2118...
TGS CONFERENCE USA RETROSPECTIVE...A (GOLDEN) HURRICANE AT TULSA!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


Sometimes, even we at TGS have to marvel at all of the changes that have taken place in college football since we began publishing in 1957. Many of the differences between those days of yore and the modern version of the game would shock a new generation of college fans who might have trouble recalling a world without ESPN.

Some of the contrasts are so stark, however, that even we have to step back and remind ourselves that, yes, our publishing timeline at TGS dates back to a long-ago era when they were doing...what?

Limited substitutions and one-platoon football, you say?

Indeed, not until the mid ‘60s did these rules finally liberalize and the game start to more resemble the spectacle we now view each autumn.

The reintroduction of single-platoon football in 1953 would alter the dynamics of the sport. Eliminating the use of separate offensive and defensive units meant players had to condition themselves for long, unrelieved spells both offensively and defensively. Coaches such as Michigan State’s Biggie Munn complained long and hard about the imposed defensive duties chasing from the sport the lighter and quicker attackers and linemen weighing less than 200 pounds. Munn would prove partly correct as many smaller linemen faded form the scene.

The single-platoon approach was chipped away year by year by a variety of liberalization rules, but it lasted, in effect, for 11 seasons until 1963. In theory, its purpose was to hopefully create balance so that dozens of teams could compete with the traditional top ten schools. And, in fact, that’s what happened throughout the decade.

During that 11-year stretch which coincided with the debut of TGS in 1957, there were teams that won national titles that had been playing at only a medium-level of success beforehand. Schools like Maryland, UCLA, Auburn, and Syracuse would win their first (and still only, with the exception of Auburn) national titles between 1953-63. Also highly competitive during that era were the service academies, which briefly flourished in the single-platoon era; the academies were still able to attract their share of top-shelf athletes in those days, aided by a more-lenient set of rules for gridiron warriors regarding future service commitments. The likes of Baylor, Duke, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Missouri, Rice, SMU, and TCU would all shine brightly in this era, too, before enduring a succession of ups and downs in upcoming decades.

How did this occur? With only 11 regular players instead of 22, a school could develop a star or two and make itself competitive. A winning record, regardless of the size of the institution, influenced more recruits to attend those schools. Duke provided one such example during this period of time; with high academic standards and a small enrollment, the Blue Devils would nonetheless develop stars like tackle Ed Meadows and QB Jerry Berger, who led to QB Sonny Jurgensen (right) and RB Wray Carlton, who led to G Mike McGee and end Tee Moorman, who led to back Mike Curtis (before he became a feared NFL LB) and end Jay Wilkinson. All played both ways; among the familiar names to longtime pro football fans, Jurgensen (hard as this might be to believe who watched a pot-bellied Sonny late in his career!) would also play defensive back, and Curtis was a fullback of some repute.

In fact, several Heisman winners were accomplished both-way players, perhaps none more so than ill-fated 1961 winner Ernie Davis from Syracuse, who gained more notoriety as a RB but also a stellar DB during his college days.

The 2013 football season is fast approaching! And we're ready at TGS with discounted JULY subscription prices! Click here for more special JULY subscription info on THE GOLD SHEET now!


Though an isolated case, Duke exemplified the leveling of the playing field that the one-platoon rulemakers had envisioned. For the period between 1953-63, Duke enjoyed a 70-36-7 mark and played in three bowls in the days long before there was a proliferation of postseason opportunities; in the 50 years since, the Blue Devils have had a total of nine winning seasons (some of those barely above .500 at 6-5) and been to three bowls, one of those just last December.

Eventually, however, college football, which shared the sports limelight in the early and mid ‘50s with baseball, boxing, and horse racing, would be challenged fiercely for fan interest by the once-ragamuffin NFL and its new upstart counterpart, the AFL. The crispness of the college game began to pale by comparison, as the single-platoon rules clearly fatigued the athletes. Tired players meant a slower game, and each successive alteration of the rule would finally yield to free substitution in the mid ‘60s.

During that era, there were also no kicking specialists to call upon, prompting respected sorts such as Clemson HC Frank Howard to lament that he had “never seen so many 15 and 20-yard punts. Why not send out a boy who can kick the ball 50 yards?”

For better or worse, limited substitution created a different and interesting game. Extending into the days of our early publishing at TGS, it was far easier for fans to follow the ups and downs of a whole nation of college teams because watching the exploits of only 11 regular players made it a simpler pleasure to track all of college football.

It was not the golden era of the sport, but it was surely among its most fascinating.

Significant change would wait until 1964, although complete free substitution was still a year away and would not commence en masse until 1965. But the liberalization really began in '64, when the rules committee allowed free movement of players when the clock was stopped and permitted up to two substitutions when the clock was running.

It would be a somewhat-awkward transition year, creating what legendary Ohio State HC Woody Hayes would call “the damnedest burlesque I ever saw in my life” as coaches would gyrate unpredictably to stop the clock in any manner to allow full substituting.

But the fathers of college football had finally wised up and admitted that the pro game’s better-rested players, who played exclusively on offense and defense, kept the NFL and AFL games moving at a much-brisker pace. Meanwhile, coaches had overwhelmingly preferred unlimited substitution for many years and enthusiastically endorsed the changes. In 1964, however, there were still many athletes who played on both sides of the ball; a look at game programs from that season would often still list only 11 starters. But the early trend was to employ specialists at quarterback, wide receiver, kicker, and in the secondary. Added up, most teams were now sporting separate offensive and defensive units.

The change was granted with near-universal approval and praise. Blackie Sherrod, the legendary sports columnist for the Dallas Morning News, perhaps phrased it best when writing that “rulesmakers have been siding up to unlimited substitution as if it were a souvenir hand grenade in the attic trunk.” The delay in implementing change, however, helped bury the college game behind the pros in the early ‘60s, a gap that has not effectively closed to this day.

But, the college game could now mirror the look of faster-paced pro football. The change to free substitution was long overdue, and obviously, the college game never looked back.

Thus, there would be some new entities on the college scene that emerged in the early days of free substitution when the “specialists” were still something of a novelty.

And zooming into the national spotlight for a brief period of time at the outset of the rules changes was none other than Tulsa.

Tulsa?

Long before the days of Conference USA, and even long before the ‘60s, Tulsa, though not to be confused with Notre Dame, had a well-developed pigskin history. They'd been playing football since 1895 at what was originally known as Kendall College, which predated Oklahoma becoming a state in 1907. Eventually, the school would move and change its name, and Tulsa would employ a future Hall of Fame coach in Francis “Show ‘Em No Mercy” Schmidt (right), notorious for bludgeoning outmanned opponents into submission. Schmidt's three-year reign of terror from 1919-21 included scorelines such as 152-0, 151-0, 121-0, 92-0, and ten other win by 60+ points.

Schmidt would eventually leave for Arkansas, and later TCU and Ohio State to further forge his legend, but a few years later Tulsa had enough pull to lure from Southern Cal the legendary "Gloomy Gus" Henderson, who would record a 62-17-3 mark in nine years with the Golden Hurricane. Subsequently, in the early '40s, Henry Frnka would win better than 81% of his games.

One of Frnka’s top players was Glenn Dobbs, a prolific halfback who would eventually coach Tulsa in the early '60s, succeeding brother Bobby, who moved to the CFL's Calgary Stampeders and eventually to Texas Western/UTEP.

Perhaps no team made a quicker transition to the two-platoon system than did Glenn Dobbs’ Tulsa. The men who changed the rules of college football may not have wanted to make their game look exactly like that of the pros, but they could not have done a keener job of it in 1964 if they had ordered Tulsa and Dobbs’ QB, Jerry Rhome, to throw a few passes for every school in the country.

As platoons specializing in offense and defense came back in full vogue after a decade of creeping free substitution, QBs were putting the ball in the air more times than the drum majorettes dropped their batons. And 1964 was a showy season of offense in which the top passers first loosened up, and then splattered, enemy defenses, creating in the process even broader gaps for the splendid array of runners already on hand. Precious few teams which had not adopted the pro-style game were able to cling to their honor in subsequent years.

In fact, the new look helped reshape the college landscape in ‘64 and make most preseason ratings look like an inside joke.

No team, however, would benefit from the new rules as deliciously as Tulsa. For a short while, the university and the quiet, clean oil town on the banks of the Arkansas River were booming with the same kind of excitement Oklahomans would normally reserve for a new field of gushers, or maybe that other team, the Sooners. Behind it all was a convergence, almost accidentally, of the right players (QB Rhome and WR Howard Twilley, in particular), the right coach (Dobbs), and the right set of rules, all in the same season. Together they produced what to that point was the grandest aerial show ever seen in the history of major-college football.

Indeed, in our near six decades of publishing history at TGS, there were few more refreshing and colorful developments on the college football landscape than Tulsa’s emergence in the mid ‘60s.

The show revolved around QB Rhome, a calm, average-sized (6'0, 181 lbs.) young Texan who left SMU in his home town of Dallas, after often playing brilliantly as a sophomore in 1961 when completing 57% of his passes. Rhome, however, subsequently found himself buried on the depth chart the next year after the hiring of HC Hayden Fry, who wanted to develop a running game first and foremost. But Rhome considered himself a passer and wanted to find a place where his passion was not considered a sin. “All my life I had worked to be a pro quarterback,” Rhome would say. “Now it was as if I had gone to Oklahoma or Texas.”

Rhome decided to transfer and would consider Nebraska and Ole Miss, but eventually chose Tulsa. The Mustangs’ loss would be the Golden Hurricane’s gain.

A fluid thrower, Rhome could also pass accurately when throwing off balance, falling, or off of the wrong foot. He would throw to all distances and also knew when not to throw, too. “You can’t just wish it in there,” Rhome would say. “Sometimes you've just got to eat it.”

His pass was delivered in the classic way with one finger on the lace, traveled in a fine spiral and would often settle, Bobby Layne-style, softly into the hands of his receivers. In one game against Louisville, Rhome threw seven touchdown passes, a national record. In another against Oklahoma State, he completed 35 of 43 for 488 yards, and four more national records fell. This against a Cowboys team that entered the game with the second best pass defense in the country but came out a humiliated 61-14 loser.

Weather was about the only thing that seemed able to slow Rhome and the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa’s cramped Skelly Stadium, modernized somewhat in subsequent years and still in use today but considered a relic even in the mid ‘60s, was city-owned in those days and did not have a tarpaulin to cover the turf during a rainstorm. Moreover, it would host local high school games on Friday night, so during rainy times, the field could look like a war zone if the Golden Hurricane would play at home the day after the high schools. On one such rainy afternoon in heavy mud, Rhome still completed 25 of 35 passes for 264 yards in a 19-7 win over Memphis State.

Rhome’s qualities were outlined by then-Dallas Cowboys assistant Ermal Allen. “He has uncanny accuracy when the receiver is in tight quarters,” said Allen. "He has a fine football mind because he's the son of a coach (Jerry played for his father, Byron Rhome, at Dallas’ Sunset High) and has studied it all his life. He kills a team with audibles. Reads and anticipates a defense. And when he misses a pass, he misses by inches.”

As gifted a thrower as Rhome was, and as permissive as the rules became, they still could not have added up to so many records and raves if Tulsa's coach were merely adjusting to a trend. But Glenn Dobbs was not adjusting to anything; he was setting trends instead. Dobbs was a former pro quarterback himself with the old Brooklyn Dodgers and the Los Angeles Dons of the long-ago AAFC (All-American Football Conference, where the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers would begin their existence). Dobbs always believed in the pass and welcomed Rhome with delight.

Dobbs, a rancher and Tulsa alum, had agreed to become the Golden Hurricane coach in 1960 only because it was his alma mater...and the school begged him to do so. Believing that football should be fun for the players and spectators alike, he was a player’s coach, something rare for the era. “We leave the practice field laughing every day,” Dobbs liked to say. “And we entertain ‘em on Saturdays. If I ever run out of passers, I'll go back to my cattle. But I’m not gonna run out of passers."

Rhome's flirtation with records throughout the ‘64 season had a bristling effect on the Tulsa team. “The defense wanted to get the ball back again so Jerry can get another record," said Dobbs. “The line blocked real hard for the same reason.”

Further perfecting the evolution of the new specialization and substitution rules, Tulsa’s offensive line was perhaps the best at pass protection in the college ranks. As for Dobbs’ formation, it was a variation of the familiar pro spread looks of the day, with two receivers (including the incomparable Twilley) split wide, and two running backs with varied spacing. The backs were chosen as much for their blocking as for their running ability. Everything was geared to Rhome getting the ball quickly to the wideouts--the sure-handed Twilley in particular. “We had 12 plays, that's all,” said Dobbs, then sounding the same alarm as did Al Davis and Sid Gillman in the wide-open AFL of the day. “We throw first and run second. Something has to be open, and Jerry can usually find it.”

A hefty, seven-man pocket gave Rhome time to look downfield. But even against a quick, furious rush, Rhome performed well. In late September against what would be an undefeated Arkansas team that would win a share of the national title, Rhome would scare the daylights out of the Razorbacks, hitting 20 of 27 passes and having the Hogs on the ropes when down 14-0 before Frank Broyles’ powerhouse, helped by a succession of poor Tulsa punts, would rally for a 31-22 win. Nonetheless, Tulsa had proven it could compete with anybody.

Of course, having a gifted wideout like Twilley (who also handled some place-kicking duties) made things much easier. Twilley, quick and tough but lacking size at only 5'11, was ignored by Southwest Conference recruiters yet would go on to become college football’s all-time leading receiver by the time he would graduate after the subsequent 1965 season. Tailback Bob Daugherty, from Mountain View, California, broke Joe Bellino's freshman scoring and rushing records at Navy, then left because he did not enjoy wearing a uniform and running to class. Defensive tackle Willie Townes, who would eventually star for the Dallas Cowboys (and famously get blocked by C Ken Bowman and G Jerry Kramer on Bart Starr’s winning QB sneak in the iconic Packers-Cowboys “Ice bowl” 1967 NFL title game), hailed from Hattiesburg, Mississippi and had transferred to Tulsa from Indiana. The 1964 Golden Hurricane, in fact, had players from 13 different states plus Canada and renegades from Indiana, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and, of course, SMU.

Rhome’s exploits in the fall of ‘64, when Tulsa would lead the nation in passing (318 ypg), scoring (38.4 ppg), and total offense (462 ypg) while setting 27 new school and NCAA records as it outscored foes 398-140, would also help him emerge as a very unlikely candidate for the Heisman Trophy. It was an award he might have indeed won if not for the emergence of another darkhorse, Notre Dame QB John Huarte, who had the benefit of the Fighting Irish mystique and a resurgent bunch of Domers under first-year HC Ara Parseghian that had led the polls for much of the season before a gut-wrenching regular-season ending loss to Southern Cal. In one of the closest ballots in Heisman history, Huarte nudged Rhome by a mere 74 votes to win the trophy.

Rhome’s college career would still end on a high note, however, in Houston’s Bluebonnet Bowl against Johnny Vaught’s Ole Miss. Drizzly weather made the going slow on the Rice Stadium pitch, and the Rebel defense was its usual quick and tenacious self, but Rhome would help a 72-yard TD drive with a 25-yard run before wedging in from the 1 to tie the game at 7 in the second quarter. Rhome would then fire up the winning TD drive in the third quarter, capped by a 35-yard TD pass to end Eddie Fletcher. Townes and the defense made the 14-7 lead hold for the rest of the game; Rhome would complete his college career with another stellar performance that included 22 completions in 36 attempts for 252 yards.

Rhome would opt for his hometown NFL Dallas Cowboys instead of the AFL for his pro career, but was part of a crowded QB situation in Big D that included incumbent Don Meredith and another hotshot rookie entering the NFL at the same time as Rhome, Cal’s Craig Morton. Unable to crack the lineup for four years, and eventually falling behind Morton in Tom Landry’s pecking order, Rhome would be traded to the Cleveland Browns before finishing his career with the Houston Oilers and L.A. Rams as a backup QB all of the way, his playing time always blocked by a more-established presence like Meredith, Bill Nelsen in Cleveland, Charley Johnson in Houston, and Roman Gabriel in L.A.

Jerry, however, would prove valuable to Browns HC Blanton Collier in scouting the Cowboys for a pair of 1969 games, a couple of blowout Cleveland wins including the NFL Eastern Conference title clash by a 38-14 count at the Cotton Bowl.

That sort of football acumen would continue to serve Rhome very well. Retiring after seven years in the NFL, Rhome would go on to a distinguished 25-year career as an assistant coach, and was a member of the Super Bowl-winning Washington Redskins staff of 1987. To this day, Rhome conducts coaching clinics and works as a consultant on a variety of football-related projects, including tutoring of many QBs that include present-day NFL signal callers such as Kevin Kolb and Andy Dalton.

As for Tulsa, it would win again in 1965, although it was becoming apparent that the magical Twilley, whose NCAA career reception record would endure for 21 years (and fifteen seasons of four-year varsity eligibility for subsequent players) after his graduation, might have been the real indispensable ingredient for the Tulsa offense. Rhome’s successor in 1965 at QB, Billy Guy Anderson, also posted big stats with Twilley as his main target and would lead the Golden Hurricane back to another Bluebonnet Bowl, where Tulsa would lose to Tennessee in the rain.

As did Rhome the previous year, Twilley was also runner-up in Heisman Trophy balloting, although he finished far behind the winner, Southern Cal RB Mike Garrett.

Still, believe it or not, Tulsa actually had back-to-back runners-up in Heisman Trophy balloting in 1964 & ‘65!

After Twilley’s graduation, however, Tulsa began to sag, as other schools began to replicate the offensive formula that Dobbs had been using in the first days of free substitution. By the late ‘60s, the rest of the college world had caught up to the Golden Hurricane, and in some cases surpass it. Severely. By the late ’60s, Dobbs’ Tulsa was in a steep decline, and a humiliating 100-6 loss at Houston in late November of 1968 (a result to be reviewed in a bit more depth as part of our upcoming AAC Retrospective piece) confirmed the downturn and sealed Dobbs’ fate as coach.

We at TGS will certainly never forget those Golden Hurricane teams of the mid ‘60s. For a short and glorious while, Tulsa was indeed one of the shining lights of college football, and burn as brightly in retrospect as the Golden Hurricane did almost a half-century ago. Ushering in a new age of progressive offenses in the wake of rules changes, those Tulsa teams would help alter the course of college football.

With a couple of back-to-back Heisman runners-up to boot!


Return To Home Page