December 24, 2012

A look back: Purdue in the heart of Dallas

Leroy Keyes put it best. It's a big deal to play in the Cotton Bowl.

"It was one of the highlights of my career at Purdue to play in two of the major bowls in consecutive games," said the two-time All-American back. "We did that in 1967 and we won both game. You don't forget that."

Yes, back in the day when college football's "Big Four" bowl games were the Cotton, Orange, Rose and Sugar, it was significant to play in those venues. Purdue won the Rose Bowl over USC on Jan. 2, 1967 and followed that up with a trip to the Cotton Bowl on Sept. 23, 1967 when it defeated Texas A&M, 24-20.

Yet, the '67 visit to Dallas wasn't Purdue's first. Two years earlier, in the school's first appearance in the venerable venue, the Boilermakers tied SMU 14-14. That wasn't as positive an experience for Purdue as they entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country in the coaches' poll. They left Dallas with a disheartening tie.

In '65, the Boilermakers made the trek to Dallas fresh off a 25-21 upset of No. 1 Notre Dame the week before in Ross-Ade Stadium. Junior quarterback Bob Griese has one of the greatest passing games in college football history completing 19-of-22 passes for a school record 283 yards in the win.

A week later in Dallas, Griese remained hot, connecting on 18-of-24 passes for 222 yards with a touchdown and in interception.

"That was some big-time numbers in those days," Keyes, who was a freshman (rookie players were ineligible for varsity action in those days), said. "I just remember the guys were disappointed that they let that one get away.

Though the offense put up some big numbers in the opening half, the Boilermakers only had 14 points to show for it. Still, the defense was shutting out Coach Hayden Fry's Mustangs (who later coached at Iowa) at the intermission, but the tide turned in the second half. SMU, using multiple formations that began to confuse Purdue's defense, marched 89-yards in nine plays late in the third quarter to cut the margin to one score.

Purdue's offense couldn't get untracked at all in the final 30 minutes, and SMU tied the score in fourth quarter. Following a Griese fumble late in the fourth quarter, it looked like the Mustangs were going to pull off the upset, but sophomore linebacker Bob Yunaska blocked a 31-yard field goal with 38 seconds left to salvage the tie.

The tie overshadowed a record performance by receiver Bob Hadrick who shattered the Purdue standard for single-game receptions with 11 catches for 136 yards, breaking his own record by three. He also surpassed Bernie Flowers as tops in career receiving yards at the school.

Two years later, the story ended differently. In sweltering tropical conditions following Hurricane Beulah, and with a rookie quarterback at the helm, Purdue became the first Big Ten team to win in the Cotton Bowl beating Texas A&M 24-20.

Mike Phipps was the rookie quarterback, and he remembered Coach Jack Mollenkopf being worried about his sophomore starter.

"I was terrible in warm-ups," Phipps recalled. "I couldn't complete a pass to save my life, and Coach Mollenkopf went to (Coach Bob) DeMo (DeMoss) and was starting to have second thoughts about starting me.

"But I settled down and we settled down."

Phipps did throw a pick-six but he also threw for 259 yards and a touchdown as the Boilermakers survived Coach Gene Stallings Aggies. To show how much the game has changed in 45 years, Stallings lamented after the game about having his team play a nationally televised game the week before against SMU, thus allowing Purdue to scout the Aggies.

"I wish we wouldn't have done that," Stallings said after the game.

One thing that Purdue will likely experience again in 2012 as it did in 1965 and '67 in the Cotton Bowl is a small crowd. Only 17,000 saw the '65 game against SMU while 27,500 were in attendance for the Texas A&M; a crowd that was expected to be closer to 40,000 but the Hurricane caused some to have second thoughts.

In those days, the Cotton Bowl seated about 75,000. It seats 92,000 now serving as the venue for the traditional New Year's Day bowl game from 1937 to 2009.

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