Bridges: Seeds for Cowboys' greatness were planted decades earlier
Texas has long been a football state. One of the most successful Texas football dynasties, the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, stems from three players for the University of Arkansas and their 1964 championship season: Jerry Jones, Barry Switzer, and Jimmy Johnson.
For the Arkansas Razorbacks, the 1963 season had been a disappointment, with the team ending with a lackluster 5-5 record. Afterward, coach Frank Broyles and the team began plotting a comeback for next season, and the team promised — and delivered —what would be an unforgettable year. This would include Switzer as assistant coach, Jones as an offensive lineman and team co-captain, and Johnson as a defensive lineman.
As fall 1964 approached, the Associated Press writer’s poll offered little respect for the new Razorbacks squad. The University of Mississippi was ranked first, followed by Oklahoma State University. Arkansas was ranked eighth.
The Razorbacks won the first game in September against Oklahoma State, 14-10. The next week, the Razorbacks rallied from a 14-0 deficit to overtake the University of Tulsa. Arkansas would net six interceptions against Texas Christian and force six turnovers from Baylor in their next two wins. By the fourth week of the season, the team was only ranked ninth nationally in spite of a perfect record. But a hard-fought 14-13 win over the University of Texas the next week, which included a stunning 81-yard punt return touchdown by Ken Hatfield, catapulted the team to fourth in the AP poll.
The Razorbacks would shut out their opponents in the next five games, sending them into the bowl season ranked second in the nation. The defense was unstoppable, allowing the fewest points of any team and keeping their opponents to only 180 yards per game. Hatfield, a future Razorbacks coach, boasted 518 yards for punt returns, the best in the country. Linebacker Ronnie Caveness would be named to the All-American team.
On January 1, 1965, Arkansas met the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. After a Razorbacks field goal in the first quarter, the Cornhuskers took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter and hold it into the fourth quarter. With only minutes left, Quarterback Frank Marshall pushed the Razorbacks 80 yards downfield. Bobby Burnett then plowed through the Cornhuskers defense for the last three yards needed for the touchdown. Arkansas held on and won, 10-7.
AP writers, however, were unimpressed. Instead of the undefeated Cotton Bowl champions, the national championship was awarded by sportswriters to the University of Alabama, who would lose the Orange Bowl to the Texas Longhorns. Others, however, named Arkansas the national champions, and the Helms Athletic Foundation, known for selecting the All-American Teams, awarded Arkansas its Grantland Rice Trophy as the nation’s top squad. The Football Writers Association of America also named the Razorbacks the top team of 1964.
The 1964 season was part of an incredible 22-game winning streak by the Razorbacks. The 1965 squad nearly repeated the 1964 season with a perfect 10-0 regular season, narrowly losing to Louisiana State in the 1966 Cotton Bowl.
In the 1960s, no national championship game existed. Reporters carried a lot of weight with their choices of teams based on their votes in Associated Press and United Press International polls. Because of the embarrassment of writers trying to name the Crimson Tide the champions in spite of their loss, future polls would not name a national winner until after the bowl games had been played. Johnson and Switzer would go on to coach at several universities before coming to the Cowboys. Jones would earn millions with several successful business ventures before buying the Cowboys in 1989.
The legendary 1964 season would leave a lasting legacy in football. Coach Broyles would win two more bowl games until he stepped down as head coach in 1976. The 1964 team produced the two NFL coaches who would go on to lead teams to three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s, Johnson winning in 1993 and 1994 and Switzer in 1996.
Ken Bridges is a writer, historian and native Texan. He holds a doctorate from the University of North Texas. Bridges can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.