State of the Hogs: '59 Reunion

The 1959 Razorbacks are back for a reunion. Could some of them play in today's big, fast world of college football. Barry Switzer, captain of that team, thinks some would do fine. Editor's Note: Wayne Harris, nicknamed The Thumper, passed away this week in Calgary, Canada.

The age old question to football oldtimers: Could they play in today's game?

Barry Switzer said there were some from the 1959 Arkansas team he helped captain who would be on the field today, but not many.

"Well, some of us would make it because we were ‘try hard guys' and that type does make it," Switzer said on the eve of a trip to Fayetteville for a reunion of the ‘59 Razorbacks. "We'd work hard in the weight room and some would play even today."

However, Switzer has no doubt about four from that team who all had exceptional speed for that era. He ticked off the names of Lance Alworth, Wayne Harris, Jim Mooty and Billy Kyser. There will be over 50 members of that ‘59 team on hand this weekend for the Hogs' date with Auburn.

That squad, the second under Frank Broyles, won a then-school record nine games, including a 14-7 victory over Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl after sharing the first of three straight SWC titles.

"We had speed and we lined up in the right formations to use it," Switzer said. "And, we played good defense."

The four Switzer mentioned will attend the reunion although there was some doubt for a few weeks about Harris, who had an impressive conflict — he was voted ahead of Doug Flutie as the all-time best Calgary Stampede player in a fan poll conducted by the Calgary Sun. He was all-pro in Canada nine times and was the MVP of the Grey Cup in 1971.

Harris, nicknamed the Thumper, still holds the Arkansas single season record for tackles with 174 in 1960. No one else has ever been closer than 20.

Harris, who played inside linebacker for the Hogs, wanted to do both. He found it hard to believe that he beat out the modern-day Stampeders for the award. He said, "I haven't played in 30 years, so that was an impressive honor. The guys on our '59 team have worked hard to put this together and they've called a lot. I needed to come back to Fayetteville. A lot of guys are coming and I've only been back a couple of times."

George McKinney, a safety, laughs about getting knocked silly by Harris while preparing to make an interception.

"It was a deep, over the middle pass," McKinney said. "I thought, ‘Oh, boy. I got me one.' Here it comes, then, boom, Wayne knocked me five yards to catch it."

That's what he did as a great middle linebacker in an all-star, 12-year career in Canada with the Stampeders, play the run and the pass. "I think Wayne was a 4.5 guy, probably," Switzer said. "If not, 4.6. That's why he'd play now. The last six inches, he exploded into tackles, could really strike. It was perfect form, middle of the chest and face mask first, right through you. That's why he was THE Thumper.

"I'm not sure he'd play in the middle today, but he'd play somewhere on the field, probably weakside linebacker."

McKinney said he hit like a rattlesnake.

"God made Wayne 6-1 and 188 for a reason," McKinney said. "If he was bigger, it would have been illegal. He hurt people when he tackled.

"When we talk about guys from our era that might could play today. Not many names come up. His name always came up."

McKinney recalled when Harris showed up as a freshman out of El Dorado.

"He was a legend in south Arkansas," McKinney said. "Everyone had heard of him. We were in the dorm and saw him walking up the steps. We looked out the window and said, ‘That's Wayne Harris? He's not very big!'"

Turns out, big enough.

"We heard he was a champion wrestler," McKinney said. "We were in the dorm talking with him one night. It was me and Bill Wilson, the federal judge. Bill kept asking him about wrestling. He wanted Wayne to show him his best move or hold." Harris ignored it for awhile.

"Wayne was quiet, just a good guy," McKinney said. "Never boasted about anything. Finally, after Bill had asked him once too many, Wayne just exploded. He had Bill pinned on the floor in a blink of an eye. It was like a snake striking.

"I called the judge before I told you this story. He said I could tell it, but he'd deny it."

Perhaps the most talked about hit delivered by the Thumper came against SMU quarterback Don Meredith in the 17-14 victory over the Mustangs that may have put the Hogs over the top.

Meredith backed up to pass, Harris backed up to defend. Meredith charged straight ahead and Harris "hit him all over," wrote Orville Henry.

Meredith was 15 pounds bigger than Harris, but had to be helped off the field. Said Wilson Matthews afterwards, "It is hard to see your receiver when your eyeballs are in the back of your head."

Growing up, Switzer knew about Harris.

"II went to grade school two years with Wayne. He was a stud in high school. Everyone in south Arkansas knew about Wayne Harris. He was about 185, but he hit you like someone 230."

Alworth was a high school legend, too, but in Mississippi.

"What you saw in Lance was a super star," Switzer said. "He was 20 years ahead of his time as far as ability. He was a 9.5 guy in the 100 and had a 40-inch vertical jump — just so athletic and graceful.

"Lance was not the runner like Mooty was between the tackles. He was a wide receiver playing halfback who could make plays outside, a speed guy.

"Then, you had Mooty to run in the dark holes and could throw his body around. He'd get it on fourth-and-1. Kyser had the speed you see today, too. I can still remember the back-to-back kickoff returns Mooty and Kyser both went 100 against Hardin-Simmons. Mooty talks about that his was better than Kyser's because he made people miss. That was Mooty, pretty cocky. But he was good.

"Those guys would play today, but the rest of us wouldn't even get a look."

The 1959 team was honored at halftime of the Auburn game. Pictured here are (from left) Wayne Harris, Frank Broyles, Lance Alworth and Jim Mooty.

There were 53 members of the 1959 team at the reunion.

Photos by Marc F. Henning

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