1979 - 81 Tigers
(Authentic Reproduction)





With expectations off the charts and victories in the first three games of ‘79, the faithful were convinced that Coach Powers was a savior. Even a loss to Texas in game four didn’t dampen spirits because the Longhorns squad was always tough and ranked number-four at the time of the contest, but losing the next two-out-of-three killed the kind of season everyone wanted and the finish was 7-5, 8-5 after a 24-14 win over South Carolina in the Hall Of Fame Classic Bowl game. A lack of emotional consistency was later blamed for the erratic performances of an extremely talented squad, again led by QB Phil Bradley who was All Conference. FB James Wilder was terrific when not injured but unfortunately, was injured enough to cut his efficiency. The O-line was recognized as one of the best in the nation with tackle Howard Richards teamed with center Brad Edelman. Free Safety Eric Wright was the star of the defense and an All Conference pick in a strong secondary with Bill Whitaker and Johnnie Poe. DE Wendell Ray was again a force on the defensive front. Powers made a helmet design change for ‘79, noticeable to most fans. The striping on the black shell remained the same, utilizing the one-half-inch gap and white flanking stripes with the one-inch old gold center stripe but the block white Missouri “M” on each side of the helmet now had a thicker profile and the masks were switched from the standard gray to black. If the let down of ’79 surprised Tiger supporters, the 8-4 finish of 1980, complete with a Liberty Bowl game loss to Purdue, had them baffled. The number of players who eventually matriculated to the pro ranks made the Tigers seem like an NFL farm team. Instead of a Big Eight Championship, there was another late-season let down and the promising 6-1 start came apart. Talent was abundant and undeniable as QB Bradley completed his collegiate career as the all-time Big Eight total offense leader and then went off to play outfield for the Mariners in an eight-year Major League Baseball career. FB Wilder was the all-time Mizzou rushing leader with 2357 yards and had an extremely productive pro career with the Bucs, Redskins, and Lions including a Pro Bowl in ’84, a season that saw him fall just sixteen yards short of the NFL all-time single-season total yardage record. WR Leo Lewis was productive too, returning kicks and on the flank and then did the same for the Vikings from 1981-’91. OT Howard Richards was the Cowboys first-round choice, anchored their line from ’81 through ’86 and then finished with the Seahawks in 1987. Center Brad Edelman received national notice for an offense that scored thirty points or more six times. The defense also had its stars, especially in the secondary. All American DB Bill Whitaker played for the Packers and Cardinals and Johnnie Poe was a stalwart for the Saints from 1981 to ‘87. The leading light of the secondary was free safety Eric Wright who was a force for the Super Bowl era Forty Niners for ten seasons. DE Wendell Ray later kept pressure on the opposition for both the Vikings and USFL Birmingham Stallions and LB Lester Dickey was considered among the best in the Big Eight. Fans and alumni compared the seven All Conference picks to the 8-4 record and scratched their heads. Obviously, the Tigers had talent but they were now wondering if Powers was making the most of it. The team posted another 8-4 mark in ’81 that included an upset win in the Tangerine Bowl over Southern Mississippi, but again the alumni felt that the talent was there for better results. The loss of 1980’s talented senior class made for a young team that started off as a top ten contender and then faded mid-season with three consecutive losses. Giving soph QB Brad Perry a shot produced a string of victories including a 6-0 defensive gem against Nebraska but the running game was inconsistent with injuries to RB’s Tracey Mack and George Shorthose. The rush game should have been more potent with excellent O-linemen Edelman, Andy Ekern, and Conrad Goode. Goode’s father Conrad Hitchler had been an All American for Mizzou in 1962. Former walk-on flanker James Caver emerged as the Big Eight’s number-two receiver but it was the best defense in the conference that made for success. Paced by All American DT Jeff Gaylord, who became a well-known professional wrestler, and All Big Eight safety Kevin Potter, they were never overwhelmed.

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