The nation's climactic week of football started on the Saturday before New Year's Day in the Gator Bowl, and the keynote of this battering, old-fashioned football game between Tennessee and Texas A&M was defense. The Volunteers were a little deeper and, by the fourth quarter, the Aggies sagged enough to allow a game-deciding field goal and a 0-3 defeat. The Vols had the best running back in Bobby Gordon but A&M's Heisman Award winner, John Crow, contributed some of the most violent tackling in bowl history. Twice he sent Gordon reeling in a daze after head-on impact. But Sam Burklow, an extra-point specialist, provided the only score, a 7-yard field goal worth victory.
The New Year's Day festivities started in the Orange Bowl, where Oklahoma demonstrated the advantages of alertness by a score of 48-21. The Sooners, who react to a loose football the way a cat reacts to a mouse, took advantage of numerous Duke errors with quick-scoring plays. "These Oklahoma guys can change from defense to offense in a split second," said Herman Hickman. "On an interception, the blockers are out in front of the ball carrier in two steps." This may not have been one of the great Oklahoma teams, but it left the impression that it offers a sound base for future great ones.
In the Sugar Bowl it was the speed and power and savvy of Mississippi against a University of Texas team which lacked all three. The result was the most overwhelming of all bowl victories as Ole Miss prevailed 39-7. Two fine quarterbacks—Bobby Franklin and Ray Brown—operated the nation's best ground attack methodically against an enthusiastic but clumsy Texas defense. Brown, who played magnificently all day, added spectacular insult to grievous injury late in the game: intending to punt from his own end zone, he changed his mind and ran more than the length of the field for a touchdown, escorted most of the way by half the Ole Miss team.
Precision was the name for Navy in the Cotton Bowl as the Middies controlled the game all afternoon to beat Rice 20-7. A little, black-haired Irishman named Tom Forrestal maintained a calm, taut and often brilliant command of the shipshape Navy team, and Rice never had a chance. Said Navy Coach Eddie Erdelatz: "Everything worked, nothing backfired." Most of the nation's TV fans, who spent the day switching from channel to channel to see all the games, seemed to agree that Navy looked like the best of all the bowl teams. Forrestal, mixing passes to Fullback Ray Wellborn and End Pete Jokanovich with a beautifully precise running attack, kept Rice's defense off balance.
Blustering, burly Ohio State used brute force to overcome a fleet, imaginative Oregon team 10-7.