In all sports, the first game of each season holds both great optimism and great anticipation. Any prior years' flaws of our favorite teams seem to fade quickly with the hope of the new season, as we tend to focus only upon the prior years' moments that give us hope for greater glory in the year to come. I see it as a bit like the golfer who hangs on only to the memory of the one great shot executed of a round that keeps him coming back for more.
But this is football season...and it is here (finally). And in the spirit of looking back before looking ahead, this post is meant to create a Baylor-ized look at the history of those games that have begun each football home schedule since 1950. And, perhaps also as a way to get a bit in more touch with our green and gold football heritage as our August 31st date with SMU draws near.
In all honesty, prior to researching and compiled data for the 64 years of opening games I looked into- my original intent was to simply identify the most memorable and or notorious home openers in "modern" Baylor football history. But as oft these things go--seeing the details expands the vision. For that reason, the scope of the post has expanded to include anecdotes of information to add a little flavor to what would otherwise would be mere numbers.
The first thing I had to do was to pare down the scope of my research and choose what I thought would be meaningful timeframe that most every ODBer could identify with. But, to also go back far enough to perhaps add a bit of context for what Baylor football has been and in part why it is where it is today. For that reason, I confined the scope of my effort to that period of Baylor football history that began in 1950.
Why 1950?-you might ask. For me...1950 began the modern era of college football. And I believe it to be so because that began a period when the game was first being influenced by the passing game being developed in the professional leagues (National and All-American Football Leagues) of the time. Those pro teams were beginning to utilize the forward pass effectively and employ it as an integral part of the game. Paul Brown's Cleveland Browns, with their record setting QB Otto Graham, were the first to really let it air out. The Browns weren't alone, as the Detroit Lions with former Longhorn QB Bobby Layne, the St. Louis Rams' QB Bob Waterfield, and of course the great Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts were today's football's pass happy roots. Those offenses begat college coaches' intrigue with the forward pass, and it was then and there we finally began to see more passing gradually make its way into the college game and not be considered a form of gridiron trickery.
Thus, the evolution of the passing game through the decades opened up an entirely new dimension to what had previously been a style of football that viewed like a bad prequel to the movie "300". Fast forward, and we now live in a time of campus QB heroes, adding mystic that has made the game far more compelling as a spectator sport...even for the ladies. Oh the joy of passing!!
So, it is in 1950--where we begin.
An Overview--Baylor's performance in Football Home Openers since 1950:
Question: What do NFL Hall of Famers, Floyd Little, Larry Csonka, Steve Young, as well as New York Giants HC Tom Coughlin and ESPN NFL Analyst Trent Dilfer have in common?
Answer: They all played college football against Baylor in a home opener--and LOST!
As I explored the topic, I found it extremely interesting that Baylor has performed so dominantly in the first games of each season. Since 1950, Baylor has won-loss record of 46 - 18 in all of those home openers. That folks is a 71% winning percentage over 64 years...not too shabby for "scrubby lil' Baylor". In no decade since 1950 has Baylor ever had a losing record,..not even in the 2000's!! In fact, the more I dug...the more I realized that there is much to be proud of in each decade of performance within those season openers.
To lay this out, below I offer a semblance of a historical timeline of selected Baylor home openers of significance over the decades, having added a few related season highlights. As you will see and hopefully enjoy, more often than not--the opening game set the tone for some of our best seasons. At the end of this post, I will share what I consider as being Baylor's Top 3 home opening games since 1950. If you beg to differ--by all means share your thoughts in the comments.
By decade then, some of the notable opening performances in Baylor football history:
Baylor Home Openers--the 1950's (9-1)
This was a tremendous decade for Baylor football. Though predating my existence for the most part (I was born in 1957) many significant moments for Baylor fans of the modern era were played then:
1951 - Baylor beats #12 Arkansas in home opener 9-7, held on October 13th.
Yes, that's right, October 13! Can you imagine if that was the opening date this year?? Back in the day however, it wasn't unusual for seasons to begin so late and only as the cooler weather set in. Not until the late 80s were college games played on or before Labor Day weekend. Some of us remember those days-and I still tend to like the thought of watching a game in the cooler days of Fall, than the broiler that is the latter stage of August. Led by Baylor legend Larry Isbell (7th in Heisman voting), Baylor's '51 home opening victory was a good sign for that team--they went 8-2-1 and played #6 Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
1953 - Baylor again opens the season by beating Arkansas 14-7 led by L.G "Long Gone" Dupre. The '53 team reached as high as #3 in the polls during the season, only to fade to 7-3 (no bowl). An important factoid to remember, there were less than 10 bowl games back then-so, just making a bowl game was a true honor for the invited team.
1954 - Gator Bowl bound Bears pound Houston 53 - 13 in the first game at "Baylor" Stadium (Floyd had yet to donate), losing to Auburn 7-3 in the bowl game.
This game against Houston was significant because in the prior year ('53-see above) when Baylor was ranked #3 in the polls...the week the Bears achieved that ranking they were set to play UT in Austin. Against UT, Baylor lost a hard fought game to the ‘Horns 20-21 and dropped to #6. The game that followed the disappointing UT game that next weekend was against Houston-to whom BU lost to by an ugly, 7-37. Obviously, the 1954 team remembered the drubbing Houston put on them the year before and got their revenge in the home opener of 1954.
1959 - Witnessed the only home opening loss of decade of the 50's for the Bears. Losing 23-7 to Arkansas.
Interesting to note, that year the Bears played away games against: #1 LSU, #3 Texas, and #4 Southern Cal, losing all three in very competitive games (less than one TD in two of them). Indeed, Baylor during the 50's was a tough and formidable program that if not necessarily considered elite...Baylor was a force to be reckoned with every year.
Baylor Home Openers--the 1960s (7-3)
Another very successful decade of Baylor football with four (4) bowl appearances.
The 60s were a very strong decade in Baylor football. Due to a minimal number, bowl games then were in some respects a bit of a precursor to what might have been envisioned what a first round of an 8 game CFB playoff would look like today (team quality-wise). In that context, you might consider that the Bears in those days were competing at a level that would have them making the equivalent of an 8 team playoff four (4) different times during the 60s.
1960 - Baylor skunks Colorado 26-0, goes 8-3, losing to Florida in the Gator Bowl (10 game regular seasons back then)
1963 - BU thrashes Houston 27-0 in the season opener, and proved to be a great team throughout a season that eventually found them to be victorious against perennial power LSU in the Bluebonnet Bowl 13-7.
During the 1963 season a historic loss occurred, 7-0 to #1 and eventual National Champion Texas (in Waco). Baylor that year had a very strong team led by Don Truell and Lawrence Elkins. The Heisman candidate Truell and, the All-American receiver Elkins, were a gifted combination and gave every team fits--except the Horns that day, getting shutout of the end zone. I watched the Texas game on TV (was 7 years old) and that was a truly huge game at the time and given that only one college game broadcast nationally each week in those days. Don Truell was eventually a #1 draft pick of the Houston Oilers of the then AFL.
1966 -- Baylor hosts #7 Syracuse in nationally televised game-QB Terry Southhall led a dominating Baylor performance against the Orange 35-12. Syracuse was considered a national power in those days-fielding all-time great teams with stars like Jim Brown and Heisman winner Ernie Davis that just preceded the one to play the Bears in Waco that year.
Indeed, the '66 Bears faced another of the line of powerhouse Syracuse teams that day. The Orange were led by future NFL Hall of Fame players, tailback Floyd Little (Denver Broncos) and Larry Csonka. Csonka (or Zonk--as he was called) was a 250lb fullback that became the heart of the great undefeated Miami Dolphin Super Bowl Champions--(what a backfield!!). And another Orangemen running back of some renown was on that same Syracuse team--Tom Coughlin. Yes, the same Tom Coughlin you now know as the current head coach of the NY Giants.
1968 -- Baylor beats A&M in home opener 10-9 on...October 26th-the game that was played on the latest date a home opening game has been scheduled since 1950. It was a game for many reasons I believe to be considered one of the greatest Baylor victories in an opening season game--despite the Bears having a losing record for the season. First off-it was the Aggies and they were the defending SWC champs.
Two, whomever the Baylor AD was at the time-was fired at the end of the year, and deservedly so. The reason? The '68 Bears had the 9th toughest schedule (by opponent) that year and began their schedule by facing four (4) very distant and extremely difficult road games prior to the home opener. The road opponents to start that season included: at #10 LSU, at #15 Indiana, at Michigan State, and at #14 Arkansas...that must have been exhausting much less ridiculous for the team to handle. Travel back then, though not exactly the dark ages, wasn't as easy as it is today. And heck, the only unranked opponent (MSU) of the four was a team that had won the national championship just two years prior in '66--and they weren't exactly stiffs. I salute the '68 team even though Baylor lost all four of those games. Because, led by QB Steve Stuart and RB Pinkie Palmer, the team rebounded nicely by coming back for their first home game in late October to turn it around by beating the defending SWC champion Aggies...well deserved and tremendous win in the midst of what had to be considerable adversity.
1969 -- Lost to Kansas State 45-15 to open the season--a bad omen...Bears go 0-10 in 1969.
Baylor Home Openers--the 1970's (6-4)
The decade that saw the Bears first conference championship in 50 years, and the beginning of the Grant Teaff era.
1974 - The championship year--Baylor opens by beating #12 ranked Oklahoma State 31-14 in home opener.
Ultimately, the '74 team played 6 top 20 ranked teams that year, going 4-2 in those games. The losses were to #1 OU, and then #20 Penn State in the Cotton Bowl. Baylor also beat Florida State in Tallahassee that year 21-17.
1975 - The Bears beat Ole Miss 20-10 in the home opener. I list this game for sentimental reasons. It was for me my first game as a Baylor Freshman and of course the first in which I ran with "the Line". And, as it turns out, the opponent was somewhat ironic as well, due to my future wife being an Ole Miss alum (and no, I didn't meet her at the game).
That year Baylor also played Auburn and Michigan (at Michigan)--tying both games, with the Bears missing a chip shot field goal at Ann Arbor that would have won the game as time ran out. So, starting week 4 Baylor had the very odd 1-0-2 record. It was a very solid team that deserved better than the 3-6-2 record implied-extremely hard hitting secondary with All-American and future Chief's All Pro Gary Green at corner and All-Conference safety Ronald Burns.
1977 - Baylor starts the season by beating a Kentucky team 21-6--that went on to be undefeated in SEC play. The Wildcats finished 9-1 that year but were on probation (meaning bowl ineligible for the Wildcats).
Even today, Wildcat fans consider that UK team to be the best Kentucky team since 1970. However, a freshman stood in their way that day in Waco--Baylor linebacker named Mike Singletary had a breakout game--blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown along with many tackles.
Baylor Home Openers--the 1980's (8-2)
The heart of the Grant Teaff's years,
1980 - In what would be a championship season, fans watched the Bears beat West Texas State (now A&M) 43-15 to start their home schedule.
It was obvious to everyone who watched Baylor's run oriented "veer" attack that night (led by Walter Abercrombie and Dennis Gentry)--the Bears would be a force that year. In those days, a 40 point performance was a real accomplishment even against a lower quality opponent...and the run oriented Bears dominated the game as they did the season...winning the SWC by a record 3 games--going 10-2, including a loss to Bear Bryant and ‘Bama in the Cotton Bowl.
1983 - Baylor starts the season in a wild one and a win against BYU. The Cougar's All-American and future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young (40-36) showed his greatness that night. However, Baylor led by Tom Mueke, stage a breathtaking late drive with Alfred Anderson and Gerald "the Ice Cube" McNeil running and receiving to hand the Cougars their only loss of the season. Here is the link to the youtube video of the winning drive beginning with a nice kickoff return by Gerald McNeil: hhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Od6zmdp4VQ
Indeed it was one of the most exciting games in Baylor football history, the score defined precisely how exciting the game was--as it was back and forth matching scores all night. The Bears backfield was one of their most talented ever. The quarterbacks (Mueke and Carlson) alternated series using Bo Taylor and Gerald McNeil as primary receivers. On the ground they were led by tailback Alfred Anderson, fullback Allen Rice, and tough running Broderick Sargent. The O-line and that backfield eventually broke the will of the BYU run defense. Anderson and Rice were later to combine to form a potent NFL running tandem as starters for the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears however eventually lose to Oklahoma State and Jimmy Johnson in Bluebonnet Bowl which capped an offense filled and entertaining season.
1985 - Baylor's home opener was a 39-18 win over Wyoming that began a two year run of several victories over high profile and ranked opponents. That year the Bears would be led by two highly rated young quarterbacks who shared duties during the season...Tom Mueke and Cody Carlson. The team would go on to beat #3 Southern Cal in LA and co-SEC champ LSU in the Liberty Bowl (21-7), finishing what turned out to be a disappointing 9-3 overall season. Unfortunately, the magnificence of the Bears win over USC was overshadowed in the media by the breaking news back in Texas, that TCU was caught to be in severe violation of NCAA rules...paying their star running back Kenneth Davis (and others) a reported $65,000 per year. Just the same, memories of Baylor's wins over USC and LSU that year made the 1985 season one of the all-time highlight seasons for Baylor fans.
See highlights of Baylor's victory over Southern Cal (address): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwpwBcPaaxE and a great story of the BU players' team skit at the Liberty Bowl luncheon as told by Grant Teaff...you gotta see this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2RGfAzpH7w
1986 - Baylor beat Louisiana Tech 39-18 in home opener in a game that ushered in another very good season for the Bears. With one of the greatest defenses in Baylor history, the '86 Bears went on the play Colorado in the Bluebonnet Bowl, winning 21-7 and capping a 9-3 year. That team was led by All SWC and future NFLer Ray Berry and the inaugural 1986 Jim Thorpe Award winner Thomas Everett.
Baylor Home Openers--the 1990's (6-4)
1991 - Beating UTEP 27-7 to start the season, the Baylor team led by defensive stars Santana Dotson, Marcus Lowe as well as QB J.J. Joe, would eventually go bowling in the Copper Bowl against Indiana. 1991 was highlighted by perhaps the greatest non-conference road victory of the modern era as Baylor upset of the defending national champion Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder...snapping the Buffaloes 20 game undefeated streak. Joe was the star of that game hitting Melvin Bonner on a bomb against single coverage.
1992 - Grant Teaff's last season as Head Coach gets off to a terrible start, losing 9-10 in the home opener against Louisiana Tech. But, the Bears straighten things out as J.J. Joe leads Baylor to Sun Bowl, beating Arizona and their "Desert Swarm" defense, 20-15. In harsh windblown weather, a critical 3rd down pass very late in the game from Joe to Melvin Bonner...sealed the bowl game victory.
1993 - Baylor gets started at home with perhaps the most underrated non-conference game ever, beating Trent Dilfer's great Fresno State team 42-39. In Chuck Reedy's first game as head coach for the Bears, it was perhaps the greatest BU comeback against a non-conference opponent at Floyd Casey. That Fresno team was the then version of our Art Briles Bears. BU was down 33-14 in the first half, but with J.J. Joe, with help from Robert Strait and Marvin Callies, the Bears rallied to win. Here is a youtube address to view some extraordinary highlights of Fresno State in that game--I offer only because it is hard to believe watching them that Baylor actually won: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7txM06pt2I
1994 - Baylor wins 44-3 home opener against Lousiana Tech and earns a trip to the Alamo Bowl--losing there to Washington State 10-3. Baylor's last bowl appearance until the Briles era. Baylor's gigantic nose guard, 6'6 310lb. Daryl Gardener led a defense that dominated the trenches most of the year.
1998 - Future NFL All Pro St. Louis Rams receiver Torrey Holt and N.C. State pay a visit to Waco to open the Bears home season. As advertized, it was a wild game--Baylor wins 33-30 highlighted by one of the greatest runs in Baylor history-as executed by the great Derek Lagway--it was the top college football play for ESPN that weekend...please watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yro2ha09ZXM , and for full game highlights of this dramatic win: hhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wkeeeu8wY4M
1999 - Please note the date of this home opener: 9/11 /99...the beginning of what became the nuclear winter for Baylor football and the date of the first game of the Kevin Steele era. Baylor versus UNLV...with the Bears losing in the worst possible way ever, 27-24...as UNLV returned a 100 yard fumble recovery return for a TD on last play of game. What a way to end a decade. Fortunately, no real video apparently exists. For those who were there (author included) the memories are more than enough. And, I have only this re-creation to re-live the pain, if you dare-watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2dbzD5vJqo
Baylor Home Openers -- the 2000's (6-4)
The hardest thing to reconcile to the futility of the decade of the 2000's is Baylor's record in home openers during those years. Albeit the worst decade in the modern history of Baylor football, the Bears accumulated a 6-4 record in those games. The average score in the ten (10) games was 30-21 Baylor. Despite the repeatedly weak opening day schedule throughout, (Texas State, Rice, Samford, NW State, Sam Houston State to name some) the biggest concern in attending the first game in those years... was the firm reality that Baylor could very well lose to a really bad team. The trend didn't end immediately after TGCAB moved onto the scene late in the decade either. The Bears continued losing openers such as in '08 to Wake Forest (41-13) and UCONN (30-22) the next year. The hole was that deep, and it was THAT BAD.
This decade is an unfinished chapter...thank goodness for the warmth of hope, energy and skill that has arrived at Baylor to thaw the nuclear winter of the 00's.
The average score in the four (4) home openers from 2010-13 has been 53-19. And has included, what I consider to be the greatest home opener of all time to begin the 2011 season: Baylor 50 TCU 48.
In fact, I believe that is indisputable. The platform and recognition generated for Baylor on that singular glorious opening day, opened the door for:--the Heisman, consecutive bowl wins, a BCS appearance, 2014-Top 10 preseason ranking, a new stadium, and a sold out schedule...truly amazing. If anyone has a better opener to compare to that I direct you to the message board. I know I can't suggest another over it.
Prologue: After having reviewed and even experienced much of the past 64 years of almosts and could-have-beens...it is both exciting and even a bit chilling to me how Baylor football has transitioned and transformed in so little time. I have goose bumps when I think about that. Through all that we as Baylor fans have endured during the journey we can now turn forward and to what lies ahead. Welcome 2014! Let the games begin!!! Sic'em.
Grizzly's Top 3 Baylor Home Opening Games Since 1950:
#1 - Baylor v. TCU - 2011 ... RGIII sets stage for Heisman run against defending Rose Bowl champs.
#2 - Baylor v. BYU - 1983 ... Steve Young and 10-1 BYU end their season as the #7 ranked team in the nation, but suffer only loss at the hands of Baylor's talented backfield and receivers--for pure excitement that was it for me!
#3 - Baylor v. Fresno State - 1993...Bears overcome a top 25 Fresno State team. Fresno's All American Trent Dilfer led the Bulldogs to a 33-14 half time deficit for the Bears--incredible how quickly the Bears got down and then how equally fast they got back in the game...and eventually win.
Baylor v. A&M - 1968...after 4 grueling away games in a row against ranked opponents, the Bears take down Aggies at home. And, no-I didn't see that one, but I understand that Dave Campbell has it high on his list (good enough for me).