It was big play after big play, exactly as Jim Williams described in his address that ended the festivities at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center for the 50-year anniversary banquet for the 1964 team which won the National Championship.
There was joking by Jeff Long during his address about the passing prowess of quarterbacks Fred Marshall and Bill Gray that seemed to be every other play in the highlight video. Long quipped, “Fred, Bill, I didn’t know you guys were running the spread back then, right?”
Marshall added spice to the affair later when 50-year anniversary rings were presented to team members one by one, with the players posing between their coach, Frank Broyles, and Long, the athletic director. Marshall sprinted to the front, as much as a 70-year-old can sprint.
There was no microphone for him, but he was loud enough for all his teammates and their families to hear. Many of his teammates who preceded him had trouble making it to the front, showing the wear and tear from their football days.
“I ran up here to imitate Coach Broyles,” Marshall said. “I thought some of you guys were never going to make it up here. Coach Broyles, he’s (89) and he’ll be first to run off the field tomorrow, like he’s always been.”
Afterwards, Marshall didn’t want to talk about his passing. He wanted to know if a reporter noticed his blocking ahead of Bobby Burnett, Jackie Brasuell and Jim Lindsey on the toss sweeps. In the Arkansas offense those days, the quarterback flipped the ball back, quickly turned and led the back around end.
“Did you see me get the middle linebacker,” Marshall said. “Those are my favorite plays. Sometimes I’d block two.”
Indeed, there were several highlights with Marshall leading the sweep, just like a pulling guard.
Jimmy Johnson started the night next door with the 2014 Razorbacks, invited to address the team by coach Bret Bielema. Johnson said, “I gave them a little something, something to get ready for Alabama.”
Just after Johnson settled into his seat, Hatfield opened the night with the invocation. He thanked Broyles for his teammates, then read the list of those that had passed, players and coaches.
Long, with the throw-back ‘64 uniforms displayed on the podium, said he was “pleased” to also announce the plans for a monument outside the Fred W. Smith Football Building that would be a Wild Band of Razorbacks, 20 feet tall by 30 wide, complete with a water fountain. The sculpture may be completed as soon as 18 months, depending on when funding is in place.
Long said plans for the monument – to honor the ‘64 team – have been a secret for two years. He was also excited about the uniforms, also a secret. Long unveiled a bronze maquette model at a Thursday event for the team. Whitefish, Mont., scluptor Dick Idol attended all of the events for the ‘64 team.
“We duplicated the helmets, the uniforms – except they are modern materials,” Long said. “Coach Bielema loves them.”
So did Harry “Lighthorse” Jones. The safety for the ‘64 team came to the front of the room to get a close inspection.
“This is the way we should look,” Jones said. “I hope we wear these forever.”
Long called the accomplishments by the ‘64 team “the defining moment for our athletic program, our university and our state. It was our first national championship in any sport.”
And, Long said the weekend the administration picked for the reunion, when Alabama visited, was an obvious choice.
“It was no coincidence,” Long said. “Having them here is nice because we wanted those sons of guns to see the true national champs once and for all.”
Alabama claims some pre-bowl national championships from the wire services in 1964, before the Tide lost to Texas in the Orange Bowl, a team the Hogs beat in Austin.
Long presented Broyles with a proclamation from Gov. Mike Beebe, then turned the dais over to the man who brought Arkansas to national prominence in football.
“It’s hard to speak when I’m as happy as I am right now,” Broyles said. “I remember when Freddy (Marshall) came to me as the leader of the team and said nothing was going to stand in our way. I will say what I always said, there is no substitute for good preparation and the 1964 team was prepared.
“I will say that the teams that played against us had to find a way to score on our defense and that was just about impossible.”
Asked to represent the team with closing remarks, Williams was superb. The Dallas real estate man said his experiences with so many great leaders – and he singled out Jerry Lamb’s play to end the ‘63 season at Lubbock as the starting point – in his UA time served him well as he battled lofty peaks and terrible lows during his business career.
“How did being on that team impact my life?” he said. “There are 100 ways.”
Williams started by remembering the two tackles on the depth chart with him, both deceased.
“I began my playing career behind Tommy Sain and ahead of Claud Smithey,” he said. “Everyone stood when Mickey Moroney was announced tonight. He gave up a day off so a co-worker could go to a Bible study.”
Moroney, a secret service agent, died in 1995 when the Murrah Building was bombed in Oklahoma City.
“This has been just an unreal week,” Williams said. “When I think of the ‘64 season, I have to start in ‘63 when we were faced with great adversity and whipped so badly by SMU.
“I think it started for us on the plane trip back when the players who would be seniors in ‘64 were getting us up. They told Coach Broyles they wanted to get better.”
The next week in the finale at Texas Tech, Williams recalled a locker room after a 0-0 first half.
“Lamb was about two feet off the ground at halftime, dying to get back out there,” Williams said. “I’ll never forget him going up for a pass in the end zone with two Red Raiders hanging on his arms. He got up and got that pass. I saw character and leadership. That play wasn’t in the ‘64 season, but it led us to become that team that could make great plays.
“Our coaching was unbelievable. I worshiped the ground that men like Jim Mackenzie, Wilson Mathews, Johnny Majors, Barry Switzer and Coach Broyles walked on. Oh, boy, what a life, what a record Coach Broyles has left. Thank you, Coach, from all of us.”
Williams remembered the encouragement from linebacker Ronnie Caveness just before Williams made one of the signature plays in the Cotton Bowl, a sack of Nebraska’s Bob Churchich.
Williams said, “Caveness grabbed me and said, ‘You need to get the quarterback! And it turned out to be the biggest play of my life.”
Those were leadership moments that he said served him well as he lay in bed for almost one year with staph infection and when the economy crash in 2008 wrecked his business.
“I always remembered the men in this room and their influence,” Williams said. “I go back to ‘64 as my inspiration. It’s like that for thousands all over Arkansas. You influenced so many with what you did in that football season.”
And, those great plays are still being celebrated. They are still worth much applause even from the team that made them.
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