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A Tiger recalls glory days

By Russ Sloan, BS Ed ’61, M Ed ’63

Russ Sloan

Russ Sloan was part of a Tiger football team that played Georgia in the Orange Bowl in 1959. Savitar photo.

Fifty-four years ago I received a call from the Missouri football coaches telling me I would receive a scholarship. Because Columbia was my home, it meant even more to me, perhaps, to play before my family, fans, friends and classmates.

My first instinct following the call was to find my Hickman High School coach, Bob Roark, and share the good news. When I told him about the scholarship, I eagerly awaited some kind of congratulatory response. Roark, M Ed ’50, was an outstanding coach. He thought for a moment before he responded, and his words still ring in my ears. Looking at me with those piercing eyes, he said, “Well, Russ, a certain number of players will flunk out, a certain number will get hurt, and a certain number will get discouraged and quit.” He paused and said, “You might make it!” Then he turned and walked away, leaving my ego deflated.

Freshmen were not eligible for varsity play in 1956, and between scholarship athletes and walk-ons, we probably had close to 100 freshmen that first day of practice. I was one of 17 ends, all of whom I carefully counted. Our coaches — Clay Cooper, BS Ed ’41, M Ed ’49, and John Kadlec, BS Ed ’51, M Ed ’52 — would become Tiger coaching legends.

Through the next four years, everything Coach Roark told me came to pass. Some players flunked out, some got hurt, but most got discouraged and dropped out. As seniors, there were nine of us left, and I was the only one still playing at the end position.

There is no question in my mind that our class played during Missouri football’s most historic time.

I am proud to have played with Missouri’s first black footballers, Norris Stevenson, BS Ed ’61, M Ed ’63, and Mel West, BS Ed ’61, M Ed ’69. They were superb athletes and outstanding individuals. Our class was Coach Don Faurot’s last freshman team, Frank Broyles’ only team and Dan Devine’s first two teams.

We were the first group to move from the old Rollins practice field to the current fields across from the stadium (now west of the Missouri Athletic Training Complex). Facebars and mouthpieces became mandatory during our careers. The two-point option following a touchdown was implemented in 1958. And in 1959, we beat a favored Air Force team on regional TV in Columbia — MU’s first televised victory.

That year, our Orange Bowl team (1960 Orange Bowl) statistically outplayed Georgia, but a pretty good quarterback by the name of Fran Tarkenton was largely the difference in the 14-0 loss. Even in defeat, that season set the stage for the 1960 team’s Orange Bowl victory in 1961. I believe that group is still the greatest Mizzou squad to take the field in the past 60 years.

From 1956–59, we had four Hall of Fame coaches at Missouri — Faurot, Broyles, Devine and Jerry Claiborne, who served on Coach Broyles’ staff. We were also blessed with an outstanding cadre of assistant coaches, including Al Onofrio, Doug Weaver, Harry Smith, Kadlec, Cooper, Jim McKinzie, Merrill Green, Tom Fletcher and the remarkable National Trainer Association Hall of Famer Fred Wappel.

I value my days and playing career at Mizzou more than I can say.

As each season passed from my freshman to senior year, I never forgot Coach Roark’s words, “You might make it!” They summed it all up and kept me focused.

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