A National Championship That Changed College Football
By Kevin Trainor
Members of the University of Arkansas 1964 football team return to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium Saturday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the school’s only football national championship. The way that season ended changed how college football champions are decided and ironically cost Arkansas a second national title the following season. It is appropriate that a half century later, the sport is at the dawn of a significant change in determining the best team in the country.
Come January 2015, the newly formulated College Football Playoff crowns a national champion. The four-team bracket is designed to settle the arguments of various teams staking claim to the right to play for the title. Coincidentally, University of Arkansas Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Jeff Long is the chairman of the inaugural College Football Playoff committee.
"Arkansas skyrocketed in the polls and now a national championship was in reach. The Razorback defense made sure it would not slip out of its grips.”
But in 1964, the national championship was historic not so much for who won, but for when the title was awarded. Before the 1964 national championship debate could begin, though, the Razorbacks had plenty of work to do. The Razorbacks were coming off a disappointing 5-5 season for legendary Coach Frank Broyles, a season that was most known for the 27-20 season-ending win over Texas Tech in Fayetteville just a day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
A seemingly hollow victory in the face of national mourning served as the first of a remarkable 22 straight victories for the Razorbacks. It was a streak that would not only result in an undefeated season and national title, but also define the University of Arkansas as one of the dominant programs of the 1960s.
Shortly after the 1963 season, the 1964 seniors gathered to discuss the future. They knew they had the talent to win and so they dedicated themselves to doing whatever it required to earn success on the field. Their decision shaped the course of Razorback Football history.
The 1964 season certainly didn’t open with the dominance that Arkansas wanted. The Razorbacks opened in Little Rock against neighboring rival Oklahoma State. Arkansas racked up 235 yards rushing including touchdown runs from Jim Lindsey and Bobby Burnett to secure a 14-10 victory. In game two, Arkansas fell behind Tulsa 14-0, before rallying for 31 straight points to earn a 31-22 win in Fayetteville.
The stifling Razorback defense, a hallmark of the 1964 team, began to show its mettle in games three and four. Arkansas defensive back Bill Gray snared two of the Razorbacks’ six interceptions to easily dispatch TCU 29-6 in Fort Worth. The next week it was a combination of three interceptions and two fumble recoveries that enabled the Razorbacks to bypass the Baylor Bears 17-6, setting up an undefeated showdown with arch rival Texas.
No. 8 Arkansas took its 4-0 record to Austin to battle the No. 1 Texas Longhorns. Arkansas returner Ken Hatfield provided the first spark racing 81 yards after a Longhorns’ punt to provide the first touchdown of the game in the second quarter. After the Longhorns tied the game early in the fourth quarter, Razorback quarterback Fred Marshall found Bobby Crockett on a pass for 34 yards and a score to make it 14-7 Arkansas. But the Longhorns were not done and with 1:27 to play Ernie Koy plowed in from one yard to make it a one-point game. Texas coach Darrell Royal gambled and decided to go for two points and the probable win. But once again, the Razorback defense came up big stopping the two-point pass preserving the 14-13 win. Razorback All-American Ronnie Caveness made 25 tackles in the victory.
Tim Cohane of Look magazine, presents the Grantland Rice Trophy to coach Frank Broyles, middle, and President David Mullins on Feb. 5, 1965, which was proclaimed National Championship Day.
Arkansas skyrocketed in the polls and now a national championship was in reach. The Razorback defense made sure it would not slip out of its grips. The Razorbacks followed the Texas win with identical 17-0 shutout wins over Wichita State and Texas A&M. Arkansas blanked Rice 21-0 before downing SMU 44-0.
In the season finale at Texas Tech, Arkansas was looking for an undefeated regular season and a fifth straight shutout. The Red Raiders threatened both, but when defensive end Bobby Roper blocked, not one, but two, field goal attempts and recovered a fumble, the Razorbacks had their 10-0 regular season record and their shutout streak intact.
Despite, the undefeated season and a win over then No. 1 Texas, Arkansas was not named national champion by several well-known outlets. In 1964, seven different entities named a mythical national champion. The two most notable polls to fans at the time — The Associated Press and the United Press International — did not wait until after the bowl games to award their champion. Because of that, Alabama was named the national champ by the AP, UPI and Litkenhous groups.
So when Arkansas faced Nebraska in the 1965 Cotton Bowl, all that was apparently at stake was a perfect 11-0 season and a Cotton Bowl championship. The Razorbacks jumped to a 3-0 first quarter lead, but Nebraska responded with a touchdown in the second quarter, breaking Arkansas’ five-game shutout streak. The score remained the same until the fourth quarter, when Arkansas mounted an 80-yard drive that culminated with Bobby Burnett’s three-yard touchdown run. The extra point gave the Razorbacks the 10-7 victory and an unblemished record.
Later that night, the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide lost, 21-17, to Texas in the Orange Bowl and finished the season 10-1. Arkansas remained the only undefeated team in the country at 11-0 with its victory over Nebraska. Two groups who waited until after the bowl games to name their champion — The Football Writers Association of America and the Helms Athletic Foundation — named Frank Broyles’ Razorbacks as national champs. Notre Dame and Michigan also were honored by lesser known polls.
Based on the clear inequity of the poll system, both the AP (1965) and UPI (1974) eventually changed their procedure, choosing to wait until after the bowls to announce their final polls.
Ironically, it was the change in the AP poll in 1965 that cost the Razorbacks a potential second national title. Arkansas finished the 1965 regular season undefeated at 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. But the Razorbacks fell to LSU on the same Cotton Bowl field that had delivered the unexpected national crown the year before.
So when this group of remarkable Razorbacks takes a bow in front of an adoring crowd of more than 70,000 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, it will be a fitting 50th anniversary celebration of a deserved national title. It will also be a reminder of the integral part the 1964 Razorbacks played in changing the national championship landscape of college football forever.Published Oct. 5, 2014
Arkansas 14, Oklahoma State 10
Sept. 19, 1964 • Little Rock
- The Hogs earned 235 yards rushing including touchdown runs by Jim Lindsey and Bobby Burnett.
- Arkansas staged a 64-yard game-winning drive in the third quarter to secure the victory.
Arkansas 31, Tulsa 22
Sept. 26, 1964 • Fayetteville
- Arkansas scored 31 straight points after trailing 14-0 midway through the first quarter.
- UA All-American linebacker Ronnie Caveness returned an interception for a touchdown and recovered a fumble in the win.
Arkansas 29, TCU 6
Oct. 3, 1964 • Fort Worth, Texas
- The Razorbacks intercepted TCU six times in the victory including two thefts by defensive halfback Bill Gray.
- UA quarterback Fred Marshall threw for 157 yards and scored a touchdown rushing.
Arkansas 17, Baylor 6
Oct. 10, 1964 • Little Rock
- Arkansas racked up 342 yards of total offense.
- The Hogs collected six Baylor turnovers including three interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
Arkansas 14, Texas 13
Oct. 17, 1964 • Austin, Texas
- Ken Hatfield’s 81-yard punt return for a touchdown set the tone for the UA victory.
- UA linebacker Ronnie Caveness tallied 25 tackles against the Longhorns.
Arkansas 17, Wichita State 0
Oct. 24, 1964 • Little Rock
- Arkansas blanked the Shockers in the first of its school record tying five straight shutouts.
- Quarterback Fred Marshall ran for a score and passed to Jim Lindsey for another in the victory.
Arkansas 17, Texas A&M 0
Oct. 31, 1964 • College Station, Texas
- The UA defense limited Texas A&M to seven yards rushing in the final 30 minutes of the game.
- UA offensive halfback Jack Brasuell scored twice on the ground in the win over the Aggies.
Arkansas 21, Rice 0 | Nov. 7, 1964 • Fayetteville
- Rice snapped the ball in UA territory on only one play the entire game.
- Harry Jones returned an Owls’ errant pass for a 35-yard touchdown.
Arkansas 44, SMU 0
Nov. 14, 1964 • Fayetteville
- Arkansas racked up 340 yards in total offense.
- Ken Hatfield essentially cemented his national punt return crown by returning a punt 78 yards for a touchdown against the Ponies.
Arkansas 17, Texas Tech 0 | Nov. 21, 1964 • Lubbock, Texas
- The Razorbacks tied a school record with their fifth straight shutout.
- Bobby Roper blocked two Texas Tech field goal attempts and recovered a fumble in the regular season finale against the Red Raiders.
Arkansas 10, Nebraska 7
January 1, 1965 • Cotton Bowl • Dallas, Texas
- The Hogs’ victory coupled with a loss by Alabama in the Orange Bowl established Arkansas as the only undefeated team in the nation. Both The Football Writers Association of America and the Helms Athletic Foundation voted Arkansas the 1964 national champion.
- Arkansas trailed 7-3 before mounting an 80-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter to secure the win and the national crown.
A Few Notable 1964 Team Members
For more than five decades, Broyles helped shape intercollegiate athletics as a legendary coach, nationally respected administrator and a tireless goodwill ambassador for his university and state. In his 19-year stint as Arkansas' head coach, the Razorbacks posted a record of 144-58-5, captured seven SWC championships, one national championship and earned 10 bowl berths. His legacy of mentoring more than 40 eventual head coaches is celebrated annually with the presentation of the Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant football coach.
A key component of the Hogs’ national championship squad, Hatfield led the nation in punt returns in 1964 and also played as a defensive back. He returned to the UA program as a head coach and led the Razorbacks to a 55-17-1 record from 1984 to 1989. He has also served as the head football coach at the Air Force Academy, Clemson University and Rice University.
One of three coaches to win both a college football national championship and a Super Bowl title, Johnson capped his collegiate playing career as a guard on the Razorbacks’ national championship squad. Johnson was the head football coach at Oklahoma State before guiding the Miami Hurricanes to a national crown. He then led the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl crowns before taking over the reins of the Miami Dolphins.
A guard on Arkansas’ national championship team, Jones has continued his tradition of excellence as the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. Jones has helped guide the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles. His substantial contributions to Razorback athletics include a gift that enabled the construction of the U of A football museum in the Broyles Center that bears his name along with fellow U of A teammate Jim Lindsey.
A sophomore wingback on the 1964 squad, Lindsey is still making contributions to the Razorback program. A highly successful realtor in Arkansas, Lindsey recently serving on the UA Board of Trustees. His countless contributions to the Razorbacks, including support for a new football museum, are quickly evident to all as fans enter the Jerry Jones and Jim Lindsey Hall of Champions housed in the Broyles Center.
The Hogs’ defensive backs coach in 1964, Majors went on to a distinguished college coaching career at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Tennessee. Majors won a national championship at Pitt in 1976 before winning three Southeastern Conference titles with the Volunteers. He then returned to Pittsburgh to finish his head coaching career and is a member of the College of Football Hall of Fame.
One of two U of A players to win the Outland Trophy, Phillips went on to a professional football career with George Halas and the Chicago Bears after playing tackle for the Razorbacks. Phillips was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1992. He currently is serving as a vice principal at Springdale High School in Northwest Arkansas.
The second of three coaches to win both a college football national championship and a Super Bowl title, Switzer’s glory days came as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. A three-year U of A football letterman in the late 1950s, Switzer returned as an assistant coach of offensive ends on Broyles’ staff in 1964. A College Football Hall of Famer, Switzer earned three national championships at Oklahoma before winning a Super Bowl title as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.