LITTLE ROCK — Old enough to remember Razorback football in the 1960s, Arkansas fans asked to identify the best team of the decade will go for ‘64, or ‘69, maybe even ‘65.
For some reason, the ‘68 Razorbacks get short shrift even though they shared the Southwest Conference championship, compiled a 10-1 record identical to that of the ‘65 team, and lost one less game than the ‘69 team. In an e-mail, one member of the team referred to 1968 as “The Forgotten Year.”
Maybe it’s because fans who began to believe after a 4-0 start were deflated when the team fell far behind Texas, then the measuring stick of Arkansas football, and later struggled in Little Rock against opponents from “D” towns in Texas.
The ‘68 team is right there with the best, an achievement that will be celebrated at a team reunion Oct 11-12. It will be a weekend for renewing friendships, embellishing stories, laughing, and shedding a tear or two. So important in the bounce-back from 4-5-1 in 1967, leadership of the seniors will be lauded.
To understand how the No. 6 team in the final AP poll might be overlooked, history helps.
During much of the 60s, the Razorbacks were a major player on the national landscape.
The 1964 team shut out its last five opponents and completed an 11-0 record with a victory over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl and won a version of the school’s only national championship in football.
The 1969 team played in the “Big Shootout” vs. Texas and came within many what-ifs of a perfect season.
The 1965 team extended the school record winning streak to 22 before losing to LSU in the Cotton Bowl.
Each of those years, the Texas game was an edge-of-the-seat thriller. In ‘64, the Longhorns drove 70 yards in 16 plays and scored with 87 seconds to play but missed a two-point conversion attempt and Arkansas prevailed 14-13. The next year, Arkansas led 20-0, trailed 24-20, and won 27-24, completing an 80-yard drive with 2:34 to play.
Kiss off ‘69 with 15-14, James Street to Randy Peschel on fourth down, and President Nixon.
In 1968, long before the college football saturation of Saturday, the Arkansas-Texas game was not available on TV although the Razorbacks were unbeaten and the Longhorns were 2-1-1. Texas ran for 329 yards, only threw eight passes, and led 39-15 after three quarters.
A senior and a captain, defensive back Gary Adams remembers only that the final margin was 10.
The next week, the Razorbacks survived Joe Greene-led North Texas 17-15 and, three weeks later, returned to Little Rock for their only TV appearance of the regular season — a regional telecast vs. SMU. A young AP reporter almost panicked when Jerry Levias ran wild in the fourth quarter and Arkansas’ 35-point lead was trimmed to six.
The Sugar Bowl was Arkansas’ young offense against the best defense in the country. Led by Outland Trophy winner Bill Stanfill at tackle and future All-Pro Jake Scott at safety, the No. 4 Bulldogs gave up 50 points in a 2-0-1 start and a total of 48 in their last seven games.
Arkansas sophomore Chuck Dicus caught 12 Bill Montgomery passes for 169 yards, including a 27-yarder on a post pattern for the only touchdown of the game. The play worked because Dicus had been running an out pattern with success and Scott anticipated the same. Early in the second half, with Georgia on the Arkansas 3, Dick Bumpas and Lynn Garner sandwiched running back Brad Johnson and the ball exited the end zone.
Bob White kicked three field goals and 16-2 was the cherry on top of a splendid body of work. Recognition of the ‘68 Razorbacks is long overdue.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.