Two West Coast powers, two important Dixie destinations. Before a landmark USC victory at Alabama that night, a Stanford effort against Arkansas on this date in 1970 vaulted the Rose Bowl-minded Indians into a seat at college football's head table.
Linebacker Mike Simone stopped Razorback quarter Bill Montgomery on a late 4th-and-goal as No. 10 Stanford opened their march to Pasadena with a 34-28 victory at fourth-ranked Arkansas to begin the 1970 season. The Indians held on after staking leads of 27-0 and 34-14.
Racial equality scored a direct hit over the Jim Crow South later that evening. Tailback Sam Cunningham scored four touchdowns just miles from where some of the Civil Rights Movement's ugliest scenes took place. The Trojans silenced the Stars-and-Bars wavers in a 42-21 win at Birmingham's Legion Field.
A Latino quarterback and an African-American tailback were two of Stanford's biggest contributors, but muggy Little Rock – where temperatures on the plastic grass rose above 100 degrees – was a much more gracious host for the Indians.
The War Memorial Stadium crowd cheered after the Stanford Band, wearing swim trunks, performed a Beach Boys-themed halftime show. Drum major Geordie Lawry donned full scuba gear. Bandsmen took the field barefoot, lined up in formation and then removed their trousers to reveal their surf shorts.
"The Stanford Band was the winner, hands down," wrote an Arkansas Democrat editorial the following day.
The win's significance, speaking in a purely gridiron measures, was of Pet Sounds importance. The Tribe traveled almost 2,000 miles, to take on a winner of 19 of previous 22 games, who vied for the national title the prior year, and won – on national television no less.
Stanford replaced the Razorbacks as the country's fourth-ranked team when the Associated Press writers released their next poll. The lofty company featured idle No. 1 and defending Rose Bowl champ Ohio State. Defending national champ and second-ranked Texas stood in front of the No. 3 Trojans.
The game was among the most anticipated of college football's opening weekend. On ABC's last visit to Little Rock, history unfolded. Memories of their second-ranked unbeaten side's 15-14 home loss to No. 1 Texas – with President Nixon in attendance -- to end the 1969 regular season still lingered for Razborback fans. Coming off a loss to Archie Manning-led Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl, the prized Hogs itched for redemption.
As did their opponents. All four of the Pac-8 conference's California squads spent time ranked in 1969, but the league was sanctioned to send only its champion to the postseason (which featured 11 bowl games). A heartbreaking loss to their hated rival – USC's last-second field was the difference in both a 26-24 decision and the conference standings – ruined college football's centennial season for Stanford (7-2-1, 5-1-1).
With Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson calling the action from the booth, the Indians turned inspiration into results. Jim Plunkett – who threw for 34 touchdowns and over 4,800 yards the previous two seasons – perfectly executed Stanford's short passing game. Tailback Jackie Brown snagged 11 passes for 130 yards.
Fullback Hillary Shockley scored three touchdowns among his 23 carries for 117 yards. His two short plunges combined with a Plunkett 17-yard bullet to Jack Lasater and a 61-yard punt return for touchdown by Eric Cross to make things 27-0. A missed PAT was the only blemish.
Back came the Razorbacks, led by the passing of Montgomery and the running of Bill Burnett. Arkansas came within 27-14 by halftime. Shockley's last touchdown capped an 86-yard drive, but Stanford's 34-14 third-quarter lead would only shrink.
The Hogs intercepted Plunkett three times. They nearly stole the game itself. On the fateful final drive, Montgomery vied for the goal line on 3rd-and-goal, only to be corralled by Jeff Siemon. Arkansas dug in from the 4-yard-line, looking for its third touchdown of the afternoon on a fourth down. In swooped Simone, and Stanford could finally exhale.
At the height of anti-Vietnam War movement, certain goings-on courtesy of Stanford's football player-heavy Delta Tau Delta fraternity house were downright goonish.
The Delts once tracked down student body president David Harris – he of future Rolling Stone-editing and Joan Baez-marrying fame – and shaved the avowed peacenik's head. Neighbors were prone to hearing the boys scream "Rose Bowl! Rose Bowl! Rose Bowl!" as they butted bloody foreheads.
Add another historic footnote to Stanford football in 1970, the year it reached the elusive Rose Bowl and Plunkett captured the Heisman Trophy. The Arkansas victory made for a 3-0 start and a No. 3 national ranking by the end of September.
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