GREATEST MOMENTS | Tulsa’s passing game revolutionized college football in 1964


Tulsa boasts some impressive football firsts, including the first team to play in five consecutive Jan. 1 bowl games (1941-45). In 1916, Tulsa — then Kendall College — beat Oklahoma 16-0, ending the Sooners’ 18-game winning streak. It was also OU’s first football loss to another Oklahoma school.

Then in 1964, Tulsa revolutionized college football. The Golden Hurricane were the first NCAA team to average 300 yards passing per game — 317.8, which shattered the previous record by 80 yards per game.

“If you talk about the school that revolutionized the passing game, it’s Tulsa,” Jerry Rhome, the Golden Hurricane quarterback that year, said in 2005. “We didn’t invent the passing game. But we had enough guts to do it when it wasn’t the popular thing to do.”

Rhome broke 16 NCAA major college records in 1964, including 244 completions for 2,870 yards and 32 touchdowns. He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Notre Dame quarterback John Huarte. Tulsa’s Howard Twilley also set receiving records with 95 catches for 1,178  yards.

Tulsa’s website told the story of the 1964 team and the sports moment judged the greatest in school history:

Tulsa-greatestToday, passing is taken for granted in college football, however, this was not always the case. Up until the early 1960s there was a general aversion to the passing game by coaches across the nation. Few, if any, used the option of passing except in third-down and long situations.

This, however, changed in 1964 when the head coach of Tulsa, Glenn Dobbs, revolutionized the game of football by passing.

Coaching the Golden Hurricane to a 9-2 overall record and 14-7 win over Mississippi in the Bluebonnet Bowl, Dobbs’ new pass-happy offense shocked and amazed the college football world.

As a proponent of the pass, Dobbs “embraced the aerial game at a time when most coaches still harbored an aversion to any play that didn’t involve a handoff,” said Bob Fulton, author of You Say You Want a Revolution.

Dobbs, a former Hurricane All-American in 1942, was unafraid to throw the ball, and the Golden Hurricane made its mark on opposing defenses and the NCAA record book.

During the 1964 season, over 20 NCAA records fell victim to the Golden Hurricane onslaught, including total offense, passing, receiving and scoring. TU also became the first team in college history to throw for over 300 yards in a game.

Senior quarterback Jerry Rhome, the Heisman Trophy runner-up that year, led the potent offense, along with junior split end Howard Twilley. Both Rhome and Twilley threw and caught their way into both the national and TU record books.

The Golden Hurricane relied heavily on Rhome’s arm to move the team down the field and into the end zone. Most teams at that time only passed about 29% of the time, whereas TU passed around 52 percent of the time. This led to a potent scoring attack and shocked defenses across the nation.

Opposing defenses could not stop the Tulsa offensive attack. Rhome and Twilley helped Tulsa score 58 points or more in three games and led the nation in total scoring for the year with 384 points. No other team even broke the 300-point plateau.

“The Hurricane demolished defenses with their aerial wizardry and, in the process, put pizzazz into a staid old game,” Fulton said.

TU lost only two games that year, one by nine points to Arkansas, and the second to Cincinnati by five points. Arkansas eventually became the national champions in ’64 and ended the season with a perfect 11-0 record. The loss to Cincinnati cost the Golden Hurricane the Missouri Valley Conference title. However, TU won their other nine games by an average margin of 33 points. This earned Tulsa a berth in the Bluebonnet Bowl against Ole Miss, and a 14-7 win.

TU was the underdog going into the game against the Rebels, but once again, the Golden Hurricane stunned the country with a win.

Not only were Rhome and Twilley an unstoppable tandem, but the Tulsa defense, led by sophomore linebacker Willie Townes and senior cornerback Jeff Jordan, was also stellar. Allowing only one Rebel penetration inside of the TU 40-yard line, the defense held on strong to help contribute to the Hurricane victory.

Tulsa and Mississippi set several Bluebonnet Bowl records including: Most passing first downs by both teams (14), most passes attempted by both teams (60), most yards gained by both teams (365), and most total plays by both teams (126). TU also set two new Bluebonnet Bowl records, including the most plays by an individual (Rhome had 36 passes and 22 rushes for a total 58 offensive plays), and the second was most passes intercepted (Charlie Jordan with three), Rhome and Twilley also broke several TU and national records that year, some of which still stand today.

Rhome broke the NCAA single season records for completions (224), completion accuracy (.687), passing yards (2,870), rushing-passing plays (470), rushing-passing yards (3128), consecutive passes without an interception (198), points accounted for (256), TD passes (32), and yards per game rushing-passing (312.2).

Twilley also slew his fair share of NCAA records that year, including passes caught (95), season yards gained (1178), season yards per game (117.8) and season conversion passes caught (6).

In addition to their garnered NCAA records, Rhome and Twilley also found themselves atop several Golden Hurricane records, some of which still stand today.

Rhome is the most efficient passer (150.7) in TU history, while Twilley still holds the Golden Hurricane record for career receiving yards (3,343). Rhome also ranks third in single-season passing for his efforts in the 1964 season and Twilley ranks fifth in single season receiving for the same year.

As Rhome and Twilley passed their way into the history book using Dobbs’s new technique, they also did something more important. They revolutionized the way football is played today.

“While the rest of the country was still hugging the ground, coach Glenn Dobbs’ team struck through the air with devastating effect,” Fulton said.

Until Dobbs instituted the pass into the offensive game plan as more than just a third-down option, football had a smash-mouth defensive attitude. Rhome’s slingshot arm and Twilley’s soft hands, however, provided a new and exciting aspect to the game that few had seen before. Football became electrifying through the aerial showmanship of quarterbacks and fans flocked to see this innovative and revolutionary idea.

The 1964 Bluebonnet Bowl team will not only be remembered for their impressive and shocking win over the Ole Miss Rebels, but also their efforts to transform the game of college football.

Rhome, Twilley, and the Golden Hurricane will forever be remembered for ushering in a new era in football. Smash-mouth football began to lose popularity and eventually found its way out of the stadium, making room for the novel and thrilling aerial acrobatics of wide receivers and the awe inspiring strength of quarterbacks. Offenses no longer gave up on third and long situations.

Instead, they followed in the footsteps of the Bluebonnet Bowl team of 1964 and went for the long bomb on first down.


• Tulsa Hall of Fame

On the cover and above: In 1964, Jerry Rhome (left) and Howard Twilley became the most successful passing combination in college football history. (Tulsa University Archives)

Monday: Towson and Tulane
Tuesday: Tulsa and Union
Wednesday: Utah Valley and Valparaiso
Thursday: Vermont and VCU
Friday: VMI and Western Carolina

Mike Bambach

Mike Bambach is senior web producer for ASN.