At the opening kickoff on a gray, muggy day in the Cotton Bowl last week, Arkansas' quick, aggressive Razorbacks converged on Nebraska in a blur of crimson, seeking, as always, to knock down any and all opposing bodies. As the kick went through the end zone and out of play, Arkansas' Bobby Roper (6 feet 3, 193 pounds), a defensive specialist, found Nebraska's pass-catching end, Freeman White (6 feet 5, 219), standing idly as if the game had yet to begin. Roper threw a furious but perfectly legal shoulder into the unsuspecting White, repositioning him upside down and some five yards backwards. More than half of the 75,504 spectators responded with the customary squeal of "Sooey! Pig!" Nebraska had its introduction to brutal, fundamental, Arkansas football and to the team that would emerge from the New Year's Day weekend as the most persevering in the land—and probably the best.
Coach Frank Broyles's alert platoons, winners of the Southwest Conference championship, moved quickly to a 3-0 lead over stunned and outraged Nebraska and seemed capable throughout the first quarter of making life miserable for its opponents on any given play. But the slow-starting Cornhuskers began to draw inspiration from Arkansas' offensive mistakes and the fine running of their sophomore halfback, Harry Wilson. Two fumbles, an interception, a clipping penalty and two offside penalties kept Arkansas, a team normally guilty of very few errors, frustrated until just nine minutes remained in the fourth quarter, at which point Nebraska held a 7-3 lead. But that was time enough for Quarterback Freddy Marshall to complete five big passes—the two most important ones going to Halfback Jim Lindsey—and to drive Arkansas a precious 80 yards to a touchdown and victory.
The win left Broyles's team undefeated and untied through 11 games and deserving of the mythical award as national champion. Among the major teams in contention, Arkansas had the only perfect record. It could boast that during the regular season it had defeated not only Nebraska, the Big Eight champion, but Texas, conqueror of Alabama, and Tulsa, the Bluebonnet Bowl winner, too. Moreover, the number of victories achieved by Arkansas' 11 victims totaled 57, far more than the opposition of other possible claimants, including Notre Dame and Rose Bowl champion Michigan. "I certainly consider us No. 1," said Broyles, who had rushed with his team out of a postgame banquet to cheer for Texas on television.
At the beginning of the new year there was one more No. 1 award left to be earned. Since 1954 the Football Writers Association of America has believed that the wire-service polls were impulsive and inconclusive, and has therefore waited until after the bowl games to select the winner of its own Grantland Rice Trophy. It was only right that the writers should name Arkansas as the nation's best college football team of 1964.
This was an Arkansas team that was followed by 30,000 enthusiasts of all kinds. One chartered bus at Dallas, for instance, featured a large banner that said, "Little Rock Gains St. Baptist Church says go, Hogs, go." It was a team whose main strength was in its defense (it scored five straight shutouts). All-America Ronnie Caveness, a Texan, and Ronnie Mac Smith, a native Arkansan, were superb linebackers, but no faster or more effective than Middle Guard Jim Johnson or Tackles Jim Williams and Loyd Phillips. With the ends, All-Conference Jim Finch and Bobby Roper, they formed a cohesive unit, often moving as one mass to the ball. They had, for example, 13 defenses to use against Nebraska's unbalanced offense.
But this was also a Broyles team that had, for the first time, something more than defense. It used the rules, oddly ignored by other potentially good teams, that permitted offensive and defensive units. Broyles wisely platooned early.
"Always in the past," said Broyles, "our offense has suffered because we went first with our best defensive boys. Sometime during a game we'd find that we'd lose a key down when our attack would stall because one of those defensive boys would not have the technique to make a block. We didn't have that this year. We had good blocking specialists—and still had our defense."
Broyles had passing, too, in Freddy Marshall, an experienced fifth-year layover quarterback. He admitted: "It's not our nature, but it's now a necessity. Both the Texas and Nebraska games have convinced me of something. When you're a conservative team with a three-point lead, you're actually behind. And when you have a seven-point lead, you're tied. But we're learning down here. We're learning it's better to attack when you're ahead."