For a long time Saturday afternoon Colorado was a great football team. For a little while—maybe 20 or 25 minutes—Oklahoma demonstrated how nearly perfect a college football team can be, and that was enough to beat Colorado 27-19. The game divided neatly into the two segments—a wonderful, unbelievably successful Colorado effort during the first half against nearly impossible odds; then the equally wonderful response of this Oklahoma team to the demands of a situation beyond the capabilities of an ordinarily good team.
This game was played in the climate of an upset. Oklahoma had just finished a game with Notre Dame for which they were keyed up to a maximum, full-game effort, and gave it. The following Tuesday afternoon the team was flat and ragged in workouts, and Captain Jerry Tubbs called a squad meeting on his own to bring them to life. But they still were not really ready by Saturday. Meanwhile, Colorado's coaches were trying to take this game in stride, but the players would not let them. The tension—the one imponderable, irreplaceable feeling that lifts a team to its best—built up and built up in the Colorado players, and by Saturday morning they were wound up tight and dangerous. And for the first half, they rammed the power of Coach Dallas Ward's single wing right down the throat of the Oklahoma defense. They blocked an Oklahoma quick kick for a touchdown, and they battered aside the Oklahoma defenses on two marches. When they were into close scoring territory, where the big Sooner line could bunch up tight and turn back their single-wing power, they fooled the defenses prettily for touchdowns, once on a quick pitchout from T formation; again on a daring, beautifully executed double reverse. The 47,000 people on hand roared and roared. It was 19-6 for Colorado at the half.
Colorado kicked off to open the third quarter, and Oklahoma, splitting its linemen a little wider to loosen the defense and using a delayed pitchout for the first time this season, moved 80 yards in 14 plays with adroit, cool precision. Almost at once everybody knew that the upset was not to be. When the Colorado defense pinched in to cut off the Oklahoma power up the middle, the delayed pitchout to Halfbacks Tommy McDonald or Clendon Thomas swept outside. Before the third quarter ended, Oklahoma led 20-19. Colorado was hurt by some unfortunate penalties, but Oklahoma was in command, clearly and for good. Colorado Center Jim Uhlir, in a happy Colorado dressing room, said, "I've never enjoyed playing a football game more than today. I'm only sorry we didn't win."
In Iowa, they call it the Michigan curse. For three straight years, Michigan had spotted Iowa the first two touchdowns, then sailed back to win: 14-13 in 1953; 14-13 in 1954; 33-21 in 1955. This year it was going to be different. Undefeated Iowa, a team of 11 steady players and no stars, had three Big Ten victories in its kick; now they were going to make it four. As one Hawkeye rooter's banner put it: "On to the Rose Bowl."
Following the formula of past years, Iowa jumped off to an early advantage with two first-half touchdowns and pranced off the field at half time leading 14-3. Yet once again Michigan rallied to pick up the marbles. As the oh-so-loyal (and long-suffering) Des Moines Sunday Register headline writer put it: MICHIGAN DOES IT AGAIN, 17-14. The key word was "again." Now, in verdant Iowa the phrase "black magic" is heard again in the land.
By half time, Iowa had looked like anything but a loser. Playing before a record homecoming crowd of 58,137 on a rain-soaked field, the Hawkeyes had capitalized on a Michigan fumble and an abortive Michigan quick kick for two first-half scores. They had throttled the best pair of ends in the business: Captain Tom Maentz and All-America Ron Kramer. Kramer had caught one pass for nine yards, flubbed another one. Maentz had caught none. Michigan looked tired and confused; Maentz, a 210-pound tower of heroics who had almost singlehandedly drubbed Iowa last year, provided the ultimate in ineffectiveness when, on successive plays, he missed an easy pass, toed a miserable 18-yard punt and drew a 15-yard penalty for piling on. Iowa Quarterback Kenny Ploen had made Kramer look sick by faking him out on a slick 33-yard rock-and-roll trip to the end zone.
Then came the half, ever the crucial time in an Iowa-Michigan game. Wolverine Coach Bennie Oosterbaan fixed Iowa with his special evil eye, and Michigan roared out on the field to begin a 13-play, 69-yard touchdown drive. But there was still time for Iowa to lay the ghost. Near the close of the third quarter, the Hawkeyes too, the ball on their own 17, reeled off a first down to the 29. Leading 14-10 ( Kramer had kicked a 25-yard Michigan field goal to start the day's scoring), Iowa had only to hold on to the four-point spread. Quarterback Randy Duncan pitched out to Halfback Don Dobrine, who took off toward right end, suddenly found himself knee-deep in Wolverine tacklers. Like a panicked kid playing his first real live game of sure 'nough tackle, the usually reliable Iowa halfback threw the ball away, 10 yards from the nearest eligible receiver. Rightfully, Referee Ross Dean flipped his red handkerchief into the air, made the violent downward gesture signifying intentional grounding. Mistakenly, he stepped off 15 yards instead of five against Iowa (see page 28), and Iowa was third and 30 on its seven-yard line. That was the old ball game. Michigan took over in the fourth quarter, bulled its way 80 yards to score with only six minutes to play.
In the dressing room afterward Hawkeye Coach Forest Evashevski, once a great Michigan star in tandem with Tommy Harmon, shook his head from side to side and said: "I don't know what happens to Michigan at half time, but it always does." In the Michigan dressing room beefy Benny Oosterbaan gave his explanation with a modest grin: "At the half? I didn't tell 'em anything. They just had it in their hearts to win."