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Ode to the Case - Baylor Football in the 1970's, A Legend Is Born

In the midst of unprecedented success on the football field and the imminent opening of shiny new McLane stadium, it is fitting to take a walk down memory lane to remember the good times (and some not so good times) from Baylor’s 64 years at Floyd Casey Stadium. This multi-part series looks at Baylor football through the eyes of a fan who was in the stands for the first game, the last game and all in between.

Football in the 1970s

In the Bill Beall days, you didn't have any problem getting a good seat. It was hard to watch those games to be honest.  Week after week Baylor was getting beat, sometimes bad.  Each year you would think it's going to be better, but it never happened.

Bill Beall was fired after the '71 season. He won 3 games and lost 28 in his 3 years at Baylor.  After his firing, he was never to coach again. Those three years were a complete and utter disaster.  Roger Goree was the only good thing going for Baylor in those days.  He ended up as an All American linebacker after the '72 season and played in the Canadian football league.  From an offensive perspective, Baylor was especially poor during the early 70's.  The Bear's QB, Si Southall, generally would finish each play running for his life with no protection.  Not surprisingly he was completing only 20% of his passes.  The record-setting offensive performances that Baylor fans have become accustomed to were still years away.

One really sad thing that happened during the 1971 season occurred during Baylor's 6th game of the season against TCU.  During the first half of the game there started to be a lot of activity on the TCU sideline.  We could tell something was wrong but we did not know what it was.   A few minutes later, an ambulance backed in and someone was taken out.  Not until after the game was it announced that Jim Pitmann, TCU's head coach, had suffered a heart attack during the game and died.  Baylor had a chance to win the game late but fell short, losing 34-27.  That is the only game I was glad to see Baylor lose.  Under those sad circumstances, I felt very sympathetic to TCU and didn't want them to lose their coach and the game all on the same night.

Even after that pitiful 1-9 '71 season, there was a bright light on the horizon.  After Beall's firing at the end of the season, Baylor hired Rudy Feldmann who was at the time the head coach of the New Mexico Lobos. I think Rudy was one of the best coaches Baylor has ever had primarily because his first act as head coach was to back out of the Baylor job and stay on as the coach of the Lobos.  He was Baylor's official head coach for 48 hours.  His successor?  Grant Teaff.  Thank you Rudy, Baylor will always be indebted to you.

Teaff was really an unknown when Baylor hired him.  He came to Baylor from Angelo State, a Lone Star Conference school. In '72 the Bears went  5-6 with Roger Goree leading the charge on defense and a sophomore at QB, Neal Jeffery. Things were getting exciting with high hopes for the ‘73 season, but with a final record of 2-9 the forecast was indeed gloomy.  Tickets were once again easy to come by.  Baylor had an excellent chance to win against TCU in that '73 season, but Neal Jeffery got confused on the downs and spiked the ball on fourth down.  The game was over, TCU won 34-28.  I sat there in disbelief.  I could not believe that it could have happened but it had.  Although disappointing at the time, Neal Jeffery had big moments ahead of him at Baylor that made that mistake seem pretty trivial.

On the heels of that 2-9 season, we really didn't know what to expect in '74.  Baylor opened with two straight losses, then won three, then lost to A&M 16-0.  As I was walking across the parking lot to the car I heard a young kid about 10 years old lament to his dad that after this loss, Baylor couldn't win the SWC Championship.  I thought, "you're right kid the championship is out the window".  But then Baylor went on to beat Texas in one of the greatest victories in Baylor history.  Down 24-7 at halftime, Baylor rallied to beat the Horns in the fabled "the Miracle on the Brazos".  I sat in dazed disbelief at the comeback that had unfolded before my eyes.  It was amazing.  Both coaches were extremely professional after the game with an understandably excited Grant Teaff magnanimous in victory and Darrell Royal visiting the Baylor locker room after the game to congratulate the team.

Although Baylor had lost to A&M midway through the season, SMU had beaten A&M late, which left Baylor a glimmer of hope for the Championship. The Bears still needed to win out against Tech, SMU and Rice for the championship. It came down to the last weekend of the season.  Texas played A&M and Baylor played Rice. The weather conditions at game time in Waco were miserably cold with a Blue Norther having blown in.  The wind chill was in the teens and the wind was raw and biting.  I was freezing as I watched Baylor beat Rice 24-3 in convincing fashion.  Although I didn't leave until the game was over and the victory secured, I didn't hang around very long after the final whistle.  Texas had beaten A&M the night before and the Baylor Bears were SWC champions and Cotton Bowl bound.

As I sat in the cold watching Baylor win over UT in the final game of 2013, I thought of the similarities to Baylor's 1974 season.  In 1974, Baylor lost to Texas A&M early in the season, but then beat Texas a few weeks later.  On the same day in 1974 that Baylor defeated Texas, A&M lost to SMU. Texas had two losses against Texas Tech and Baylor and that left only Baylor and A&M with one loss each.  If each won out A&M would go to the Cotton Bowl based on the head to head record against Baylor.  Just as in 2013, 1974 came down to the final weekend. On the Friday after Thanksgiving Texas and A&M were to play and on Saturday Baylor would play Rice.  A&M controlled its own destiny and with a win over Texas they would win the conference and go to the Cotton Bowl.  Baylor needed a loss by A&M and a win over Rice to win the conference.  Texas came into their game as an underdog against the #8 ranked Aggies, but went on to win by 4 touchdowns, 32-3.  That left A&M with two losses.  Baylor was then in control of its destiny heading into Saturday and with a convincing win over Rice on a bitter cold day in Waco, won the conference championship.

The replay in 2013 saw Oklahoma State inexplicably lose to West Virginia early in the season while Texas and Baylor were rolling along undefeated in conference play. Texas had pulled an upset by beating Oklahoma and giving them one loss. Then Texas lost to Oklahoma State and the following week Baylor went to Stillwater and suffered the same fate.  Now Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State all have one loss. Oklahoma is out with two losses against Baylor and Texas. It all came down to the final weekend, with the only difference being this time the games were played on the same day rather than on a Friday/Saturday.  Oklahoma State played an underdog Oklahoma in the early matchup and Baylor and Texas play the afternoon slot in Waco.  Oklahoma State, as with A&M in 1974, controls its own destiny and with a Bedlam win would be crowned Big 12 Champion.  Oklahoma won that game and put Baylor in position to defeat Texas for the out-right Big 12 Championship.  As in 1974, the weather in Waco was brutally cold and miserable for all in attendance at the game.  On that frozen afternoon in Waco, Baylor beat Texas and the Big 12 Championship, their first, belonged to Baylor.  Just like in 1974, it came down to the final week and certain things had to fall in place for Baylor to become the Champion and they did.  I'm glad that I got to sit there and witness it cold weather and all.

The '75 season opened with a victory over Ole Miss. A couple of Rebels were sitting behind me and they were getting pretty loud and obnoxious.  I had a quiet word with them and that shut them up.  Well maybe it wasn't so quiet.  I just don't know why fans from the opposing teams come and sit on the home side in the midst of so many home fans and then proceed to act like morons.

Baylor had respectable seasons in '76 and '77 but my best memory from the late ‘70's came in the final game of the '78 season against #12 Texas.  Going into that game Baylor was 2-8. Texas was already bowl bound and a big favorite.  Grant Teaff started Mickey Elam at QB who had transferred from from Texas Tech. Texas had a hot QB in Donnie Little, but they could not get anything going and used several QBs before the day was over. What a great way to end the season with a 38-14 win over Texas.  During the game it started to rain and someone suggest that we leave.  I didn't care if water ran into the tops of my boots, I wasn't leaving.

The '79 season started on a sad note, with the spinal injury to Kyle Wood. During several games buckets were passed through the crowd to collect money for Kyle. Where else but at Baylor would that happen.  Also that season, Baylor played Army at West Point in New York.  This represented a pretty unique opportunity to see the campus and a good football game so we went.  It was a beautiful autumn day, something out of a Hollywood script.  As I was getting off the tour bus some jerk was standing there and spouted off, "Hey, what's a bell-ore".  I replied that if he still didn't know by half time, to look me up.  Baylor went on to win 55-0.

The season ended well with an 8-4 Baylor team defeating Clemson in the Peach Bowl.  Baylor ended up ranked #14 at the end of the season one of the best season ending rankings ever.

Next Up:  Baylor Football in the 1980's, Another trip to the Cotton Bowl