, John Menefee (passed), Kelly Hester (h/t Chrissy Rydman Hester), Ken Hewett, Kent Streit, Larry Elliott, Lonnie Cooper, Mark Beardsley, Mike Moore, Mike Skinner, Mike Toon (passed), Mitchell Dickson, Neil Crockett (passed), Pat Marushia, R.J. Hagood (passed), Ron Hagood (passed), Richard Bass, Robert Snider (passed), Ronnie Cooper, Steve Hays (passed), Steve Josephson, Teb Baker (passed), Tim Jubela (passed), Tim Miller, Wes Eben (passed), Head Coach Floyd Gass, Assistant Coaches Duane Nutt (h/t Kelly Nutt), Bob Mason, Bill Long, Slats McCord (h/t Martha Kate McCord)

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The 50th Anniversary of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos

Sat 12/1 Northwood & Tet/Cronkite/LBJ/New Hampshire
Wed 12/5 Southwestern & Prague Spring
Sat 12/8 Maryville & French Student Protests
Wed 12/12 Nebraska Wesleyan & RFK
Sat 12/15 Sewanee & MLK
Wed 12/19 William Jewell & the Chicago Convention
Sat 12/22 Colorado College & the Mexico City Olympics
Wed 12/26 Ouachita Baptist & the Dallas Cowboys
Sat 12/29 Texas Lutheran & Apollo 8

Today: Sat 12/8 - Maryville & French Student Protests

St. Louis’s Gateway Arch was dedicated in 1968, the same year that Maryville College (Maryville, TN) traveled to Sherman to take on the 2-0 Roos. AC fell behind for the first time all season, but came roaring back on a Wes Eben TD toss to Roland Rainey, a Joe Meade TD run, and an Eben sneak from the one-yard line.

Gary Watkins relieved Eben briefly, and found targets Meade and Rainey for big gains. Don Fields, who would end the season as a 2nd team NAIA All-American, had two interceptions. Mike Skinner and Clay Fulcher had 8 tackles each, and AC won easily 28-7.

Joe Meade was the quiet workhorse for the Roos all season, and the AC offensive line of Paul Neubach (LT), Bob Sheffield (LG), Rick Page (C), Keith Johnston (RG), and Steve Josephson (RT) gave Meade many opportunities for big yardage. Meade’s toughness didn’t hurt either.

From Johnston:

“Our key running back that year was Joe Meade. Joe transferred in from TCU and filled in for Mike Maloney who had graduated in the spring of 1968. Joe rushed for over 800 yards in 1968. Joe was kind of a crazy guy, he used to bump his head against a brick wall before games. When we asked him why he did that, he said because it felt good when he stopped.”

St. Louis was founded by the French in the 18th century, and the city was a part of the French sale of the Louisiana purchase in the 19th. France in the 20th century was experiencing the same turmoil on college campuses found around the rest of Western Europe and in North America.

Before the 1960s, universities were governed in a more autocratic style. “In loco parentis” ruled the day, and free speech on campus grounds and in college newspapers was curtailed. These restrictions met resistance in 1968. Foreign policy abroad brought conflict between students and administration to a head. Faculty were often caught in the middle.

Campus strife was avoided in some countries with negotiation and reform. In others, such as France, violent conflict erupted. A general student strike in May of 1968 was met with repression from President Charles De Gaulle; the negative reaction from the French public emboldened the students to demand greater concessions and to successfully call for a labor strike to support. The French economy was ground to a virtual halt.

At its height, French political leaders feared all out civil war. De Gaulle himself even secretly left the country briefly for his own personal safety. Concessions won by students and labor eventually cooled passions, however. New elections were called that summer, and May of 1968 turned out to be more reformist than revolutionary. Those reforms remain. On college campuses today in the US and Europe, students generally have more representation and autonomy (as well as responsibility) compared to 50 years ago.

The post season honors would rack up for the 1968 Roos by the end of the season. In addition to Fields, Joe Meade and Wes Eben were named honorable mention All-American. Fields would win the 1968 Gene Babb award for outstanding football player, and would finish his career with 28 interceptions, an AC record. At the time, the 28 picks were the third highest in collegiate history. The D3 record for career reception in 2018 stands at 29.

The Roos were 3-0 after the defeat of Maryville, and a trip to Nebraska was up next. Back in 1968, no one would have objected to any Roo student’s right to speak freely on campus and point out the obvious: “These guys were good.”

Next Up: Wed 12/12 - Nebraska Wesleyan & RFK

Members of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos:
Chris Nyvall, Dee Dearen (request sent), Eddie Farley (request sent), J.B. Cole (request sent), John Fain, John Sheridan, Keith Johnston, Mark Burtner (request sent), Nick Jones (request sent), Paul Neubach (request sent), Phil Fuller (request sent), Randy Reedy (request sent), Rick Page, Bob Sheffield, Roland Rainey (request sent), Steve Schiff (request sent), Vb Atchison, Bruce King (request sent), Jerry Moore, Bob Schucany, Bobby Anderson (passed), Charlie Schreiber (passed), Clay Fulcher, Dennis McEntire, Don Fields, Eddie Brister, Fred Maples (passed), Gary Watkins, Hobart Collins, James Moore, Jay Weigel, Jeff Smith, Jim Baccus (passed), Joe Meade (passed), John Clendennen, John Menefee (passed), Kelly Hester (h/t Chrissy Rydman Hester), Ken Hewett, Kent Streit, Larry Elliott, Lonnie Cooper, Mark Beardsley, Mike Moore, Mike Skinner, Mike Toon (passed), Mitchell Dickson, Neil Crockett (passed), Pat Marushia, R.J. Hagood (passed), Ron Hagood (passed), Richard Bass, Robert Snider (passed), Ronnie Cooper, Steve Hays (passed), Steve Josephson, Teb Baker (passed), Tim Jubela (passed), Tim Miller, Wes Eben (passed), Head Coach Floyd Gass, Assistant Coaches Duane Nutt (h/t Kelly Nutt), Bob Mason, Bill Long, Slats McCord (h/t Martha Kate McCord)

Austin College Sports

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The 50th Anniversary of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos

Sat 12/1 Northwood & Tet/Cronkite/LBJ/New Hampshire
Wed 12/5 Southwestern & Prague Spring
Sat 12/8 Maryville & French Student Protests
Wed 12/12 Nebraska Wesleyan & RFK
Sat 12/15 Sewanee & MLK
Wed 12/19 William Jewell & the Chicago Convention
Sat 12/22 Colorado College & the Mexico City Olympics
Wed 12/26 Ouachita Baptist & the Dallas Cowboys
Sat 12/29 Texas Lutheran & Apollo 8

Today: Sat 12/12 - Nebraska Wesleyan & RFK

Larry Kramer and Austin College were destined to meet up one day. You can see it as early as 1959 in the Minneapolis Star newspaper. There’s Kramer, sporting a jersey which reads “Austin.” Now you may say, “Marc, that’s catcher Larry Kramer of the Austin (MN) High School baseball team just before the Packers met Washburn for the Minnesota state title at the old Met stadium.” Well maybe. But it sure looks like Austin College to me.

Kramer was an All-American offensive lineman in 1964 for the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln. As the crow flies, the campus of the University of Nebraska lies just a few miles from the smaller Nebraska Wesleyan University. The Methodist school has similar ties to Austin College. It’s been suiting up forever, often against its larger neighbors.

The Prairie Wolves trace their football origin to 1896, just like Austin College. That year brought an 18-8 loss to the Cornhuskers. Nebraska Wesleyan has a 7-7 all-time record against Austin College; the school’s eight attempts to upend Kramer’s Big Red, however, all came up short. The last meeting took place in 1921.

The second meeting of the NWU-AC series took place in 1968, when the Presbyterians from Sherman took an undefeated 3-0 record to O.N Magee Stadium (now Abel Stadium). The Nebraska press knew what the Methodists were up against:

“They are showing horror movies this week at Nebraska Wesleyan University. It wasn’t planned that way…it just happened. The villains in these two affairs are the Austin College football players from Sherman, TX.”

The cold Nebraska rain did nothing to slow down the Kangaroos. Joe Meade took it 80 yards to the house on the game’s first play, and Roland Rainey hauled in a Wes Eben pass for a 94-yard score. It remains the longest TD pass in AC history. Eben added two more TD tosses to Neill Crockett, and Gary Watkins punched in a third on the ground. A Chris Nyvall interception stopped the only Nebraska Wesleyan threat of the day, and AC pitched a 33-0 shutout in Nebraska.

The receiving end of that record TD pass, Roland Rainey, had gotten his collegiate start playing for Gene Stallings at Texas A&M. It was not a good fit in Aggieland, and Roland eventually transferred to Austin College in 1967. That same year, Stallings led his Aggies to a Cotton Bowl win over Alabama and his mentor Coach Bear Bryant. After the win, Bryant famously lifted his former Junction Boy up in congratulations. After Austin College, Rainey’s career would make its way to that same venue. He’s currently the Manager of the Cotton Bowl, a title he has held for decades.

From lineman Keith Johnston:

“Roland tried out at another Div. I team [after A&M], but he and his high school teammate, Teb Baker, were two of the last cuts on that team so they came to AC.”

The 1968 defense showed up as usual, allowing just 102 total yards. AC had more first downs (18) than NWU had rushing yards (9). A photo of the Roo defensive line stopping yet another NWU rushing attempt was placed on the front page of the Sports section, alongside scores from Notre Dame, Ohio State, & Michigan.

From the Lincoln Sunday Journal & Star:

“The Texas eleven almost completely bottled up the [Prairie Wolves] in the first half, holding them to a minus two yards rushing. NWU was punting on third down most of the time.”

The Huskers and assistant coach Tom Osborne, whose career at Nebraska had begun in Kramer’s final 1964 season, had that October 5th weekend off. They were back at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln on October 12th, when they hosted Kansas in front of a sellout crowd. The sellout streak at the time was 6 years old, dating back to a 1962 game vs. Missouri. It’s still going. As of 2018, the Huskers have sold out a record 368 games.

Cornhusker Larry Kramer was not far away that day. In 1968, he was Head Coach Larry Kramer of the McCook Jr. College (McCook, NE) football team. Kramer and the Roos were both in Nebraska, to be reunited later in Sherman.

The Roos weren’t the only victors in Nebraska in 1968. Robert F. Kennedy was as well. He won the 1968 Nebraska primary.

No one could talk about race or poverty as eloquently as RFK, and his assassination in June of 1968 was national trauma. After President Johnson dropped out of the 1968 race in March, RFK announced his candidacy against Vice President and LBJ heir Hubert Humphrey. Where Humphrey was a continuation of the priorities of the LBJ Democratic party, RFK promised a more cross-racial appeal and a skepticism towards foreign military intervention. RFK’s hope was to win enough primary delegates to counter the party machinery delegates Humphrey was destined to control.

In reality, the strategy never had a chance.

Very few American states held primaries or caucuses in 1968, on either the Democratic or Republican side. The reforms that opened up candidate selection to party members would come later in the 1970s, and are a huge and often overlooked part of the American democratic experiment. There simply weren’t enough primaries for RFK to win.

But Kennedy did win Nebraska. Nebraska is a state which historically has prized itself on representative government. Its unicameral House body has eliminated an unrepresentative Senate. Its Electoral College votes are apportioned in a manner more representative than the winner-take-all design of most US states. And, the state was one of the first to allow residents to choose the leaders of their political parties, instead of party bosses smoking cigars and drinking whiskey. In 1968, Nebraska was ahead of its time.

The 1968 Roos from Texas were now 4-0, and headed from Nebraska to Tennessee. By the end of the season, they’d be ranked #6 in NAIA play. After a brief stop in Oregon, Coach Larry Kramer arrived in Sherman in 1973. The highlight of his tenure at Austin College was an NAIA ranking of #1 in 1981. That national championship was clinched in dramatic fashion in Sherman on December 12th.

37 years ago today.

Bo Brown told a story to John Cotton, and later re-told it to me. Brown, who played for Kramer in the 1970s, couldn’t make it to the 1981 National Championship game. As soon as he read about the championship and its dramatic ending, he and a few others made their way to Sherman where Coach Kramer showed them the game on an 8mm projector.

Kramer wanted to go over every play. A rewind here, a commentary there.

“Look at this block by (Don) Parnell.“
“Watch this catch by (Clayton) Oliphint.”
“Check out this tackle by (Jeff) Robbins.”

Brown and the others quietly humored their former coach and his passion, but eventually Brown’s patience ran out.

“Come on, Coach! Get to the doggone kick!”

Yeah, that’s good advice. Let’s get to the doggone kick. It’s December 12th after all. See the 1981 video in the comments.

Next week: The 1968 Roos, Sewanee, MLK, a place they call “The Mountain,” and a glory road to get there.

Friends who like Nebraska Cornhuskers: Austin Travis Covey, Frank Tooley, Marcus Schulz, Josh Roberts, Emily Herbruck Erington, Colleen S. Gardner, Kelly Kramer-Potter, Kyle Mucerino

Members of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos:
Chris Nyvall, Dee Dearen (request sent), Eddie Farley (request sent), J.B. Cole (request sent), John Fain, John Sheridan, Keith Johnston, Mark Burtner (request sent), Nick Jones (request sent), Paul Neubach (request sent), Phil Fuller (request sent), Randy Reedy (request sent), Rick Page, Bob Sheffield, Roland Rainey (request sent), Steve Schiff (request sent), Vb Atchison, Bruce King (request sent), Jerry Moore, Bob Schucany, Bobby Anderson (passed), Charlie Schreiber (passed), Clay Fulcher, Dennis McEntire, Don Fields, Eddie Brister, Fred Maples (passed), Gary Watkins, Hobart Collins, James Moore, Jay Weigel, Jeff Smith, Jim Baccus (passed), Joe Meade (passed), John Clendennen, John Menefee (passed), Kelly Hester (h/t Chrissy Rydman Hester), Ken Hewett, Kent Streit, Larry Elliott, Lonnie Cooper, Mark Beardsley, Mike Moore, Mike Skinner, Mike Toon (passed), Mitchell Dickson, Neil Crockett (passed), Pat Marushia, R.J. Hagood (passed), Ron Hagood (passed), Richard Bass, Robert Snider (passed), Ronnie Cooper, Steve Hays (passed), Steve Josephson, Teb Baker (passed), Tim Jubela (passed), Tim Miller, Wes Eben (passed), Head Coach Floyd Gass, Assistant Coaches Duane Nutt (h/t Kelly Nutt), Bob Mason, Bill Long, Slats McCord (h/t Martha Kate McCord)

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Austin College Sports

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The 50th Anniversary of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos

Sat 12/1 Northwood & Tet/Cronkite/LBJ/New Hampshire
Wed 12/5 Southwestern & Prague Spring
Sat 12/8 Maryville & French Student Protests
Wed 12/12 Nebraska Wesleyan & RFK
Sat 12/15 Sewanee & MLK
Wed 12/19 William Jewell & the Chicago Convention
Sat 12/22 Colorado College & the Mexico City Olympics
Wed 12/26 Ouachita Baptist & the Dallas Cowboys
Sat 12/29 Texas Lutheran & Apollo 8

Today: Sat 12/15 Sewanee & MLK

They call it “The Mountain.”

Sewanee’s McGee Field has been around since 1891; it’s the oldest stadium in the South still in use. Situated northwest of Chattanooga in the Appalachian mountain range, the campus and football field were carved out of a mountainside; its nickname is well-deserved.

Sewanee has been playing football since 1892; the school is famous for an 1899 road trip. Over the span of 6 days in 3 states, little Sewanee defeated Texas, Texas A&M, Tulane, LSU, and Ole Miss by a combined 91-0. On the seventh day, they rested.

The 4-0 Kangaroos traveled to Tennessee to take on Sewanee in 1968. The Tigers gave Austin College all they could handle, but it wasn’t enough. After trailing early, Wes Eben found Roland Rainey for a 4-yard TD in the second quarter, and connected with Rainey for 68 yards just before the half. AC’s potent offense finished the day with nearly 500 yards of total offense; Sewanee managed less than half of that. The AC defense held Sewanee scoreless the rest of the way to earn the Roos their fifth straight win. AC 14, Sewanee 7.

On April 4th, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Tennessee. He sacrificed his life fighting the original sin of racial injustice that plagues this great nation, and his death was traumatic for all African Americans and the Anglo Americans who supported his cause. But in a prophetic speech the night before he was killed, Dr. King told us not to worry, because he’d been to the “Mountain” top:

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

1968 AC Coach Floyd Gass was not just member of the Oklahoma State football team in late 1940, he had also received a scholarship to play OSU basketball too under legendary Cowboys coach Henry Iba. Gass was, after all, the AC basketball coach as well in the 1950s (see comments). Although Gass eventually dedicated himself solely to football, he remained close to Iba & the basketball program, and friended members of team. One of those friends? A forward from Enid, OK named Don Haskins.

Haskins left OSU in 1952 and embarked on a career in coaching. By 1963, when King was delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, Haskins was already the head coach of Texas Western (now UTEP) basketball. There, he was changing the college game forever.

Haskins believed in quickness, fitness, and skill. He was focused on winning, and had no patience for racial barriers that stood in his way. While a few schools had already recruited a small number of African Americans here and there, Haskins’s 1965-66 Miners were the first truly integrated club in college basketball history. They raced through the 1966 NCAA tournament with wins over powers such as Cincinnati and Kansas.

In the NCAA Finals, an integrated Texas Western team led by five African American starters faced off against Adolph Rupp’s segregated Kentucky Wildcats. Haskins and Texas Western prevailed, 72-65. The game of college basketball was changed forever. The 2006 film “Glory Road” tells the story of this championship team in El Paso, led by a guy with whom Floyd Gass played pickup ball in Stillwater.

The 1968 AC Kangaroos were also a team of firsts. The squad included the first African American in school history. He was a running back and linebacker from Tulsa; his name was Eddie Farley.

From Keith Johnston:

“I spent a lot of time with Eddie before I moved to Canada in 2009. We used to meet once a week. Eddie played a lot in 1968, his first year at AC and was maybe his best. His introduction to AC football came with a bang!”

“Coach Gass arranged for two preseason game scrimmages instead of the normal one. We scrimmaged Southeastern from Durant as we usually did, and we also scrimmaged Tarleton when they still had scholarships. We scrimmaged at Tarleton.”

“As the scrimmage was wrapping up, we were on defense and Eddie was in at middle linebacker. On the last play of the scrimmage, their offensive tackle (probably 6' 4" and 250 lbs.) decided he was going to pick Eddie off the edge of a pile. He was coming in when Eddie caught him out of the corner of his eye. Eddie was about 5' 6" and 180 lbs. He squatted slightly when he saw the tackle coming and when the tackle hit him, Eddie stood up and the tackle flipped over and landed on his head. We went nuts. Coach Gass decided that was a good way to end the scrimmage, so we wrapped it up.”

“Eddie told me that when his parents dropped him off at AC on his first day there, he had never been so scared in his whole life. Eddie had been an All state running back and fullback in Oklahoma. He was from Tulsa. He had many friends on the team, and [with some exceptions] the AC community embraced him. Could not say as much for the Sherman community. Eddie had a tough time finding a place to get his hair cut.”

Austin College returned home from Tennessee with a perfect 5-0 record. They had been to “The Mountain” top, and were headed back on a glory road to Texas. But the challenges just kept on coming. A team with an 18-game winning streak was headed to Sherman.

Next up: Wed 12/19 William Jewell & the Chicago Convention

Members of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos:
Chris Nyvall, Dee Dearen (request sent), Eddie Farley (request sent), J.B. Cole (request sent), John Fain, John Sheridan, Keith Johnston, Mark Burtner (request sent), Nick Jones (request sent), Paul Neubach (request sent), Phil Fuller (request sent), Randy Reedy (request sent), Rick Page, Bob Sheffield, Roland Rainey (request sent), Steve Schiff (request sent), Vb Atchison, Bruce King (request sent), Jerry Moore, Bob Schucany, Bobby Anderson (passed), Charlie Schreiber (passed), Clay Fulcher, Dennis McEntire, Don Fields, Eddie Brister, Fred Maples (passed), Gary Watkins, Hobart Collins, James Moore, Jay Weigel, Jeff Smith, Jim Baccus (passed), Joe Meade (passed), John Clendennen, John Menefee (passed), Kelly Hester (h/t Chrissy Rydman Hester), Ken Hewett, Kent Streit, Larry Elliott, Lonnie Cooper, Mark Beardsley, Mike Moore, Mike Skinner, Mike Toon (passed), Mitchell Dickson, Neil Crockett (passed), Pat Marushia, R.J. Hagood (passed), Ron Hagood (passed), Richard Bass, Robert Snider (passed), Ronnie Cooper, Steve Hays (passed), Steve Josephson, Teb Baker (passed), Tim Jubela (passed), Tim Miller, Wes Eben (passed), Head Coach Floyd Gass, Assistant Coaches Duane Nutt (h/t Kelly Nutt), Bob Mason, Bill Long, Slats McCord (h/t Martha Kate McCord)

Austin College
Austin College Sports

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The 50th Anniversary of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos

Sat 12/1 Northwood & Tet/Cronkite/LBJ/New Hampshire
Wed 12/5 Southwestern & Prague Spring
Sat 12/8 Maryville & French Student Protests
Wed 12/12 Nebraska Wesleyan & RFK
Sat 12/15 Sewanee & MLK
Wed 12/19 William Jewell & the Chicago Convention
Sat 12/22 Colorado College & the Mexico City Olympics
Wed 12/26 Ouachita Baptist & the Dallas Cowboys
Sat 12/29 Texas Lutheran & Apollo 8

Today: Sat 12/22 Colorado College & the Mexico City Olympics

If you’re a Roo fan, you root for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. It’s that simple. The Sherman and Stillwater ties run deep.

1968 AC Head Coach Floyd Gass was an Oklahoma All-State running back within an hour of Stillwater. His Hominy, OK teammate on the 1945 squad was Bill Long, a Roo assistant coach during the 1968 AC season. Gass and Long both headed to Oklahoma State after the war.

By the fall of 1948, Gass was a contributor on an Oklahoma State squad that went 6-4 and earned a trip to the Delta Bowl in Memphis. The regular season ended with a disappointing “Bedlam” loss in Stillwater to OU. Sooners QB and future Longhorns coach Darryl Royal barely edged Gass and the Cowboys; the 19-15 Sooner win at Lewis Field (now Boone Pickens Stadium) was earned when a last minute Cowboys drive stalled. Cowboys RB Jim Spavital was stopped on 4th down near the Sooner goal line. Oklahoma State students left Lewis Field disappointed. T. Boone Pickens, a 1948 classmate of Gass, was likely one of them.

Although Gass eventually dedicated himself full time to football, he had received a basketball scholarship from Coach Henry Iba and remained close to the team during his time in Stillwater. Iba is a national basketball legend and a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member. His 751 career wins places him 17th on the all-time list, alongside some of the biggest names in college basketball. #20 on the list, Don Haskins, was an Iba pupil and Gass contemporary who led an all integrated Texas Western team to an historic NCAA championship in 1966.

The 1968 Summer Olympics were held in Mexico City in October and were marked by controversy. The massacre at the Plaza de Tlatelolco carried out by an autocratic Mexican government just before the games began shocked the world. Czech gold medalist Vera Caslavska’s famous “head turn” at the playing of the Soviet national anthem to protest the invasion of her homeland made her a pariah behind the iron curtain. The black power salutes of John Carlos and Tommie Smith reminded America that behind the façade of national unity was racial injustice and strife.

But there were still plenty of feel good moments.

The USA men’s basketball team dominated the 1968 games, winning all 9 contests on its way to a gold medal. On October 25th, the Americans dispatched Yugoslavia 65-50 in the finals to bring the gold medal back to the States. Jo Jo White, Spencer Haywood, and the rest of the team celebrated their victory alongside the Team USA Head Coach. OSU’s Henry Iba.

The very next day, Gass and the 1968 Roos were in Colorado attempting to extend their season to an unheard of 7 wins in a row. Colorado College (Colorado Springs, CO) knew the challenge they faced.

“’We’re playing the best football team on our schedule this year,’ head coach Jerry Carle said. ‘Austin is one of the finest teams to visit Washburn [Field] in the last few years, and fans will see some excellent football.’”

Washburn Field is still in use today. Amazingly enough, it’s the oldest college football facility west of the Mississippi River. Washburn traces its past to a Colorado College football game in 1898.

A tight game in the first half gave way to an AC rout in the second. Tremendous Teb Baker earned his nickname on the defensive side, and AC put away Colorado College 50-21. The Roo offense rolled for 449 yards rushing and 643 yards of total offense. Both marks set school records. Joe Meade led the way with 181 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. Backups Neill Crockett and Mitchell Dickson rushed for 101 and 99 yards, respectively.

When a running back hits the 100-yard mark, it might be because of individual effort. When THREE running backs pull off the feat, you can credit the offensive line. LT Paul Neubach, LG Bob Sheffield, Center Rick Page, RG Keith Johnston, and RT Steve Josephson had a huge day dominating the line of scrimmage.

With the win, AC was now 7-0 for the first time in school history. Bowls were beginning to show interest. The Pecan Bowl in Abilene and the Mineral Water Bowl in Missouri both hinted that an invitation would be offered if the Roos could remain undefeated.

As AC returned from Colorado, OSU AD and Olympic gold medal winner Henry Iba headed back to Stillwater with a pressing problem. He had a head football coaching vacancy to fill. Impressed by the undefeated season in Sherman, Iba made it known that OSU was curious in Gass returning home……if the Roo coach was interested. He was. By the end of the 1968 season, Gass was headed back to Stillwater. He would lead the Cowboys from 1969 to 1971 against Oklahoma, Nebraska and other Big 8 schools. Roo Gene Babb came along as his assistant. In 1972, Gass replaced Iba as Oklahoma State Athletic Director and found his own head coaching replacement. He finished his career in 1978 where it started, in Stillwater.

The Cowboys began a slow return to prominence during the 1970s, aided in part by the financial assistance of Gass’s classmate T. Boone Pickens. At the time, Pickens made his plane available to Gass’s athletic department for recruiting purposes during that decade. Over the years since, Pickens’s generosity towards his alma mater has become nationally famous. Lewis Field, where Pickens watched Gass suit up, is now named Boone Pickens Stadium. What explains the willingness of Pickens to donate generously to OSU? Pickens told us back in 2007. As a young graduate in 1951, Coach Henry Iba had tirelessly worked to find the future energy investor his first job.

Current Cowboy Head Coach / former Cowboy QB Mike Gundy and RB Barry Sanders broke nearly every OSU passing and rushing record in the late 1980s. Gass, Gundy, and Gass’s OSU Coach Jim Lookabaugh are the only three OSU graduates to fill the head coaching position in Stillwater. Ric Gass, the son of Coach Floyd Gass, passes along the following by way of Keith Johnston:

“[Coach Gundy] invited Dad to speak to the football team when OSU had a football reunion for the Delta Bowl team in the early 2000s.”

Thanks Ric & Keith.

Before returning to Stillwater, Gundy spent the 1996 season as a QB Coach for Baylor. There, he worked alongside Baylor WR Coach and Austin College Kangaroo All-American Larry Fedora. After Gundy won the HC position in Stillwater, he brought Fedora to Stillwater as his offensive coordinator in 2005.

In 2014, Fedora talked of his days with Gundy, other assistant coaches, and Oklahoma State. “We’re spread out all over the country. But we still talk about those times in Stillwater.” Good luck Coach Fedora in your next coaching chapter. We Roos are fans and we’ll be excited to read all about it, just as we’ve been excited about all the chapters that have come before.

Former 1990s Roo Coach Bob Stitt joined the staff of OSU Head Coach Mike Gundy in 2018 as an assistant on the offensive side. By heading to Stillwater, Stitt added to the fine AC/OSU tradition that dates back to Coach Gass and the 1940s. Just this month, Stitt departed Stillwater for San Marcos. He’ll be the offensive coordinator at Texas State, working under new Bobcats head coach Jake Spavital. Spavital is a former Oklahoma State GA under Gundy.

He’s also the grandson of Jim Spavital, the Cowboys running back who nearly engineered the 1948 upset of the mighty Sooners of Bud Wilkinson at Lewis Field while backup QB Floyd Gass, Coach Henry Iba, and student T. Boone PIckens looked on. Good luck Coaches Spavital & Stitt. Go Bobcats.

You may have a past with the Sooners. Maybe you like those fellas in Tulsa. Or perhaps you have personal loyalty for one of the many smaller schools that dot the Oklahoma landscape. But if you’re a Roo fan, you root for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. It’s that simple. The Sherman and Stillwater ties run deep. Oklahoma State takes on Missouri in the Liberty Bowl on December 31st.

The 1968 Roos were 7-0. It was the best start for Austin College in its long football history. An undefeated season, a first for AC, was within reach. A bowl game tantalizing awaited if the impossible could be accomplished. Unfortunately for the Roos, a future member of the Dallas Cowboys Doomsday Defense was on his way to Sherman.

On Wednesday: An interview with Cowboys Ring of Honor member and Louis Calder stadium veteran Cliff Harris.

Next Up: Wed 12/26 Ouachita Baptist & the Dallas Cowboys.

Members of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos:
Chris Nyvall, Dee Dearen (request sent), Eddie Farley (request sent), J.B. Cole (request sent), John Fain, John Sheridan, Keith Johnston, Mark Burtner (request sent), Nick Jones (request sent), Paul Neubach (request sent), Phil Fuller (request sent), Randy Reedy (request sent), Rick Page, Bob Sheffield, Roland Rainey (request sent), Steve Schiff (request sent), Vb Atchison, Bruce King (request sent), Jerry Moore, Bob Schucany, Bobby Anderson (passed), Charlie Schreiber (passed), Clay Fulcher, Dennis McEntire, Don Fields, Eddie Brister, Fred Maples (passed), Gary Watkins, Hobart Collins, James Moore, Jay Weigel, Jeff Smith, Jim Baccus (passed), Joe Meade (passed), John Clendennen, John Menefee (passed), Kelly Hester (h/t Chrissy Rydman Hester), Ken Hewett, Kent Streit, Larry Elliott, Lonnie Cooper, Mark Beardsley, Mike Moore, Mike Skinner, Mike Toon (passed), Mitchell Dickson, Neil Crockett (passed), Pat Marushia, R.J. Hagood (passed), Ron Hagood (passed), Richard Bass, Robert Snider (passed), Ronnie Cooper, Steve Hays (passed), Steve Josephson, Teb Baker (passed), Tim Jubela (passed), Tim Miller, Wes Eben (passed), Head Coach Floyd Gass, Assistant Coaches Duane Nutt (h/t Kelly Nutt Davis Nutt), Bob Mason, Bill Long, Slats McCord (h/t Martha Kate McCord)

Roos who like Oklahoma State: Debra Epps Caffey, Billy Kuykendall, Aimee Liles Hale, Douglas Tsang, Tracy Barrett Curry, Cooper Gross. You get included too Misty Lawson Gaeke.

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Austin College Sports

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The 50th Anniversary of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos

Sat 12/1 Northwood & Tet/Cronkite/LBJ/New Hampshire
Wed 12/5 Southwestern & Prague Spring
Sat 12/8 Maryville & French Student Protests
Wed 12/12 Nebraska Wesleyan & RFK
Sat 12/15 Sewanee & MLK
Wed 12/19 William Jewell & the Chicago Convention
Sat 12/22 Colorado College & the Mexico City Olympics
Wed 12/26 Ouachita Baptist & the Dallas Cowboys
Mon 12/31 Texas Lutheran & Apollo 8

Today: Wed 12/26 Ouachita Baptist & the Dallas Cowboys

Austin College and the Dallas Cowboys? They go way back.

Kangaroo Gene Babb was one of the first Cowboys ever signed in 1960, when General Manager Tex Schramm lured him away from San Francisco. Babb was the first to ever catch a 4th quarter TD pass for Tom Landry’s Cowboys; that touchdown came in the second Dallas game ever played. Babb, who passed earlier this month, is appropriately honored on the Louis Calder Stadium scoreboard.

Louis Calder Stadium was the site of the 1981 national championship, earned by AC in dramatic fashion. In attendance was Babb’s former QB Don Meredith. Babb would occasionally take Meredith up to Sherman for a game alongside AC athletics staff. Yup, Dandy Don saw the ball hit the crossbar from the stands of Calder and knew it was time for Concordia (MN) to “turn out the lights.” 50 years ago this month, Meredith led his 1968 Cowboys to a Division championship.

Austin College Wide Receiver Butch Gladen holds the career TD receptions record at AC. In the early 1970s, Gladen secured a tryout with the Cowboys. WR Otis Amy finished his career in 1988 as the all-time NAIA receptions leader. The Cowboys told Amy that Dallas was considering picking him in the late rounds of the NFL Draft. Even in this century, a family member of Cowboys legend Drew Pearson was on the AC coaching staff.

Gil Brandt, the Cowboys scout recently inducted into the Dallas Ring of Honor, was the one who communicated with Amy back in 1988. Brandt was famous for following the fortunes of small college athletes around the country, and especially in his own back yard. He was always looking for a competitive advantage, that rare small school talent that had escape the lazy and biased eyes of peers focused entirely on D1. The next Jerry Rice is out there somewhere.

AC Coach Larry Kramer always insisted on having his teams watch Cowboy highlight films as part of their pre-game meetings. Kramer asked All-American WR Clayton Oliphint, who was in Dallas at the time, to pick one a copy at Cowboys HQ. Gil Brandt recognized Oliphint in the office, asked about a recent injury, and began to rattle off some of the Kangaroo receiver’s stats. According to Oliphint:

“I’ve heard other stories through the years about Brandt’s recall of players and stats, but wow. What a mind. And all of this before the internet.”

In 1968, Brandt had his sights set on another small college standout: Ouachita Baptist defensive back Cliff Harris. Like Amy, Brandt had told Harris he would be drafted in the later rounds. Like Amy, Harris went undrafted. But that didn’t stop the man Cowboys fans would later know as “Captain Crash.” Harris secured a tryout, won a spot on the roster, worked his way up to starter, and was an important piece of the Doomsday Defense that won two Super Bowls in the era of America’s team. Harris sits in the Cowboys Ring of Honor.

What attracted the interest of Brandt? On a phone interview with me earlier this month, Cliff Harris told me the answer: the 1968 game against Austin College. Thank you once again Clayton Oliphint for facilitating that call.

The 1968 Roos were 7-0, just two wins away from a perfect regular season. Their next opponent from Arkadelphia, AR, however, was to be their toughest yet. Ouachita Baptist sported a record with only one loss, and were still in the mix for a conference championship. They boasted one of the best NAIA pass defenses of all time. The secondary included both Dallas Cowboy Cliff Harris and Ouachita Hall of Honor member Larry Wooldridge; amazingly, it’s Harris’s teammate Wooldridge who holds the Ouachita record for interceptions in a season.

AC held a 13-6 halftime lead on the back of a Wes Eben to Roland Rainey TD pass and a Joe Meade TD run; Ouachita’s score came by way of a Doug Freeze touchdown catch. Ouachita tied up the game at 13 on yet another Doug Freeze TD, and the outcome was still in doubt early in the fourth quarter. Two Ouachita scores within a minute were the difference. A Tiger QB sneak gave Ouachita the lead, and a Wes Eben fumble on the next possession was followed by a 39-yard Tiger TD run to put Ouachita up 27-13.

A late Eben TD made it close, but time ran out on an undefeated season for the Roos. Statistically, AC held a slight edge. The Roos notched 23 first downs to OBU’s 18, and secured 351 yards of total offense compared to 344 yards for the Tigers. Nevertheless, the 1968 team had suffered their first taste of defeat. With the 27-19 win, Ouachita had finally done what seven previous opponents could not.

Harris had memories of 1968, and was generous with his time with me as I interviewed him about that game, the season, and both schools:

“Marc, we traveled to Sherman by bus, and believe it or not the team slept overnight in cots in the AC Gym. I can’t recall if we didn’t have the budget for a hotel, or if it was just more convenient to sleep on campus. But we definitely woke up in the [Hughey] Gym and got ready for pregame.”

“We were really concerned on the defensive side. Austin College had a tremendous passing attack led by a great quarterback [Wes Eben], and I recall that he had a solid wide receiver target [Roland Rainey].”

“But we were actually more worried about their running back [Joe Meade] who was having a great season. We thought we could maybe shut down the passing game, but AC could still have beaten us on the ground.”

“I remember that the field by that point was really worn down. The grass that was probably green at the start of the season was hard to find by November. I was playing corner for Ouachita, and I had a great game that day. Our team had 6 interceptions, and I recall having four of them. The AC Quarterback [Eben] went deep a lot, and I was having a solid day in coverage.”

At this point, the topic turned to the Dallas Cowboys and Harris mentioned the highlight of our conversation.

“I’m fairly sure it was film of my performance at Austin College that led to the initial interest of Gil Brandt and the Cowboys.”

Brandt was a Harris fan, and told the Ouachita Tiger to expect to be drafted in rounds 10-12. The NFL draft came and went, and a disappointed Harris was still undrafted. Undaunted, Harris secured a tryout anyway, made the team, and worked his way up to starter. From 1970 until his retirement in 1980, he was a key piece of the Doomsday Defense on the America’s team that many of us grew up watching.

In his book, Harris consistently emphasizes not just hard work, but luck. He says he was fortunate to meet the right people at the right time in his career, and those fortuitous circumstances helped get him to two Super Bowl Rings and a Cowboys Ring of Honor induction in 2004. He makes it a point to counsel small college athletes on their academics, knowing firsthand the long odds of an athletic career.

During our chat, Harris said something that still makes me chuckle.

“Marc, you really need to talk to my teammate Doug Freeze [Ouachita WR with two TDs in the AC game]. He remembers EVERYTHING. Me? My 1960 football memories are a bit more vague; my career got a bit better in the 1970s.”

You don’t say Mr. Harris?

When a member of the Doomsday Defense suggests you do something, well, you do it. I called Doug Freeze and chatted about the game. Just as Harris said, Freeze was full of stories.

“Cliff is right. We definitely slept in the gym. Not just that, but we had our pre-game meal in your cafeteria [Slater’s] right there alongside the AC students. It was a sunny and warm day when the game began. The AC crowd definitely showed up to watch.”

“We had a freshman QB from Maryland named Barry Bennett, and he had a big day. He found me for a long TD catch in the first quarter [57 yards], and followed that up with another long one to me in the second. He was steady all game, and made few mistakes. We really showed up to play that day, on both sides of the ball. I had one the best games of my career [11 catches, 155 yards, two touchdowns].”

“We had a great season in 1968. After the Austin College win, we qualified for the Peanut Bowl and beat Livingston State 39-6. Livingston State’s only other loss in 1968 was to a West Alabama team whose only defeat was to the 1968 NAIA National Champions at Troy State. 16 of our 22 starters were seniors that year.”

“We knew about [Wes] Eben. He was a prolific passer and Austin College’s aerial offense was something we had not seen as much of during the season. Cliff and the Ouachita secondary were frustrating Eben all day.”

“Marc, let me tell you something. Our defense that year was spectacular. We gave up 19 points to Austin College in that win. It was the MOST we gave up to ANY opponent all year.”

Freeze and Harris, along with other members of the 1968 Ouachita Baptist Tigers, still get together regularly. The 2018 Ouachita Tigers had a great season, going undefeated, winning a conference title, and advancing to the D2 playoffs. Their season ended with a loss to Ferris State in Arkadelphia at Cliff Harris stadium.

Before the game, I texted Mr. Harris to thank him for suggesting Freeze and to wish his Tigers good luck in the playoffs. Harris: “I expected Doug could give you a lot of info. He remembers the detail like it was yesterday. I’m hoping the Tigers can pull another win off in [Arkadelphia]. I’ll be there!”

I was of course hoping that the football powers that be would have allowed for a story of the 1968 Roos to be combined with a 2018 Ouachita Baptist D2 national championship. But like the 1968 AC season itself, perfection is hard to achieve. Harris was there at Cliff Harris Stadium, but Ouachita’s perfect season sadly came to an end.

Cliff Harris is retired today from his football career, and spends much of his time speaking and focusing on charity work. Whenever he speaks, he makes it a point to encourage small college athletes to focus on their studies. His annual golf tournament hosts Dallas Cowboys legends from 40 years ago and raises significant funds for the fight against juvenile diabetes. 40 years after that Super Bowl XII victory for the Cowboys, he’s still active in the Dallas community.

The Cliff Harris award is given annually to the small college (NAIA, D2, D3) defensive player of the year. The selection committee includes some Cowboys legends:

Roger Staubach, Gene Stallings, Jackie Smith, Drew Pearson, Everson Walls, Charlie Waters, Bill Bates, Gil Brandt, and others.

The Award has been given since 2013. I mentioned to Harris that if the selection committee were to ever offer the Cliff Harris award retroactively, I’d have a few Roos to nominate.

Harris ended my interview with him by tipping his cap to Austin College and its place among the world of small college athletics:

“Austin College is like Ouachita, a small, private, religiously affiliated school where students play because they want to play. It’s hard. There’s fewer students, fewer dollars, tougher academics. It takes a real commitment to succeed athletically at the D3 level and graduate. When a D3 school has success on the gridiron, the coaches and players deserve 100% of the credit!”

Thank you Cliff Harris for generously offering your time to talk about two small schools, two great seasons, and one pivotal game in Sherman. It remains a point of pride for the 1968 AC team that an undefeated season was only thwarted by a team with a Cowboys Ring of Honor member.

I asked Captain Crash if he had any message to pass to the 1968 team:

“We knew Austin College had a tremendous team. But we were good too, and very competitive. We knew what we had to do to win that game, and we executed our game plan well. If I had a message for the 1968 team, it would be that they had our tremendous respect and deserved the best we had to offer. That day was just our day.”

Austin College and the Dallas Cowboys? They go way back. 50 years ago, a future Cowboys legend met the 1968 Roos at Louis Calder Stadium. 50 years ago, Dandy Don Meredith was forming Roo relationships in Dallas that would take him to the stands of a national championship game in Sherman.

And 50 years ago, that same Meredith lead the 1968 Cowboys to a Division title. Just like the 2018 Cowboys. Let’s do this Dallas. Summon the spirits of Harris and the Doomsday Defense. Let’s make a playoff run.

There would be no bowl invitations for the 1968 team. There was, however, one final game in the season. With a win over Texas Lutheran, the 1968 Kangaroos would claim another distinction: best record in the state of Texas.

Next Up: Mon 12/31 Texas Lutheran & Apollo 8

Members of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos:
Chris Nyvall, Dee Dearen (request sent), Eddie Farley (request sent), J.B. Cole (request sent), John Fain, John Sheridan, Keith Johnston, Mark Burtner (request sent), Nick Jones (request sent), Paul Neubach (request sent), Phil Fuller (request sent), Randy Reedy (request sent), Rick Page, Bob Sheffield, Roland Rainey (request sent), Steve Schiff (request sent), Vb Atchison,
Bruce King (request sent), Jerry Moore, Bob Schucany, Bobby Anderson (passed), Charlie Schreiber (passed), Clay Fulcher, Dennis McEntire, Don Fields, Eddie Brister, Fred Maples (passed), Gary Watkins, Hobart Collins, James Moore, Jay Weigel, Jeff Smith, Jim Baccus (passed), Joe Meade (passed), John Clendennen, John Menefee (passed), Kelly Hester (h/t/ Chrissy Rydman Hester), Ken Hewett, Kent Streit, Larry Elliott, Lonnie Cooper, Mark Beardsley, Mike Moore, Mike Skinner, Mike Toon (passed), Mitchell Dickson, Neil Crockett (passed), Pat Marushia, R.J. Hagood (passed), Ron Hagood (passed), Richard Bass, Robert Snider (passed), Ronnie Cooper, Steve Hays (passed), Steve Josephson, Teb Baker (passed), Tim Jubela (passed), Tim Miller, Wes Eben (passed), Head Coach Floyd Gass, Assistant Coaches Duane Nutt (h/t Kelly Nutt Davis Nutt), Bob Mason, Bill Long, Slats McCord (h/t Martha Kate McCord)

A handful of the many, many, MANY Roos who “like” the Dallas Cowboys on Facebook.

Wayne Whitmire, Chris Medlin, Stacey Hanson Riley, Maurleen Worley Cobb, Emily Kincaid Youngblood, Liesl Thompson Jones, Melissa Swedoski, Claude Webb Jr., Art Clayton, Jenny King, Adam Reed, Shelton Williams, Isaac Lynch, Kevin Krause, Russell Harlow, Kevin Spencer, Missy Alwais, Amy Richardson Razzino, Nick Kagal, Melida Ailshire, Rayan Rutledge, Billy Kuykendall, Stephen Sides, Celeste Lunceford Havis, Pat Rabjohn, Joseph D. Maness, Cliff Brooks, JR Ohr, Jason Willis, Kalynne Harvey, Kelly Pickering O'Hair, Craig Roberts, Tony Bitros, Wes Tarbox, Larry Shillings, Van Hargis, Larry Fedora

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The 50th Anniversary of the 1968 Austin College Kangaroos

Sat 12/1 Northwood & Tet/Cronkite/LBJ/New Hampshire
Wed 12/5 Southwestern & Prague Spring
Sat 12/8 Maryville & French Student Protests
Wed 12/12 Nebraska Wesleyan & RFK
Sat 12/15 Sewanee & MLK
Wed 12/19 William Jewell & the Chicago Convention
Sat 12/22 Colorado College & the Mexico City Olympics
Wed 12/26 Ouachita Baptist & the Dallas Cowboys
Mon 12/31 Texas Lutheran & Apollo 8

Today:  Mon 12/31 Texas Lutheran & Apollo 8

Just like that, the final game of the 1968 season was approaching.  Austin College, boasting a 7-1 record, would end the campaign in Seguin against Texas Lutheran.  For the seniors in 1968, this was the end of the road.

As 1968 offensive lineman Keith Johnston might say, “the end comes quick.”  See the comments.

After spotting TLU an early score, a Wes Eben TD pass to Fred Maples gave AC the lead for good.  Eben followed that effort up with TD passes to Roland Rainey, John Menefee, and a second to Maples for 70 yards.  Joe Meade ran 40 yards for another score.  The offensive line of LT Paul Neubach, LG Bob Sheffield, Center Rick Page, RG Keith Johnston, and RT Steve Josephson won the war in the trenches.

Clay Fulcher, Bob Schucany, Steve Schiff, Teb Baker, Don Fields, Jerry Moore, Chris Nyvall, Mike Skinner, Dennis McIntire, Steve Hayes, and Dee Dearen had huge days on the defensive side.  After the season was over, several NFL teams expressed interest in Fields, AC’s all-time career interceptions leader.  From Johnston:

“Several NFL teams scouted Don Fields.  He may have even been offered an opportunity to sign as a free agent with one or two of them but was not interested in pursuing a pro career.”

AC won the final game of the 1968 season by a score of 35-12.

With the win, the post season honors began to pile up.  Austin College finished the 1968 campaign ranked #6 in NAIA play, in an era before the association had split into larger (D1) and smaller (D2) divisions.  With only one loss, the 1968 Roos also received another honor:  best record in Texas.  The Southwest Conference champion Texas Longhorns finished their season with two blemishes.  From the Brownsville Herald:

“Austin College wound up its season with an 8-1 record.  The Kangaroos beat Texas Lutheran…for the best record among Texas collegiate football teams.”

The 1968 team broke or tied 14 individual and team records.  Among them:

Rushing Offense (season):  2,007 yards
Rushing Defense (season):  902 yards
Rushing Offense (game):  449 yards (vs. Colorado College)
Rushing Defense (game):  -26 yards (vs. William Jewell)
Total Offense (game):  643 yards (vs. Colorado College)
Touchdown Receptions (game):  9 (Roland Rainey)
Touchdown Receptions (career):  17 (Roland Rainey)
Longest Pass Play:  94 yards (Eben-Rainey vs. Nebraska Wesleyan)
Longest Punt:  63 yards (Fred Maples vs. William Jewell)
Interceptions (career):  28 (Don Fields)
Interceptions (season):  10 (Don Fields)
Interceptions (game):  5 (team vs. William Jewell)
AC Winning Streak:  8 games (tied 1923-24 teams)

With the end of the season came change.  Gass left Sherman for Stillwater, and began to lead OSU football as head coach; Gass took former Roo Gene Babb with him.  Bob Mason was officially named AC Athletics Director, a title he would hold for over three decades.  Assistant Coach Duane Nutt replaced Gass as the new head coach at AC.  Nutt was a former SMU QB who can be found on the pages of Jim Dent’s famous book “Junction Boys:”

“In the third quarter Mustang quarterback Duane Nutt plunged over from the one, and that was all the points they would need.  A&M had lost again, this time 6-3 [in 1954].  ’Men, you didn’t lose today,’ [Coach Bear] Bryant told the players.  ‘Our day is coming.’”  That day did indeed come.  Bryant and the Junction Boys won a SWC title in 1956.

Don Fields was named All-Texas College and second team NAIA All-American.  Honorable Mention All-American accolades went to QB Wes Eben and RB Joe Meade.  Meade finished the season with 11 TDs and 849 yards, averaging nearly 100 yards/game.

Fifteen members of the 1968 team sit in the Austin College Hall of Honor:

Dee Dearen, Wes Eben, Don Fields, Chris Nyvall, Roland Rainey, Bob Schucany, Bob Sheffield, Mike Toon, Keith Johnston, Rick Page, Steve Schiff, Eddie Farley, Mark Burtner, Duane Nutt, Floyd Gass

The tumultuous year of 1968 ended with on a note of inspiration.  NASA’s original plan for Apollo 8 involved a set of complex activities orbiting the earth.  But early that year, the agency realized the global impact of sending three men into lunar orbit instead.  Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, William Anders reached the moon on December 24th, orbited 10 times, and successfully returned on December 27th.

All of the focus of the mission was the moon:  getting there, lunar orbit insertion, observing the moon’s surface, and escaping the moon’s gravitational pull for the trip home.  So much so, that the most climactic event of the mission took all of the crew by surprise.  Their view of home from afar.  Earthrise.  The photo by Anders is one of the most widely distributed in human history.

As luck would have it, I got to chat with Lovell back in 1995.  He was in New York for the promotion of “Apollo 13,” and I was a 25-year old driving for a car service and job searching in the Big Apple.  We chatted about all things Apollo on the drive from LaGuardia to Manhattan.  What does a young kid think about when driving an Apollo astronaut in New York?  Things like, “he survived the moon; let’s see how he handles me driving on the New Jersey Turnpike.”

On the way back to Earth in the final week of 1968, NASA began reading congratulatory telegrams to the crew.  Many were from well-known leaders in politics, business, and entertainment.  One was anonymous, however.  It became a favorite of NASA & the Apollo 8 crew.  With 1968 coming to an end, a year marked by upheavals and strife, the telegram said what many Americans were already thinking: “You saved 1968.”

It’s New Year’s Eve 2018, and it’s been another fun year of writing for me.  What’s up for 2019?  Well, more stories for sure.  I’ve got a number of good ones lined up, and they are as fun to write as they have always been.  The first story of 2019 takes us back to the past, and moves us from football to baseball.

Hope you enjoyed this revisit of the 1968 Austin College Football season.  I certainly had a blast researching it.  A special thanks to Keith Johnston, Rick Page, and Chris Nyvall for their contributions.  A big salute to the members of the 1968 team; thank you for making us proud to be Roos.  I’ll close like the Apollo 8 astronauts did 50 years ago.  Good night, good luck, a happy new year, and god bless all of you, all of you on the good earth.

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