Best of Series: Houston @ #1 Michigan St. 1967

Prowler (the Cougar's Center this day) recalls one of the greatest days in our proud football history.

At about 9:30AM on the 22d of Sep 1967, it was already pushing 90 degrees as a plane-load of Cougars took off carrying millions of butterflies in their bellies. This was THE game we had looked forward to for about a year. After making a very good Florida State look shabby in our opener, a game about which Coach had fretted excessively, concerned we might be looking past the Seminoles because the mighty Spartans loomed next. After dismantling FSU 33-13, folks wrote them off as doomed for a bad year but the same day as our MSU game, they tied an Alabama team that had a Snake for a QB. The buildup for this game actually began the previous Fall when the Spartans played Notre Dame, both unbeaten, for the "National Championship" which ended in a 10-10 tie because Ara Parseghian decided run out the clock with 3plus minutes left & the ball on his own 35. The polls were split, one picking Notre Damn & the other, State.

To be sure, State had lost the heart of their team: LB George Webster & future NFL HOF and Police Academy graduate, Bubba Smith, plus 6 other defensive starters. Their offense however remained fairly intact with Jimmy Raye & Lamar Thomas to lead their attack. The Coogs had cause for optimism since the Veer had come to be a cause for consternation to DC's all over the country, but we had our share of question marks on both sides of the ball. Bo Burris, the man with the magic pitch, had graduated, as had soon-to-be AFL Rookie of the Year, Dick Post. Royce Berry, 2 year starter & captain, was out for the year due to a knee injury, to be replaced with a lesser known but very capable, Campfun. But throughout the off-season, the real, nonhuman CampFun, our 'battle cry' was "Beat State". Dick Woodall has assumed leadership & Bo's QB position while Wondrous Warren McVea, had moved full time to running back, having split some time at flanker the previous year. The OL had 4 returning starters at the guards & tackles & Paul Daulong at tight end who had played a lot the previous year subbing for an injured Tom Beer. The defense, soon to be dubbed the MadDogs, were salty with such stalwarts as Wade Phillips, Jerry Drones, Mike Simpson, Gus Holloman, & Campfun.

The 727 finally touched down in Lansing, the state capitol. I had never given much thought to how Michigan would be...I guess I thought it would be one large auto plant but the city of Lansing was beautiful, with thick cover of white pine interspersed with the golds & reds of the hardwoods. The first snow of the year had fallen the week before &, although light, some was still visible in shady spots. After a bus ride through the city & across the MSU campus, which seemed to goon forever, we finally arrived at the stadium. Walking on the field, it seemed sorta ordinary. We had our usual brief kinda loosen up Friday kinda workout. I remember the grass was thick & different than the Bermuda we usually practiced on. It felt kinda crunchy from the snow, I guessed, but kinda dry & slick.

At 1:00 on Saturday, my perception of the stadium changed. It was bowl & much steeper than I had noticed on Friday. When packed with 75,833 fans, i felt like i was at the bottom of an old cistern, barely being able to set the sun which was shining brightly, at least at kickoff. And the roar...I had a hard time hearing myself think...never had I experience noise that seemed to squash you down & suck the air out of you at the same time.

The Spartans were deservedly cocky...tied for the National Championship in '66 & picked either 2d or 3d in all the preseason polls. Duffy Daugherty may have seen a bad moon rising because his comments on Friday were preoccupied with 'speed', offense, defense, backs, line...it was hard to tell how much was coach-speak & how much was genuine concern. The gamblers must have anticipated something surprising because the line on the game had gone from a preseason 17 points, prompting Coach's famous line when asked how he was going to get us ready for a sho-nuf butt kicking," we DO still get to play the game, don't we?" to a kickoff line of 7 & a half. Coach, having been assistant at State, warned us of a little intimidation maneuver that the Spartans liked to use. Both dressing rooms were in the same end of the field, across the tunnel from each other. The visiting team would be brought out first but held up by the band behind the endzone. The Spartans would come out gathering in the mouth of the tunnel en mass, jumping up & down while the crowd roars louder & louder, then when at a feverish peak, they would run through the visiting team who is milling about between them & the band. Sorta gets one confused about where your supposed to be or what! Coach told to be ready for this & we were...when they ran through us, several of their guys got decked since they weren't expecting any resistance, so several pushing/shoving matches occurred which kinda set the tone for the afternoon. We win the toss & defend the south goal. The wind is at about 15mph, S to SW. The D holds 'em for what should be a 3 & out but we get flagged for roughing the kicker. They are obviously going for the ball-control concept. They punt we get the ball. Gipson for 2, incomplete pass, then on 3d & 8 from our 14, Warren rips off 48 yd. on the 23 Base which the play that made him & Stotter famous. We stall & punt. D holds 'em. 1st & 10 from our 42. Woody gets 3 on a keeper off the Veer, the Mack takes off on another 33 yds on an option. Gipson slips, Warren slips twice for losses...remember what I said about the funky grass? Kenny Hebert kicks a 44yd FG & we lead 3-0.

They get a little more serious & go 66 yds in 6 plays with Lamar Thomas scoring on a 48yd run off a pitch from Jimmy Raye. 3-7 with 1:10 gone in 2d quarter. Back & forth for the next few series, they miss a FG. Then Tom Paciorek intercepts a pass at our 29. Bailey is in for Woody who got dinged a bit...he got hip pointer in the FSU game that kinda nagged him the rest of the year. 19yd pass to Hebert, Pickens recovers a fumble by Gipson averting disaster, then McVea & Stotter again, this time for 50yd & six! Extra point's good & we're up to stay!

Probably the turning point of the game occurs right before halftime. They moved the ball down steadily to our 5, 1st & goal and one of the greatest goal line stands in UH history takes place! Raye goes right on pass-run option & is nailed by CampFun (Phil Woodring) for no gain. Cavender up middle for 1...Drones & Larson tackled. Apisa at right guard, down by Johnston & Phillips for 1. 4th & 3, Raye slips down for loss of 2...that funky grass slips both ways! We run out the clock & it's 7-10 at half. McVea has 125 yds on 7 carries at the HALF!

Second half is all Cougar. They did get one pick off Woody but the D holds. On 2d & 11 from the 23, Woody connects with Hebert for 77yd & TD (7-17). Punts are exchanged. MSU mounts a last gasp, driving from their 31 to UH 8 when Brezina & Johnston stop 'em for losses. Then CampFun again steps up & sacks Raye for 18yd loss. We take over on our 11. McVea for 14, barely getting tripped. Then Woodall to Don Bean for 76yd TD & 24-7, early in 4th quarter. After some great defense, Mike Johnston, aka Crunchy, picks Raye returning to the MSU 27. Bailey gets sacked for 10, we get a motion penalty setting up 2d & 25. Hebert takes a short pass from Bailey to the 10, after which Bailey scores on two (2) QB sneaks of 8 & 2 yards {at this point you might ponder on who does a fair share of blocking on QB Sneaks) for score of 31-7. Mickey Herskowitz would later state that this TD was the most shocking to the MSU folks...they never dreamed we could score from that close in!

They tried to throw for some cosmetic points but it was long decided by now. Mike Simpson picked one of these desperate aerials for 41 yards for the final score (EP was blocked...IT WAS NOT A BAD SNAP!!!) of 37-7. There was still 10:56 to play. Things got a little ugly later...the might Spartans weren't used to having to play against the ERW's (the Eat, Ride & Warm-up squad). One of my most vivid memories is of being able to hear paper being blown across the field & how that contrasted to the deafening roar at the beginning of the game.

On arrival home that night, we, or at least I, received the biggest thrill I ever had in sports! Upon landing at Hobby after the plane had come to a stop at the end of the runway, it just sat there for several minutes, then taxied a little ways & stopped, then taxied again a short distance & stopped. Some of us that were conscious were beginning to wonder what the problem was. After several more minutes the pilot came on, stating that there was some indecision as to what to do, that none of the crew or ground crew had ever encountered a problem such as this...that they could not taxi into the terminal as per usual because of the crowd in the terminal & out on the tarmack, that they were about as close as they could get safely and were still a good quarter of a mile away. We all jumped to the windows to see thousands of people waving & cheering, waiting well into the night to see US. I still get kinda choky in the throat thinking about it. What a thrill!!

This was THE game that put the Cougars on the big-time national map. We ultimately rose to #2 in the polls before a combination of factors & injuries took their toll. I once heard Bill Russell describe how the air for the big guys gets too thin for them to breathe if they dare venture too far away from the paint...maybe we just weren't ready to breathe that thin air yet.

Many things were said about Warren, about the team & the game, most of which are in Wizig's book but three of them i wish to repeat (even though this story has probably put most of y'all to sleep by now). One was from SI's Dan Jenkins: "A run by Wondrous Warren seems to last 6 or 7 minutes." Very true! The guy was so great he could make a 3-yard run exciting...and a 3 yard run might last several minutes! Second: Paul Gipson only rushed for 65 yards on 17 carries & caught 1 pass of 12 yards but he led the team by sending 3 Spartans off the field. Third was from Wells Twombly who wrote for the old Chronicle: "What made it so sweet was the way in which the school's alumni came out of hiding. On the Monday after Michigan State's bloody carcass was discovered prone on the turf, downtown Houston looked like the British Army at Saratoga. Red coats were everywhere. People who used to let the impression get around that they really gone to Rice or UT or A&M dropped their masks." We need another game to bring hidden Cougars out of their dens & wear red with pride. It might just happen in Austin this year!!!


Prowler


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