Purdue University

1956 - 61 Boilermakers
(Authentic Reproduction)




From 1947 through '55, Kenneth "Jack" Mollenkopf had enhanced his reputation as a coach who could develop linemen as well as anyone in the business. He had established himself as one of the best of a long list of great Ohio high school coaches at Toledo Waite, winning three unofficial state championships and he aspired at most, to a job as a high school principal. When Stu Holcomb became the Boilermakers' head coach in 1947, he surprised Mollenkopf with an offer to become part of his staff and when it was time for Holcomb to step down and move to the AD job at Northwestern, the choices of a successor were assistants Hank Stram or Mollenkopf. Rebuffed, Stram moved up the road to be a Notre Dame assistant, and  "Jack The Ripper" put a more palatable public face on a legendary temper and entertaining use of profane language to become one of Purdue's most popular and recognizable representatives. His love for the school ran so deeply, he became immediately associated with the head job at Purdue and had a staff that seemed to enjoy recruiting for the school. In fourteen years, Jack built a team that swelled stadium attendance to sold-out capacity, put exciting and competitive teams onto the field, and solidified Purdue as the "cradle of quarterbacks."  He changed the uniform slightly, using 1955's black shell with an old gold one-inch center stripe helmet design, but added three-inch thin, rounded-style identifying numerals in a contrasting yellow-gold color. While the numbers stood out on the gleaming black helmet, he made player identification easier by placing the numerals high on each side of the helmet so that they were more easily seen from the outer reaches of Ross-Ade Stadium.  His first season was a rough one however, a 3-4-2 affair that was salvaged by wins over rivals Notre Dame and Indiana. HB Mel Dillard was the Big 10 rushing leader and QB Dawson the same for passing and total offense but injuries and what numerous observers termed "a cold deck and unbelievable bad luck" brought a series of ties and close losses that could have just as easily been an eight win season. Dawson wrapped up a great collegiate career with twenty-nine TD passes and 243 completions in 452 pass attempts for 3325 yards, all school records. Dawson of course went on to a Hall Of Fame NFL/AFL career. End Lamar Lundy took his 6'7" frame to the Rams for fifteen years and was a cog in the famous "Fearsome Foursome" front line of the Ram's defense.

Len Dawson was a skinny sophomore from Alliance, Ohio who was given the task of leading the Purdue team against the number one ranked Notre Dame powerhouse in his second collegiate game. That October 2, 1954 contest said a lot about Dawson who was named the UPI Back Of The Week in his debut against Missouri the week before. He connected on four TD throws against the Irish and the 27-14 upset was one of the biggest of the season. All Big 10 as a soph, his fifteen TD throws was best in the nation and he was the Conference leader in passing and total offense. He repeated as the conference leader in passing (76 completions in 134 attempts for 901 yards), and total offense, with six TD tosses his junior year despite a thumb injury which cut his efficiency for the first half of the schedule. Dawson finished his career as the first player to lead the Big 10 in total offense and passing for three consecutive seasons. His 243 completions in 452 attempts were huge numbers for the offenses of the era, especially with a .538 percentage. Len started out as the Steelers' number one draft pick but never got untracked, serving as a backup there and in Cleveland. Rescued by former Purdue backfield coach Hank Stram who brought him to the AFL Dallas Texans, Dawson blossomed into an NFL Hall Of Famer with an 82.56 QB rating in a nineteen-season career. The MVP of Super Bowl IV, he preceded that feat with an AFL Championship in 1962 and an appearance in the first Super Bowl game against the Packers. A multi-time All AFL choice, he was also AFL Player Of The Year in 1962 and recognized by many as perhaps the best AFL quarterback of all time. As a broadcaster, his NFL analysis and presentations received the same laudatory comments that his play on the field inspired.   

In 1957 Bob Spoo and soph Ross Fichtner took over the QB seat from the departed Dawson and HB Mel Dillard (who finished his career as Purdue's all-time rush leader with 873 yards) and FB Kenny Mikes supplied the ground power as the Boilermakers improved to 5-4. Tom Franckhauser was a reliable receiver and defender. The season-ending brawl against rival Indiana was in part instigated by the Hoosier belief that the Purdue staff had reported IU's blatant recruiting violations to the NCAA leading to the year-long suspension of IU's new head coach Phil Dickens. A three quarterback rotation led to a 6-1-2 record in '58, using Fichtner, Spoo, and soph Bernie Allen. With little 153-pound Jimmie Tiller and "Jarrin'" Bob Jarus running the ball, the attack was balanced. The line featured productive ends Franckhauser who would play with the Rams for a season before becoming one of the original Dallas Cowboys as a DB, and Len Jardine, later the head coach at Brown University. Tackle Gene Selawski plowed the opposition and gained All American mention. The entire line was so effective that the backs ran for 609 yards in the season's first two games against Nebraska and Rice. A loss to Wisconsin and a 14-14 deadlock with Ohio State on the Buckeye's Jim Houston's blocked punt and tipped pass which led to OSU TD's ruined their championship bid but the defense was stifling, ranked second in the nation and gave up less than fifty yards rushing in five of their games. The season closer against IU was a disappointing 15-15 tie but there was jubilation going into 1959. 
The Boilers opened with high-flying UCLA in a dreadful 0-0 tie and then picked things up despite losing Fichtner and Jarus to injury. When QB Bernie Allen went down before the Iowa game, Jarus, "taped like a mummy" came back to spark the team and they rolled to a 6-2-2 mark. Fichtner had a fine career with the Browns as a DB and finished his final season with the Saints. Jimmie Tiller stepped it up against Notre Dame but the injuries and inconsistent play limited the team's sucess. 1960 introduced NCAA's "Wild Card Substitution Rule" where one player could be substituted after each play but everyone was still a two-way player. Again the Boilermakers opened with UCLA and again it was a tie game, this time a more exciting 27-all encounter as Purdue could not stop UCLA tailback Bill Kilmer. In the Notre Dame contest, what was termed "the greatest eleven minutes in the history of Purdue football", a thirty-one point explosion, led to a 45-13 halftime lead and 51-19 finish. QB Allen and HB Tiller led the way but inconsistency defined the season. They traveled to Wisconsin and turned over seven fumbles in a 24-13 loss; they came back the next week to upend number one ranked Ohio State 24-21 on an Allen field goal;, they defeated Minnesota who was ranked number one at the time and finished as number one at the end of the season; they lost to an Iowa team that was in disarray due to their second probation sanction. The finish was 4-4-1, tackle Jerry Beabout was named as an All American, and Allen passed on pro football and became an eleven year Major League Baseball player after signing with the Twins as a free agent. Ron DiGravio was the QB, throwing for 861 yards on 52 completions and punted for the improved 6-3 version of the Riveters of 1961 but the team had to play in the shadow of Mollenkopf's cancer diagnosis, surgery, and treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Assistant Bob DeMoss filled in well, shutting out Iowa 9-0 and winning National Coach Of The Week honors, the first time the honor was bestowed upon an assistant coach. Don Brumm was the line standout and with a shot at the Rose Bowl, Purdue dropped a 10-7 decision to Minnesota.

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