With all the hoopla surrounding the University of Maine football team’s victory over Mississippi State recently, I couldn’t help but think about 1965, the year the Black Bears nearly shocked the college football world. According to longtime sports announcer George Hale, “1965 was, combined with 1964 and the College World Series, a breakout time for UMaine sports.”
That storied season, head coach Harold Westerman’s football team posted an impressive 8-1 record en route to the coveted Lambert Cup trophy and a spot in the Tangerine Bowl. Consider that, and then consider that for years Lehigh, Buffalo, and Delaware were the Lambert winners, signifying supremacy in the eastern small college football ranks.
The game was played at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, which has a considerable history. In 1965, the place held approximately 9,000 people. The first Tangerine Bowl was held in 1947. By 1967, the stadium was expanded to 18,000 seats, but by 1974, the capacity was 48,000.
Today, the Tangerine Bowl is called the Mazda Tangerine Bowl, and more than 70,000 fans watch the extravaganza each year.
Two players of renown off that UMaine team come to mind every time I hear or read stories about the 1965 Tangerine Bowl.
Quarterback Dick DeVarney, arguably the best all-around athlete to ever wear the Maine blue and white, and linebacker John Huard, who would go on to a professional football career, anchored both sides of the ball for Westy’s club.
In fact, coach Westerman told NEWS college beat writer Owen Osborne that “they [the Bears] are here [Orlando] for one thing: to win the Tangerine Bowl and make this the greatest year in Maine’s football history.”
They came close.
The year 1965 saw Maine open the season by beating 1964 Tangerine Bowl participant Massachusetts 10-8 and then win its next seven games. The Bears were propelled to bowl consideration in part by a 2-0 loss to a good Tampa team on a DeVarney safety, which was, according to George Hale, who was broadcasting the game for WABI radio with sidekick George Gonyar, “a questionable call.”
My own memories of that December bowl contest involve listening to and watching George Hale on Channel 5 TV – a two-camera, black-and-white television affair – and shuddering at the prospects of Maine playing the rest of the game without Dick DeVarney at quarterback when he went down in the first quarter with a leg injury. He also separated his shoulder and was gone for good in the third period, another key factor in the outcome.
While quarterbacking the football team, Dick was a notorious scrambler. He always reminded me of Fran Tarkenton, the former Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants QB. He was elusive and very quick, two great attributes for a signal caller. He also anchored the infield at shortstop on the Bears’ baseball team, good enough to propel coach Jack Butterfield’s squad to the 1964 College World Series in Omaha, Neb..
On the other side of the ball, John Huard often looked like the pro player he would become playing, against college kids.
Huard created a lot of memories for his legion of fans as well. I remember a game in Orono against Vermont in 1966 that Huard so dominated with interceptions and tackles in UVM’s backfield that you almost felt sorry for the opposition. Maine won 52-7, keeping UVM out of bowl contention.
The Bears’ opponent for that day in the Florida sun was East Carolina State University. The Pirates also entered the bowl game with an 8-1 record.
The 1964 Tangerine Bowl had seen many of these same Pirates – 17 to be exact – taking the field. In the ’64 game, East Carolina defeated a solid UMass contingent 14-13.
According to the experts such as Hale who were attending the 1965 Tangerine Bowl, injuries and heat were key factors in East Carolina’s 31-0 victory over Maine.
Obviously, DeVarney’s loss was crucial for the Bears. Other Bears who fell were Norm Tardiff with a leg injury; Bill Pasquill with cracked ribs; John Fahlgren, lost with a shoulder separation; Dave Sawyer, a knee injury; and Jim Sanders with a leg injury.
Never one to make excuses, Westy did say that his team “was beaten by a fine club. But we were just getting the feel of their single wing when Dick [DeVarney] was injured.”
Sophomore George Platter replaced DeVarney, and, according to coach Westerman, “did very well in a tough assignment.”
Huard, for his efforts, was named the outstanding defensive player of the game. A junior, the solid linebacker was scouted that day by Chicago, Miami, Dallas, and the New York Jets.
East Carolina coach Clarence Stasivich called Maine’s defense outstanding.
For thousands of fans watching Channel 5, Maine’s 10-0 halftime deficit was a moral victory in and of itself.
Heck, we were playing with the big boys, and young broadcaster Hale made every play sound like a game-breaker.
As head coach Jack Cosgrove continues to take the present UMaine football program to consistent national-caliber status, fans need to view the whole history of the sport in Orono to fully appreciate what Maine is doing now.
Too bad we couldn’t have an ESPN-like simulated game between the 1965 Bears and this 2004 team.
Now, that would be one for George Hale to call, and, perhaps, one for the ages.
NEWS columnist Ron Brown, a retired high school basketball coach, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org