A Front-Row Seat with the Sportswriters Who Sat There
Sit down with host Todd Jones and other sportswriters who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced first-hand some of the biggest sports moments in the past 50 years. They’ll share stories behind the stories -- some they’ve only told to each other.
College football is a cyclone of emotion, passion, and downright insanity. Dennis Dodd has been chasing the game’s outbursts since its growth from a regional sport into a national obsession. He’ll take you along with the Big Eight Skywriters, into the Boz’s dorm room, and to breakfast with Bobby Bowden. He’ll put you at the Flea Kicker, the Kick Six, the Colorado-Miami brawl. Hear about Pete Carroll, Tom Osborne, and Barry “Hang-Half-a-Hundred-on-em” Switzer. Oh, and Todd has a story about beer, a Styrofoam cup . . . and Darrell Royal.
Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. In 2006, he became the first journalist at an internet outlet to serve as President of the Football Writers Association of America. Dennis has won several FWAA Best Writing Contest Awards, and he is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games. He has chronicled conference realignment as well as the start of the College Football Playoff.
Besides college football, Dennis has also written about the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball. Dodd graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism after growing up in the St, Louis, Mo., area. His first full-time job was in Sherman, Texas. After eight months there, Dodd then graduated to the Kansas City Star, where from 1981-89 he covered various sports and developed a love for college football. After Kansas City, Dennis worked for the St. Louis Sun (1989), The National (1990-92), Omaha World-Herald (1992-94) and SportsWriters Direct before joining CBS Sportsline in 1998. The St. Louis native is a diehard fan of that city’s Cardinals and Blues. Dennis is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has written two books, one on the history of Missouri basketball, and another about the formation of the Big 12.
Todd Jones: I'm Todd Jones, recovering from 30 years as a sports writer. Thanks for joining me as I sit down with some of the best sports writers of our time, who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced firsthand some of the biggest sports moments of the past half century. We'll share stories behind the stories, some we've only told each other. Pull up a seat on Press Box Access.
Todd Jones: I've spent a lot of time in a lot of stadiums on a lot of campuses covering college football games. Many of them were alongside Dennis Dodd. He taught me a lot and became a good friend along the way. He's been writing about the sport and all of its passion and craziness since 1984, the last 23 of those years for CBS Sports, Dennis probably hears marching bands in his sleep. He definitely has a lot of stories to tell. Can't wait to hear them. Welcome to our show, Dennis.
Dennis Dodd: Hey, glad to be here, Todd. It's been great to be here, and I'm glad you're doing this. This is really fun.
Todd Jones: Well, thanks a lot. We've known each other a long time, probably since the late '90s, at least. I mean, you've been writing for CBS Sports... I mean, you've been, what, since '98, you've you've been cashing more checks than Cronkite at CBS.
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. February of '98, so this is 23 years? Yeah, 23.
Todd Jones: Wow. That's amazing. And then before that you were a newspaper guy. We'll get into that. Because here's the thing, I want to clear something up at the start, I want to be right up front with this. I have sources that tell me something that I want to confirm with you, that you were part of killing two newspapers. Is that right?
Dennis Dodd: Yeah, I was Typhoid Mary there for awhile. Everywhere I went, papers passed away. The late, great St. Louis Sun in '89, '90. It lasted exactly nine months. And then, The National, which I came in midstream, a lot of people remember that. It was a-
Todd Jones: Yeah. Great publication.
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. National Sports Newspaper. And it died of natural causes shortly after I joined. I think it was about a year and a half.
Todd Jones: You've been covering college football for 37 years, I think. 23 for CBS Sports, the internet, because you were ahead of the game there, too. You joined that internet wave, too. You were an entrepreneur. But when you started in the early '80s, it was a different sport. Wasn't it? College football. It wasn't what we think of today. It was much more of a regional sport.
Dennis Dodd: Oh, absolutely. It really changed with the 1984 Supreme Court decision that deregulated college football television. You probably have seen some of that. It's complicated, but it's not complicated. ESPN does the 150th anniversary thing that runs in rotation now on ESPN2, it seems. Yeah, it very much was. It was such a regional sport that the Big 8 was located in an old office building in Kansas City on Baltimore, and we would go up to the office every Monday for the conference call. You could listen in, but it was more of a social thing.
Todd Jones: Is this with the coaches, the conference call?
Dennis Dodd: This is with the coaches. And conferences still do this today, some of them. And you would stand around one of those giant mics. Not mics, but speakers. And you would be able to ask questions to the coaches as they called in. But then we also ate lunch with the staff, they'd bring in pizza or something like that.
Todd Jones: What, sports writers taking free food, are you serious?
Dennis Dodd: Sports writers taking free food. Absolutely. But to my poin, it was better that way to craft a story to be socially involved with people. If you were working on a story, the commissioner's right there, you could ask coaches anything you wanted. And back then, there was more of a intermingling of the two sides where it wasn't just Dennis Dodd asking a question on a speaker phone. Oh, I remember him, he was here last August for the Big 8 Skywriters, which I know you wanted to touch on that, but we used to do that. Go by bus and one plane trip to Colorado to all eight schools to get our pre-season stuff. Just load up.
Todd Jones: So, explain that to us. What do you mean by Big 8 Skywriters? So, this is like in August, pre-season?
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. This was about a 10 day affair where those who paid, the Big 8 provided the bus, and you had to pay for room and board, whatever. The Big 8 provided, back then, provided some stipend of Coors Light, or whatever you wanted, in a giant-
Todd Jones: Don't tell the editors.
Dennis Dodd: ... in a giant cooler that would be tapped into a about 7:00 AM when we loaded up to travel every day. And we would just go. Like I said, the only plane trip was to Colorado. I think we first... Trying to remember. Kansas State... You have to think of the geography. Kansas City to Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Nebraska, and then straight down from Nebraska to Oklahoma State, and then fly out to Colorado, and then home. I think, I think. That's the way I recall it. But the camaraderie-
Todd Jones: So, this is a bus load of sports writers barreling around the country?
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. It was Gonzo journalism at its finest. Hunter Thompson would've loved this place.
Todd Jones: So, what was it like on the bus? Bunch of sports writers going around to schools for 10 days.
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. How much money you got? How much money can you lose playing cards? And again, I wasn't part of this, but there were guys who started loading up at 7:00 in the morning drinking and just kept going all day. I mean, I couldn't do it then, I couldn't do it now. [inaudible 00:06:15] did we get off the rails? Absolutely.
Todd Jones: But the difference was that, at the time, the leagues and the schools felt like they needed publicity, so they would invite you to come to them. Now, you have national media days and you have to go to them. You know what I mean? In terms of like it's kind of a reversal. Right? Now it's like, "You come to us on our terms," then it was, "Hey, get on this bus and come on in, and we'll set you up with all the interviews you need."
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. And that was it. And it was so intimate. I clearly remember Pat Jones, the old Oklahoma State coach, would just sit at a table, and he just sucked on cigarettes like they were candy. And he would sit there and just... He can talk anyway. He had his own radio show for years in Oklahoma City. But just tell you everything. Tom Osborne would get up there. Tom Osborne was famous for getting up at a podium and reading every player's name and saying something about him. I mean, it would put-
Todd Jones: Every player?
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. It would put a large mammal to sleep. Every player on the roster. "I know this guy. His parents are nice." He'd go, "Tom played..." And what he was doing was filibustering so he wouldn't have to answer questions. I mean, he wouldn't be the first one famous for that, but that's what he was doing.
Todd Jones: Yeah, those Nebraska teams, they would have like 900 walk-on players, too.
Dennis Dodd: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I don't know if he got into that, but he got pretty deep into the too deep. And so, guys, you would never see play, guys... All we wanted to know about with Turner Gill at that point. And Barry Switzer was great. Barry Switzer was so accommodating, so colorful. I still miss him to this day. Yeah.
Todd Jones: That's what I want to really get into, is when you think about the '80s, you think about Oklahoma and Barry Switzer. I mean, you had Miami [inaudible 00:08:08] that was going on. That was a national thing, especially starting in the early '80s. But Switzer in the mid '80s with those Oklahoma Sooner teams, you were around that. Tell us a little bit about what it was like to be with the Sooners in those days.
Dennis Dodd: It was great. It was like following a rock band, because I mean, I don't have to tell you, it was outgoing, loosey goosey sort of program that was really fun to cover until the end, when they tagged a Switzer with a bunch of NCA violations. Charles Thompson appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in an orange jumpsuit.
Todd Jones: Yeah. That's not good. That's not good for your program. No.
Dennis Dodd: When your starting quarterback's selling cocaine, that's not good.
Todd Jones: No, that's not a good thing.
Dennis Dodd: But those are the Bos years, slightly before that, where-
Todd Jones: Yeah, Brian Bosworth. Yeah.
Dennis Dodd: ... if people don't know him, he was, well, maybe the first guy to dye his hair, and he would dye it red, white, and blue and shave things into the side of his skull. He was a great college player. This goes back to the old access days when you could really get up close and personal with people. I want to do a big Bos story, and I went down there and they said, "Oh yeah. He said come over to his dorm."
Todd Jones: Really?
Dennis Dodd: Okay. Yeah. There was no SID is scoring me. And I walk in there-
Todd Jones: You're in the Bos' dorm?
Dennis Dodd: In his dorm room, his room. Yeah. His roommate wasn't there, roommates, but he was. And it was what you would typically think of a college male's dorm room would look like. Messy, stuff all over the place, except this was, at the time, arguably the best player, best defender in the country. I don't remember exactly the story, but I think the quotes were pretty colorful. He'd come from Plano, Texas, which is a upscale suburb of Dallas, and how Barry got him there.
Dennis Dodd: Barry could charm the husk off corn as far as a recruiter, and he really related to the African-American players because, Todd, you remember, his book, Bootlegger's Boy, he was in a bad situation. I think his grandmother shot his grandfather for some reason. I mean, that's the kind of family he came from in Arkansas. So, he related to a lot of those Black players who didn't come from much, and that's how they built... The '80s were still a time when the Black athlete was still coming to prominence in college athletics because the deep South and some other schools had stiff armed them for so long. Obviously, in the pros that wasn't the case at that point, but in college, it was still being integrated, frankly [crosstalk 00:11:06].
Todd Jones: It's amazing to think that, right? It's not that long ago.
Dennis Dodd: No.
Todd Jones: Yeah. Yeah. Switzer, I mean, you said he could charm the husk off corn. What was he just like just being around him? Was he just entertaining?
Dennis Dodd: Yeah, he was great. I called him in 2011 when Penn State got the Sandusky penalties, because it was like... The day it happened, it was like is Penn State going to be able to feel the football team? And in typical Barry Switzer fashion, this was my go-to quote at the time, he said, "They're going to have to start drop down to FCS. They're going to have to go on AA." And I said, "Okay, I'll use that. That's perfect." At that point, nobody really knew. They were taking away four years of bowl games.
Dennis Dodd: But I clearly remember him, this is in the, maybe, the 2003 Big 12 championship game and Penn.... I'm sorry, Kansas State was playing Oklahoma at Arrowhead Stadium. The night before, they had a big reception, big party at the Union Station, which is an old, old train station, a lot of cities have them, that have been repurposed. It was really, really nice. And he was there, I believe, in a mink coat with Tony Cassius, who was the old defensive lineman, [inaudible 00:12:29] defensive lineman, who used to play for him. And we just sat around and he held court for a period of hours.
Todd Jones: This was night before the game?
Dennis Dodd: Night before the game. I want to say 2003 because that was K State's only Big 12 championship. They won that game.
Todd Jones: Well, I had an NCA person, let's just say he was a former college official, he once told me that he knocked on Switzer's door because he had to track him down for something, and when Barry opened the door, Barry was stark naked.
Dennis Dodd: I believe that. I have no doubt that happened.
Todd Jones: He also said that Barry apparently had like a safe underneath his desk in his office where he kept cash from selling all the tickets.
Dennis Dodd: There was.
Todd Jones: Barry was the Wild West. Right?
Dennis Dodd: Oh, it was absolutely the Wild West. And that's what they got him on. It was recruiting violations in '89 and players brandishing guns off the porches of the dorm rooms. And he finally, I think he was finally given the option of resigning in '89, and that that's where it all changed for Oklahoma. I mean, they bring in Gary Gibbs who was kind of an anonymous assistant. And he won 67% of his games, but he was run out of town in about three or four years. And then they got John Blake, the immortal John Blake, who just passed away here the last few months.
Todd Jones: Yeah, bless his soul, right?
Dennis Dodd: Yeah.
Todd Jones: Yeah.
Dennis Dodd: What was his name? Dr. something. He was the money man. But anyway, they had the worst three year run as him as head coach in the history of Oklahoma football, whatever it is, 120 years. And then they hired a guy named Bob Stew, so things went well from there. But Switzer will never be forgotten.
Todd Jones: Yeah. I mean those days with the Bos and just... They were running up score. Switzer used to say, "Let's hang half 100 on these guys. " Like 50 points, it was nothing. I mean, there was games where they were just totally out of control. Right? I mean, weren't you at a game once where the Bos and somebody else like, they just shut it down early in the game. They just-
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. Back then Kansas State was beyond bad. I mean, if you don't know the history of college football, for a long time, Kansas State had the most losses in college football history, and this is in the '80s. At the Kansas City Star, we covered Missouri, Kansas, and Kansas state, as well as the Big 8. We were kind of the flagship paper of the Big 8 because the conference office was there. And so, I was at a Kansas State/Oklahoma game one time where this beyond bad Kansas State team, they may have given up 50 at halftime or something. And Switzer called off the dogs, and had halftime, I clearly remember, or maybe at some point in the third quarter, I clearly remember Bosworth and Jamelle Holieway, the quarterback, had removed their pads and were sitting on the bench and somehow had ordered hotdogs from the vendor in the stands. They were eating hotdogs like a fan or something.
Todd Jones: On the bench?
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. During the game. That's the way they ran. It was unbelievable.
Todd Jones: Well, Jamelle Holieway, I had an encounter with JamellE in 1988 when I first got out of college, I was interning at the Los Angeles Times, and Jamelle was from Inglewood in LA. And he was rehabbing from a knee injury. And so, they said, "It's the summertime, let's catch up with Jamelle and see how his rehab's going." som, I arranged a call, and he was great and he said, "Come on down." He gave me his home address in Inglewood. I'm a little young guy driving down the Harbor Freeway to get down to Inglewood. I don't know where I'm going. I go to This house, the address, I knock on the door, and this old man answers it. And I said, "Is Jamelle here?" And the old man says, "Ain't no Jamelle here." And I'm like, "Oh, okay. All right, this was the right address."
Todd Jones: So, I got back in my car and I'm driving back towards downtown LA, And I'm thinking to myself, "I can't go back to the office with no story. They'll fire me." I'm a young kid from Kentucky. The LA Times doesn't have time to put up with someone where they can't can't come through with a story. So, I turned around and I drove back to the same house and I knocked on the door, and the same old guy opened it. And down the hallway was Jamelle, and he picked his head out and he goes, "Oh, I was just messing with you. Come on in."
Dennis Dodd: It pays to be persistent.
Todd Jones: Yeah. And then I had to get ahold of Switzer, and I kept trying to line it up through the PR person out in Oklahoma. And I just couldn't get him, couldn't get him, couldn't get him. So, finally, an older guy at the LA Times, they had this Rolodex that was like unbelievable, and he said, "Here, here's this number. Call on like," I don't know, "Tuesday at 7:00 o'clock and you'll get Barry." And it was a number to a bar. And I called the number at the exact time, and the barkeep got Barry Switzer on the phone for me and I got my quotes. He gets on the phone, he's like, "We got to make this quick." But I got the story. You could track down Barry Switzer in a bar and he would give you the quotes that you needed.
Dennis Dodd: I had one other one like that. I was trying to get Tyrann Mathieu during his Honey Badger days at LSU, and I went to his house. I found out where he lived and, like you, banged on the door and no answer. So, I ended up going to his high school to get stories from there, and he's from St. Augustine, which is a famous high school in New Orleans in the Seventh Ward. Won championships, so many NFL players have come from there. And I don't know who, the coach maybe walked me up. He told me what the conditions were, and they practiced at... And this is one of the best schools in the state, in the country really. They practiced at a city park which was up the street from the school, and on the way it was about, I don't know, a block or two away, you walk down the street and there's literally needles in the gutter on the side of the road. This is the kind of neighborhood we're talking about.
Dennis Dodd: And so, he described to me how practice went, and this was like an overgrown... The field wasn't lined. It was overgrown. They kicked field goals into a fence that was really high. And the dope dealers, the drug dealers, would come to practice to watch. They were supporting the local kids. They weren't doing anything illegal. But clearly, they were the ne'er-do-wells. And there would be gunshots and everybody would freeze, and it was described to me... The guys would go, "No, okay, go ahead." They knew what was happening. That's okay. If it was really bad and they would hear gunshots and it got close, they would tell them to get down. They knew that was real because it wasn't [inaudible 00:19:38] exactly police shooting at the suspect, that was people shooting at each other. And they would say, "Get down." And they would pause and they would get back up and finish practice. So, that's the kind of world he grew up in there.
Todd Jones: Wow. Yeah. The background with some of these folks, where they came from, what they had to overcome, and then achieve is just amazing. The late '80s, college football, again, still regional. I mean, a guy like Bobby Bowden at Florida State, I mean, they used to have this thing called breakfast with Bobby. You were at some of those, weren't you?What was that like?
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. This was back in the day when he had it rolling, and they would have a home game on Saturday. And after every home game, he would hold court at a, oh, kind of a conference room at a hotel. At that point, I think it was a Holiday Inn near campus. And they would have kind of a continental breakfast and anybody who wanted to come could come. It was mostly for the beat writers because we weren't there, the national guys weren't there all the time. And you can ask anything you wanted, and it went on for an hour or two. And he really seemed to enjoy it. Bobby Bowden's a saint. I mean, there's a reason they call him Saint Bobby. He was great with the writers.
Todd Jones: Yeah, he was. Yeah.
Dennis Dodd: He was fantastic. And something I'll never forget because that goes back to the old days of the open locker room, which we'll never see again, with some of these schools. Miami and UCLA, I think, were the last ones to have open locker rooms. But Bobby's fantastic.
Todd Jones: What do you mean by open locker rooms, for those who don't know what that means?
Dennis Dodd: Well, after each game to gather our stories, we would go down into the locker rooms, where the players were coming after the game, whether it's baseball, football, basketball. That was our office. That was their office, but that's where we applied our trade. And it was so useful because you would get the players still in the moment, still emotional, whether it was bad or good, right after the field, and that's where you got, I think, some of the greatest writing, not just sports writing, some of the best writing in American history comes from those encounters. Again, whether it was after college football game, NFL, baseball. Now everything's so regimented, and obviously, these days it's on Zoom. But that's what was so good. These guys were still... they were still pissed off about something. They might've been pissed off at you.
Dennis Dodd: Because in baseball, you had to deal with these guys every day. You know that. And sometimes you don't want to see that person, you don't want to talk to them, and it's really, really hard. I remember in '84, I think, there had been federal drug charges filed against the Kansas City Royals, or a number of players involved, and it had to do with cocaine. One of their players, Willie Mays Aikens went to jail for a bunch of years for it. And the story had just broken in the Kansas City Star, and every outlet in the city was there, and they opened the locker room before the game, which you typically do. But I'll always give them credit for doing that. They made those players face the music. Now, did they say much? No. Were they ashamed? Yes. But they sat there and answered every question. I'll never forget that scene walking in there and it was like going into a wake because we knew what had happened, they knew what had happened, neither party necessarily wanted to be there, but we had to be, to try to do this story.
Todd Jones: Well, Dennis, it seems like there was always a lot of emotions swirling around in Big 8, which is now Big 12 country. I think you were there a couple of years after Tuxedo Tony set the record, a couple of years later, Colorado was hosting the Miami Hurricanes, and you were there for quite a game. Tell us a little bit about the brawl that broke out that day I think towards the end of the first half.
Dennis Dodd: It was Miami, Colorado, and it was a really [inaudible 00:23:48]. It was '93 and Miami had won its last championship in '91, so they were still good.
Todd Jones: Oh yeah. I mean, they had Ray Lewis, Warren Sapp, that guy called The Rock. You know that guy. He didn't play a lot, but Dwayne Johnson went on to be The Rock. But they had Sapp and Lewis. They had some great players.
Dennis Dodd: And Colorado was still powerful, still at the front of the Big 8. And it was the national game of the day, and I was there, I may have been then for the Omaha World Herald. I can't remember. It's so far back. But a brawl broke out and I think we all saw this, the Tulsa, Mississippi State brawl for the bowl game in [inaudible 00:24:29] or whatever it was. This made that look like child's play. I mean, it was just a full-on, everything goes. It goes into the stands. Jammi German, who was an old receiver for Miami, somehow got into the stands and ripped a pair of binoculars off somebody's neck and were using the chord and twirling them around above his head like he was in Argentinean cowboy, with those bolo things, or whatever you call them. We're just sitting there elbowing each other going, "I can't believe this is happening." I mean, I was ready for the police to come on.
Todd Jones: Well, it went on for like 11 minutes.
Dennis Dodd: Yeah, it did. It did. I went on forever. And so, at the end, Colorado has a chance to win. They're driving. They're going to score and they're inside the red zone, they're going to beat Miami at home. And out of nowhere, there's a flag for, I'll never forget this, hands to the face by an offensive lineman. How often have you seen that ever? I mean, it was such a ticky tack call. I mean, you're going to call that? These guys put their hands in their face on every play. Both sides.
Todd Jones: 11 minute brawl with 12 ejections, and now you're going to get hands to the face.
Dennis Dodd: And you call that. Yeah. And that was Bill McCartney. Bill McCartney was a treasure, by the way. People may or may not have agreed with him, some of his views politically or socially, but he was a guy that was just one of a kind. Remember Sal [inaudible 00:26:01] the quarterback who got his daughter pregnant. You remember that? And ended up being a great player and led them to a championship, and then subsequently died of cancer. It was tragic. Those Colorado teams were great because they had a swagger. [inaudible 00:26:19] I go back with.
Dennis Dodd: Everybody's talking about Eric Bieniemy with the Chiefs not getting a job, their offensive coordinator. I go back to him where, I think it was '91, freezing rain at Nebraska, back when Nebraska and Colorado were sworn enemies. And I think Nebraska was leading something like 12 to nothing going into the fourth quarter. No way Colorado does this. They score four times in the fourth quarter and win 27 to 12, and Eric Bieniemy has like three or four touchdowns. Everything changed. Now, they couldn't sustain it for the long-term, but at that moment, and I'm trying to remember, '90, they shared the title with Georgia Tech. Right? I think that's right.
Todd Jones: I thinks so. Yeah.
Dennis Dodd: This might've been '91 were they won another big A title. But that was amazing back then.
Todd Jones: So, Nebraska, you bring up the Cornhuskers, so we talk some Oklahoma in the '80s was with Switzer and the Bos. Tom Osborne and Nebraska, I mean, he had a career that went from like '73 to '97, but really, it was in the '90s that he took it to, as they say, the next level. What was it like with the Cornhuskers when Osborne had it humming there in the '90s?
Dennis Dodd: Well, you remember, they dominated, them and Oklahoma dominated the '80s. I think Oklahoma, Switzer eventually won more of those match-ups with Osborne. But in '83, Nebraska had still one of the best college teams I've ever seen. The Scoring Machine, that was the schedule poster, I'll never forget that. They called them the Scoring Machine. They were averaging over 50 points a game, with Turner Gill and some of these guys on defense, and they went to Miami for the Orange Bowl and lost that game, where Osborne decided to go for two. Remember that? And they lose 31 30, and that launches the Miami dynasty. Well, as the years went on, you never knew if Osborne would get a shot to win another national championship. His days were getting numbered as you got into the mid and late '90s.
Dennis Dodd: And they started winning championships with a guy named Scott Frost who had gone to... He was a native son from, I think, Wood River, Nebraska. I want to say that's it. But went to Stanford. He was that good and that smart, but had played safety for his first two years at Stanford. And for whatever reason, maybe he saw a chance to play quarterback at Nebraska, came back home and led Nebraska to those championships. They won three and four years. He was partially responsible for that, to the point that that one Fiesta Bowl, probably the most dominating performance you'll ever see in a championship game setting, 63-28 over Steve Spurrier's Florida team.
Todd Jones: Yeah. The old ball coach. He took one there.
Dennis Dodd: And Tommy Frazier, I think, underrated in the history of college football, the original dual threat quarterback, basically a speedster tailback who played quarterback. Not a great thrower, but look, didn't have to be. Seemed like he was 6'6" and was the fire starter on that team. And Osborne's time ended in '97, when he got a parting gift from the AP voters. I believe it was AP, wasn't it?
Todd Jones: Yeah. Yeah. Well, the coaches. The coaches [crosstalk 00:29:51].
Dennis Dodd: The coaches poll. Of course it was a coaches poll, where Michigan won the AP title and Nebraska won. I think Osborne had indicated or announced that this was his final year and he was retiring. And a lot of people thought they didn't deserve it. The Michigan people to this day are upset that they had to share that title, but look, a championship is a championship.
Todd Jones: Right. What was Osborne like for a writer to deal with?
Dennis Dodd: Like cracking a code. It was hard. His personality is kind of dry, but everything he said had meaning because of who he was and what he did. And so, if you've got him... Well, I shouldn't say it. If you've got him one-on-one, he wasn't much different than he was in a group setting, but because he had that Midwestern sort of ethic and, I guess, persona to him... Or like if he wasn't a football coach, he'd be running a 400 acre farm in Western Nebraska. Very tight-lipped, didn't like to give out information. But I think his players spoke for him more than he did. I'm not saying he's a bad person. He just wasn't very exciting. We all know coaches like that.
Todd Jones: Yeah, he wasn't like Switzer. Right?
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. Right. And that's what made that rivalry so good. One time Switzer dropped into... And I don't know what Switzer was doing in town, but Osborne was doing his coaches show on a Monday or Tuesday and he was in a studio. And Switzer may have been in town speaking in Lincoln, and he crashes the show while they're taping it. And they just went with it. He brought food onto the set. That was one of the greatest coaches shows ever. But he represented that Nebraska stoicism, square jaw, strength, and his team showed it. That [I 00:31:53] option, which is a precursor to a lot of things you see now, a lot of the concepts you see now was unstoppable and some of those great defenders. And now they're trying to get back to that, and it just seems like a long, long way back from where Tom Osborne was.
Todd Jones: Well, you mentioned the '97 title that the Cornhuskers were voted co-national champions, and it was Osborne's last year, but really, there was a game that year that the Cornhuskers probably should have lost that you were at. The Flea Kicker, as it is known. I mean, that just shows you how tenuous it is to win a championship. You have to have a crazy play sometimes. Tell us a little bit about the Flea Kicker.
Dennis Dodd: And that was November 7th, I believe, 1997, because I covered the game. And Missouri was, I think I said before, they went 13 or 14 years without a bowl, and under Larry Smith, they were emerging. They were getting better. And this was seen as kind of a showdown. I want to say it was a primetime game on ABC because Brent Musburger did the game. I've seen the replays a million times. And Missouri led or the game was tied for most of the game. Corby Jones, who was one of the great Missouri players, not a great passer, he was a quarterback, was on fire that...
Dennis Dodd: They had big play after big play. Nebraska didn't seem to have an answer. Missouri's leading by seven late, and Nebraska, their last possession, this is it, do or die. Number one in the country. Drive down, fourth down, Scott Frost throws a pass to one of the players, and he is in no position to catch it. He's falling down, but as he's falling down, he inadvertently kicks it and the ball keeps floating up in the air. And so, the slot receiver at the time, Matt Davidson, caught it and tied the game, and Nebraska won in overtime, to the point that when the ball was hit in the end zone, the Missouri fans had stormed the field. They had to get them off the field.
Dennis Dodd: And I was at the other end on the sideline watching, and I said, "You know what? I don't think this is over," because they were shooing these people away. I saw the ball go up in the air, and I thought, "Well, that's it. Missouri's won." Not only that, not only the ball's up in the air, then he caught it and they had to get the people off the field, and the upshot of it, the fallout from the game was that that was the first time, and to my knowledge only time, a number one team dropped from that post after winning and the losing team actually got into the top 25. You can go look it up. Missouri lost the game and got into the top 25 because of the effort they put forth. So, people point to that and say, "Hey, that's a big reason why Osborne shouldn't gotten that parting gift from the coaches."
Dennis Dodd: But that was one of the greatest ones I've seen. That game were the two or three biggest events, I guess games, I've covered. The other one was 2012, Missouri/Kansas, basketball. Missouri's last game in the Big 12, they had said they were going to the SEC, and this was the last game between these two bitter rivals in basketball. And Missouri led by as many as 19. It was on national TV. Second half up by 19. [inaudible 00:35:33] doing the game. And Kansas wins in overtime. I've never felt much hate in one place, palpable in one place ever. The Kansas fans, they were not going to let Missouri get out of that gym that day without beating them one last time and reminding them who their daddy was.
Todd Jones: Did things get out of control at all? Did the fans get out of control?
Dennis Dodd: No, it didn't, it didn't get violent or anything like that, but it was just the noise. I've still got a video on my phone somewhere where I taped the last few seconds, and you can't hear yourself think. We've all been games like that. And I've been at Allen Fieldhouse many times, one of the great meccas in the country, but I've never ever seen it like that or heard it like that. It's hard to describe.
Todd Jones: Well, we go from the Flea Kicker, which leads to Tom Osborne getting a parting gift, as they say. Nebraska says, "No, that was legit." And Michigan says, "Parting gift." But what that leads to, really, is the next year was the Bowl championship series. And for me, when I look at it, the evolution of college football, that's what really changed because the emphasis became so much on the national championship, where it used to be win your conference, go to your Bowl game, if it works out, you might be national champion. It just seemed like things went from pride in your conference and region to, "We got to win a national championship."
Todd Jones: I remember the old Texas coach, Darrell Royal. I had the pleasure of speaking with him a few different times over the years. And one time he told me that... He won three national... He was voted national champion, the Longhorns, three times back in his career, he coached from the late '50s to like '76. But he said one time that they won the national title, he didn't even realize it. That the writers came up to him and asked him for a comment, and he's like, "What?" And he had no idea that, "Yeah, the poll was out, you've been voted number one. We were just looking for a comment." Had no idea. But that-
Dennis Dodd: That's how it was.
Todd Jones: That's how it was. That wasn't the impetus for everybody to win the national championship. It was just different priorities. By the way, Darrell Royal. I had a great time with him. I was in Austin once and I got to visit with him at some country club, and I spent like three hours with him. There was a couple of things I remember. He was drinking beer... We were both drinking beer, I got to admit. But he was drinking out of a styrofoam cup. And I remember, I said, "Darrell, why are you drinking out of a styrofoam cup?" And he said, "Never let them see what you're drinking, son."
Dennis Dodd: Oh yeah. Yeah. Les Miles told me when he... And this is a more recent story. He said, "I never drank in public. I don't even pick up a cup, because then people can speculate," especially in the social media. And this is what he said when he was at LSU.
Todd Jones: Well, at one point, the waiter came over and said, "Hey coach, do you want another one?" And he picked up a styrofoam cup and he held it up. And he was looking at it for a few seconds, and he took finger and he took his fingernail and he carved a little line about halfway. And he said, "Top her off about right there."
Dennis Dodd: A great story about Texas and Darrell Royal, the last or the title they won in '69, they go to Arkansas and win this game of the century 15-14, and that was a game where Richard Nixon flew in-
Todd Jones: And gave them a plaque.
Dennis Dodd: ... like awarded them the national championship right after the game [crosstalk 00:39:05].
Todd Jones: So, we can blame Nixon for all this change, right?
Dennis Dodd: Whatever you see now, we can blame him.
Todd Jones: But it did change. And when you saw, like in the mid 2000s, you started having almost like celebrity teams. You went from guys like the Bos and Dion and the old ball coach, like you get these characters, but then you started having like celebrity teams and the USC Trojans under Pete Carroll. That became just way different than what a popular college team was like. Right? You were around those guys.
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. And that was the case. Look, whenever USC is good, LA becomes a USC city. Even when the Rams were good, if USC was good, it was a USC town, or at least I'm told. But obviously, they had it going, a mini dynasty under Pete Carroll in the 2000s there. I clearly remember walking off the field with Matt [Liner 00:40:00] after they'd beaten the Notre Dame one year at the Coliseum, and I ran ahead of him to just do this image in my mind, and it was him, it was a couple of people on each side of him walking him off. And he had this look in his eyes like, "Well, this is what it's like to own a town." And that's exactly what had happened. If you read and know and talk to those guys now, Reggie Bush, Matt Liner, all those guys, they owned LA and whatever excess there was to it.
Dennis Dodd: I mean, we all know they went on probation, and those things happened, but I don't think I've ever seen, in a major market like that.... And it was fun. It was cool. It was cool to be around those guys. Pete Carroll made it fun. He made it fun for the media, he made it fun for the players.
Todd Jones: How? In what ways? What do you mean by that?
Dennis Dodd: He does it now with the Seahawks, or did earlier, he would make his players available, and that was a tradition. It's a tradition at USC today. You could sit down and have lunch with him, in a training table. His press conferences were really... He gave intelligent answers. And he was just a cool guy to be around. He had that vibe. It was almost, this is more than a college team, this is something you want to be around. And that's what they're trying to get back now. I suspect it's like that when Notre Dame's good, but Notre Dame's in Northern Indiana, it's not LA. There's something to be said for that.
Todd Jones: Yeah. Well, a lot of things have changed in college football, and it's gotten much bigger and things are different than they were, say, in '84 when you started covering the sport. But at the same time, you still find a way to get in the middle of it all, Dennis, with your great coverage with CBS Sports. You always seem to be like right in the middle of things. I mean, you mentioned Les Miles. I think you were in the locker room once when he-
Dennis Dodd: That's my favorite.
Todd Jones: Yeah, so what happened? You were in the locker room and the game literally just ended?
Dennis Dodd: Yeah. I don't even remember the opponent. I think they'd beaten Georgia. It was a big win. And there's one place you can get to the post-game. At LSU, after games, everybody has to go through the player tunnel, and there was like a room off to the side where they do the post-game interviews. So, everybody has to go in their, players, recruits, parents, coaches, media, all at once, so there's this big crush if you do it at a certain time. And Matt Hayes was a good, good friend of mine, and I think he was working for, might've been with Bleacher Report then, I don't remember, but we got trapped. We literally were just carried by this crowd. There was nothing we could do. We started going and we're looking at each other, "Oh my God, we're going into the locker room," because that's where the parents and the coaches and the players and their recruits went after the game. And we just looked at each other and said, "Don't say a word. Don't let anybody see you."
Todd Jones: Just act like you're supposed to be.
Dennis Dodd: Act like you're supposed to be there. So, we stood off to the side, and they immediately gave out game balls.
Todd Jones: Did you get one, Dennis?
Dennis Dodd: I did not get one. Les Miles gave out the game balls, and one of the captains comes up and goes, "Hold up, hold up, hold up. Hold up, coach. Hold up, coach." He holds up a ball above his head, and he goes... And we all know the criticism of Les Miles, Crazy Les Miles [crosstalk 00:43:27].
Todd Jones: The Mad Hatter.
Dennis Dodd: The Mad Hatter. Always something to criticize him for. He said, "Coach, this is for you and all that bullshit that they say about you." And the place just erupts. It's just erupts. It just goes... And they're throwing stuff around. And he takes the ball and he waits til it's absolutely quiet, and in typical Les fashion, he looks up and he says, "I humbly accept." And then another crescendo. I love Les. I mean, some of those post-games with him are... This is where opponent's dreams come to die. What other coach says that? [inaudible 00:44:03] doesn't say that.
Todd Jones: Hey, speaking of saving, weren't you swept up in the crowd at the kick six at the Auburn game?
Dennis Dodd: Yeah.
Todd Jones: I mean, we're talking about a famous play in college football. That's got to be in the ranking for number one all-time play in college football. But you were in the middle of the crowd somehow, right?
Dennis Dodd: I was. I was sideline waiting for the game to end. And at the end-
Todd Jones: This is at Auburn.
Dennis Dodd: At Auburn. Sorry, Alabama is going to try a 60 yard field goal, 57 yard field goal. It's something like that. It was either going to be that, or it was going to be overtime. And I started to tape it with my phone, my cell phone, like, Oh, this would be cool if I get this on tape," because I was behind the kicker.
Todd Jones: If you could only had that cell phone and tape that indoor soccer game. Right?
Dennis Dodd: Well, right. Yeah.
Todd Jones: Yeah.
Dennis Dodd: You wouldn't want to see some of those [inaudible 00:44:57]. So, he kicks it, they get ready to kick it, and for some reason I turned it off, or it got turned off, or I jostled or something. Well, he kicks it, and obviously we know Chris Davis catches it in the end zone and runs it back. And we were on the sideline, and as it was happening, it was like when you see these NBA players after a teammate dunks, or any player after a teammate dunks, and they're holding each other back, I had my arms out like this, like, "What am I doing? Who am I holding back?" What an idiot. And so, then, it seems like the entire stadium comes on the field. All you saw with the person in front of your face. There was no perspective. You just knew there was this giant celebration going on.
Dennis Dodd: At that point, I was panicking. I didn't know if I was going to be able to get back to the press box and file because time stood still. How long is it going to take to get from here to there? Well, the first thing I thought was I'm closer to the Alabama locker room right now, so I'll go there. If I get nothing else, I can get the losers. And I went and got Nick and reaction and everything and came out, and it was still the same. So, I fought, literally fought, hand fought, 120 yards from the back of one end zone to the other, where the Auburn locker room was, and got everything from there and I think filed at 1:30 in the morning. Probably not the best, most timely story. But you feared for your safety because you didn't know where this was going. You didn't know where they were going to take you.
Todd Jones: Right. I mean, I think it speaks to like almost a great metaphor for the growth of college football and where it where it was and where it is now, and you've pretty much been there every step of the way. And we've really enjoyed this. You've put us right there with the coaches and the players, and that's the aim of what we're trying to do here, is capture those moments that you were there behind the scenes. And we really appreciate this, Dennis.
Dennis Dodd: Todd, I really enjoy it. Thanks for having me.
Todd Jones: Thanks for listening to the Press Box Access. You can find us here with a new episode every other Wednesday. If you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple Podcast or on your favorite podcast app. We'd love for you to review us. Five stars would be nice. Follow us on social media. Drop us an email at [email protected]. And be sure to spread the word. Everyone is welcomed here. This has been a production Evergreen Podcast. A special thank you to executive producers, Michael [Dialoya 00:47:33] and Gerardo Orlando. Producer, Sarah [inaudible 00:47:36], and our audio engineer, Dave Douglas. I'm your host, Todd Jones. It's closing time. Rock on.