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.