BOWL PREVIEW: ‘66 Cotton Bowl win the best in school history
Editor’s Note: The following appears in Tiger Rag’s annual Bowl Preview Edition, available now. Throughout the month of December, TigerRag.com will run a select group of columns and features from the issue. To purchase the 48-page full-color print edition, CLICK HERE for subscription information.
By MARTY MULÉ
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
A common Chinese prayer is the entreaty: “Please keep this house safe from tigers.”
It’s safe to say the Arkansas Razorbacks, circa the mid-1960s, adopted the adage late on the afternoon of Jan. 1, 1966 - probably about the time a heady band of LSU Tigers were tearing apart a red jersey bearing the numerals “23” in their Cotton Bowl dressing room.
LSU had just completed - considering the circumstances - the greatest 60 minutes of football in school history.
Previously unbeaten Arkansas - in clear position to claim a second straight national championship, victor over 22 straight opponents, and the highest scoring team in the country, was beaten by a Tiger team which lost thrice in the regular season, and a team which never seemed to hit on all cylinders until the Cotton Bowl.
From the Tigers’ standpoint, that afternoon was a football fairytale - the quintessential LSU victory.
* * *
It took a miracle for LSU, big losers in two of its defeats, to Ole Miss (23-0) and Alabama (31-7) to even be in Dallas, much less even come out on top of an elite program.
Though the Tigers were highly regarded before the season, with talent that produced four future pros, including All-Americans George Rice at tackle and flanker Doug Moreau.
But, continuing a four-year trend, Coach Charlie McClendon lost a starting quarterback, this time Nelson Stokley, crippling the Tiger offense.
On the other hand, that circumstance also cleared the way for the high point of McClendon’s early reign: the startling upset of the Razorbacks.
Because of a series of late regular season upsets and some complicated bowl politicking (in the era before most conferences just slotted where their teams would play in the postseason), the Cotton Bowl was scrambling for somebody to play their host Southwest Conference champion. When Kentucky, ticketed for Dallas, lost to Houston, LSU athletic director Jim Corbett was on the phone selling his team.
Suddenly, LSU with a 7-3 record, was in a major bowl against a major, major opponent - one which averaged 32.4 points a game at a time when 21 was an offensive juggernaut. Coach Frank Broyles had a starting tandem at running back (Harry Jones and Bobby Burnett) which averaged 7.7 yards per carry.
Also in Broyles’ favor was the decision of the Associated Press to take a final poll for the first time after the postseason. The reason was three undefeated teams (No. 1 Michigan State, No. 2 Arkansas, and No. 3 Nebraska), all with legitimate arguments to be national champions.
McClendon knew, though, that at anything close to full strength, his team was not just a sacrificial lamb.
LSU, a nine-point underdog, practiced for a month with the scout squad all wearing red jerseys with the number “23” on them, the implication being obvious: The Tigers did not want to end the year as just the latest Razorback victim.
And, to McClendon’s delight, the Arkansas fans played right into his hands. When LSU got to Dallas, the Hog faithful made a point of mocking the Tigers with the smirking question, “LSU-Who?” As the Tigers left the hotel on their way to the buses that would take them to the Cotton Bowl, a little old woman wearing one of those silly red Porker hats in the lobby shrieked at the sight and yelled loudly, “Look, they’re actually going to show up!”
* * *
There was some doubt early if the Hogs fans weren’t right as Arkansas cut through the LSU defense for 87 first quarter yards and the lead as Bobby Crockett made a Houdini-type grab, then tippy-toed 16 yards down the sidelines.
Surprisingly to some, the Tigers didn’t fold. Instead it was as if cold water had been thrown in their face.
Defensive back Jerry Joseph went to the sidelines and told secondary coach Bill Beall he couldn’t handle Crockett alone. On the sidelines the staff altered their perimeter, with Joseph and safety Sammy Grazaffi “bracketing” the receiver. It didn’t stop Crockett, but it contained him.
Even again losing Stokley didn’t deter LSU. Back-up Pat Screen picked up the torch, guiding a Tiger offense with a slightly different look from the one Arkansas studied on film. Joe Labruzzo, a dangerous 5-foot-9, 170-pound tailback was lined up deeper than usual so he could pick his options on the fly, depending on how the Hogs lined up.
The Tiger offensive line, and Labruzzo hitting the holes behind them, took control. In nine plays Screen guided LSU 80 yards for the tying touchdown, Labruzzo scoring from the 3.
After a recovered fumble at the Razorback 34 in the fading moments of the first half, Screen went for the knockout with body blows. Once LSU reached the 19, Labruzzo ran off left tackle five straight times and went in from the 1 with 18 seconds to go until intermission.
Despite threats by both teams the rest of the way, that 14-7 score held up to the end, essentially with a Joseph interception in the fading minutes.
Arkansas very definitely lost not only to LSU but the national championship. Michigan State and Nebraska also lost. Decades later, Broyles said of that game, “I’ve never been so sick in my life.”
The whooping Tigers tore the red jersey bearing No. 23 to shreds in the locker room before Charlie Mac stood on a trunk to be heard over his shouting team, quieted them, and said what even then they must have suspected. “The rest of your lives,” Mac told them, “you won’t ever forget what you did today.”
Marty Mule’ can be reached at MJM981two@charter.net.
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