Email From: Nip ?? Another mysterious gal who “….saw your profile and wants to meet” ? ….. or, maybe that Nigerian banker always needing my assistance moving that money? No, wait; I do know “a Nip”. At least I did 45 years ago.
A hard-nosed middle linebacker from Webster Groves, Missouri…. Short in stature. Wide in chest. Wasn’t he an attorney in Kansas City ? It was “that Nip” – John “Nip” Weisenfels. His out-of-the-blue email “woke up the echoes” of a very special season for a very special team…. The 1969 Big Eight Champion – Univ. of Missouri (“Mizzou”) Tigers coached by Dan Devine.
I received Nip’s email just before Christmas. He was trolling to see if I was who he hoped I was – a member of Devine’s staff in ‘69-70 (and ‘70-71). That’s me.
Nip was tracking down as many players and staff as he could to inform us that the 1969 Big Eight Champions are to be inducted into The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in late January. They want as many of us at the induction banquet in Springfield as possible and, regardless, to let us all know of the induction.
And waking up so many special “echoes” from across half a century.
I had come to Columbia, Missouri in July 1969 from “The Carolina Junction Boys / Hickey&Dooley” Era at Carolina where Basketball was King and Football was “awakening”.
Six months after I arrived at Missouri’s Faurot Field on Stadium Drive; I was standing on the sidelines (in a steady rain as I recall) at Miami’s Orange Bowl on January 1, 1970 wearing black & gold and facing The Nittany Lions led by an up&coming young coach named Paterno. But, I’m getting ahead of myself….
Life’s roads forever “diverge into a yellow wood”. A boy from Eastern North Carolina took “the one less traveled by” and that would, indeed, “make all the difference”. I had been offered /accepted the job sight unseen in May as I was graduating.
My ’68 Chevy Malibu (Loved that car!) was crammed except for my driver’s cockpit. Just a day or so after “A Man Named Armstrong Walked On The Moon”, at dawn’s early light, I hugged Mom, and promising to “be careful”, pulled out of the driveway, turning left onto NC Hwy 70. As I headed West into The Unknown, I recall my eyes “leaking” until I got to LaGrange. Unlike Lewis & Clark, I had no Sacajawea to guide me.
Twenty hours later I crossed The Mississippi on a narrow scary bridge at Cape Girardeau, MO. The Cape Motel had a vacancy. Sixteen years later Blondie & I would have our wedding reception at The Glenn House across the street from that motel. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…. again.
Oh, you are really only interested in the football stuff? OK, I’ll skip over all the incredibly poignant “rites of passage” crap.
Mizzou had defeated Alabama and “Bear” in The Gator Bowl the season before. The team I joined that summer was no bunch of Cinderellas. The Big Eight was Oklahoma with Heisman’s Steve Owens….. Bob Devaney’s Nebraska Cornhuskers w/ Johnny Rogers….. KU’s Jayhawks under Pepper Rogers….. and in Week Three we took a trip to The Big House in Ann Arbor to face Bo’s Wolverines. That we did indeed end up in Miami in late December was an Incredible Journey for sure.
Had Henry Brown not booted a last-second game-winning FG in Week One we’da lost to Air Force and never set a cleat in Miami. To Busch Stadium in St Louis where we thumped The Fightin’ Illini…. then on to Ann Arbor.
The jitters from that Air Force squeaker were behind us. Our QB, Terry McMillan, from Coral Gables, was gaining confidence with each snap. DT “Rocky” Wallace and “Big Jim” Harrison were still sidelined with nagging leg issues but “The Beaumont Stallion” Joe Moore was showing signs of being “really special”. Larron “Soldan Man” Jackson was reminding Tiger followers of legendary Francis Peay. Santa Rosa, California’s Mel Gray, “THE fastest man in a pair of cleats I’ve ever seen”, was starting to sync up with Terry as was John “Jet” Henley ….. “Wes Welker” 30 years before there was a Wes Welker. Jeff City’s Jon Staggers was a threat on every punt return. Shryock, Crnko, Adams, Carroll, Wilson, Ronnie McBride (BEST blocking fullback EVER!)
Coach Kadlec’s OL MIGHT have averaged 230…. without “Big Larron” more like 215.
Legendary “gurus” Al Onofrio and Clay Cooper’s defense was small even by 70s standards but quicker than mercury and football-savvy…. Nip, Kuhlman, Vital, Bennett, Hauptman, Cowan, Lundholm, Poppe, Fountain, Davis, ‘Zo Brinkley et al.
YIKES! I just realized “Butch #40” in this picture. His last name IS “Davis” but no relation to “that other one” I’m sure. I’ll be damn.
On to Ann Arbor and Bo Schembechler….. I cannot watch a game televised from Michigan today without seeing Joe Moore busting up the gut of Michigan’s line at mid-field early in the 2nd quarter. Five yards past the line of scrimmage, Joe was at full gallop like an F-14 TomCat off a carrier deck. No Wolverine hand touched Joe for those 50+ yards. We kicked Bo’s butt 40-17 and headed home to start conference play against Devaney ‘Huskers.
….. Our first series, 2nd play as I recall….. Mel Gray flying on a Go pattern down the left sideline as only Mel could fly. Terry threw it 50+ yards on a perfect arc. Mel never breaking stride. Mizzou – 17 / Nebraska – 7 ……. 4-0 and moving up in the rankings. Then Okla State 31-21. Then to Boulder and Eddie Crowder’s Buffalos.
I’d like to NOT recall that one. Buffalos – 31 / Good Guys – 24. But not a single Tiger dismayed….. We went on to plow thru the Big Eight including a 44-10 thumping of Heisman Steve Owens’ Sooners.
Mizzou VS Kansas was, prior to Super Conferences, one of the oldest, bitterest rivalries in America. When both sides accuse the other of burning down and pillaging one of their towns, tempers can flare. Was Quantrill a terrorist or a freedom fighter? Folks in Lawrence insist he was the former. Ask The Outlaw – Josey Wales.
Pepper Roger’s Jayhawks had been to The Orange Bowl the year before but had heavy graduation losses. Pepper’s memorable quip after our game was “I gave Devine the peace sign and he gave half of it back to me…..” OUCH! Mizzou – 69 ….. Kansas – 21. It was more lop-sided than the score. 9-1 – Miami here comes Mizzou.
Our HQ was Stan Musial’s Ivanhoe Hotel on Miami Beach. Stan & Dan were buddies. But….. Yea verily, in the New Year’s rain we fell 3 – 10 to Franco Harris (yes, that Franco Harris), Lydell Mitchell, Mike Reid, Steve Smear, Dennis Onkontz and TeamPaterno.
My Orange Bowl Accutron was stolen in 1986 but I still have the plaque and especially cherish my Big 8 Champions ring. Ask me and I’ll show it to you!
Nip’s email woke up some echoes, huh!
A few days later Nip sent out a list of all the fellows he could track down. As I scanned that list of 60+ names, after 45 years, I could visualize EVERY SINGLE ONE Of’em. I could put a face and a personality to EVERY ONE.
The faces of 20 y/o young men in 1969. Not of 65 y/o not-so-young men in 2015.
Jet and Rocky and Mark and George Fountain and John “Tiger Paws” Brown have passed away….. and Eric Lowder. Whoa! “Weird Eric” Lowder (OT)! My old roomie ….. believed in reincarnation…. was convinced he had once been a Viking and a Roman Centurion. Eric’s dad had a glass eye he would place on the kitchen counter at night. Last I heard Eric was an MP bringing military prisoners from Europe to Leavenworth. Cancer got him.
I perused for our other roomie – Chuck Colclasure (TE) from Wood River, Ill. I had thought of Chuck during a recent trip to see Kid in St Louis. Chuck’s in San Diego after a career in the ministry. We’re exchanging emails trying to fill in the years. I bet he can still play Froggy Went a’Courting on his guitar. If he can ever get the darn thing tuned.
Originally, I was NOT planning to go to Springfield in two weeks. That has changed. I’m going. The final straw was seeing that Ed “Flea” Glosson will be there. Gotta see “Flea”!
Other than the old game scores which I DID google…. EVERY other detail, nickname and anecdote discussed herein were all stored in “those echoes” that were awakened when I received – An Email From Nip.
EPILOGUE: Mizzou lost a lot of key seniors after that magical ’69 season but hopes were high for 1970. Air Force got its revenge in a Busch Stadium rematch in early September, then “The Beaumont Stallion” – Joe Moore separated a shoulder up in Lincoln. As Joe walked off the field with his arm hanging limp….. our season went limp too. Mizzou Football slipped into a coma for 30+ years until Gary Pinkel got it back on track 6-8 years ago. They’re now doing pretty darn good (!!) in the SEC but you probably know that.
At the end of the ‘70 season Dan Devine resigned to coach The Packers. I resigned to go to graduate school. I left Columbia in ’72 and did not return until we brought Kid to Mizzou as a freshman in August 2006. It all looked familiar – The Stadium, Football HQ, White Gate Village, The VI, The Columns. Standing in “The M” in the north end zone of an empty Faurot Field I wondered:
Suppose Henry Brown had missed that last-second field goal against Air Force on September 11, 1969?
But Henry didn’t miss….. AND, he never will. ☺