(Roy Jefferson) is the best player they’ve ever had at the University of Utah. In my 48 years of coaching … he was the most outstanding outside linebacker that I’ve ever been around — including Lawrence Taylor. An unbelievable athlete. —John Pease
SALT LAKE CITY — John Pease says it’s all in the stats. They show, for instance, that when a team punts from its end zone, the opponent scores 85 percent of the time. Or if a team has a one-takeaway advantage, it has an 80 percent success rate. That improves to more than 90 percent when it’s plus-two or better.
So it’s no surprise the former Utah player and assistant coach loves this oldie but goodie: 47 turnovers in a season — 20 on fumble recoveries and 27 on interceptions. That’s what the 1964 Utes totaled. The current team can only look on in wonder. It had zero fumble recoveries or interceptions in last Saturday’s opener against Idaho State. The 2013 Utes had only three interceptions all year.
“It shows you that it’s a game of possessions,” says Pease, who played with Utah’s record-setting group a half-century ago.
Pease is spearheading a gathering of former players from the team that beat West Virginia 32-6 in the 1964 Liberty Bowl, and will be inducted into the school’s sports Hall of Fame on Friday. Among the expected attendees is Roy Jefferson, who went on to an All-Pro, 12-year NFL career.
Jefferson was a marvel, even in an era of two-way football. He placekicked and played linebacker and wide receiver. Pease says Jefferson could have punted and played cornerback, too. The first score of the ’64 Liberty Bowl came on a 29-yard field goal by Jefferson. He also had a 32-yard kick.
“He is the best player they’ve ever had at the University of Utah,” says Pease, who coached at Utah, Washington, Long Beach State and in the NFL and USFL. “In my 48 years of coaching he was the most outstanding outside linebacker that I’ve ever been around — including Lawrence Taylor. An unbelievable athlete.”
To put it in ‘60s terms, Pease says, “We were the Supremes and Roy was Diana Ross.”
Before that game, Utah’s all-time list of bowl bids stood at one. The only post-season appearance was the 1939 Sun Bowl. But after a 25-year wait, they were back in the bowl business. Apparently they were also in the convention/pageant business, because Liberty Bowl officials had moved the game from Philadelphia to the Atlantic City Convention Center. Tired of worrying about weather, they took their show indoors for the first-ever televised indoor game.
This wasn’t the predecessor to AT&T Stadium; it was the home of the Miss America Pageant. There were only nine bowls in existence, but the Cotton, Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls were far more glamorous. The Liberty Bowl was five years old in 1964 and only 6,059 attended.
Sod was trucked in and placed on a concrete floor, with a burlap base. The lights ran widthwise across the field, so gathering punts and passes involved tracking the ball through light and shadows. One end zone was only eight yards deep, rather than 10; the other was the correct depth but the final two yards included a stage overhang.
“If you went too deep, it could cut you in half,” Pease says.
The overhang also necessitated that one goal post be nailed to the balcony.
Still, the Utes bolted to a 25-0 lead before allowing a score. For them, playing after November was a privilege and a treat.
Nowadays it depends.
Pease notes that much was happening in ’64. The civil rights movement was pushing ahead, the Beatles were in America and Russia was in space.
“A great time to grow up,” he says.
The Utes, though, still had some growing up to do. After that landmark season, they didn’t return to bowl play until 1992, starting a run of 15 bowls in 20 years. Although the ‘64 team had great stats, it didn’t have the overall size and speed of today.
“The players are so much bigger and faster. Old guys will say, ‘Yeah, we could beat them today,’” Pease says. “It would never happen. Never happen in a million years.”
The only stats he needs for that are on the roster.
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