HELMET NEWS FOR November 2006
By Dr. Ken
Established as Houston Junior College in 1927, located in the building of San Jacinto High School, and offering night classes only, it has been a long and uphill climb for the University Of Houston. Renamed when it became a four-year college in 1934, the campus bounced around the city, housed in a number of churches until it was finally re-located to its current campus site in 1939. As a private school, it remained a step-sister to the larger and better endowed football playing state schools throughout Texas and eventually faced dwindling enrollment. Despite fierce opposition from the two major state universities, Houston was made a part of the state educational system in 1963. Derisively referred to as "Cougar High" by many, Houston surprisingly has a number of highly regarded academic programs. Their MBA program is ranked fifth nationally, tied with Michigan and Dartmouth for the number of CEOs among the top S&P 500 companies and it is respected for its internationally known school of architecture and research facilities. Yet, the football team was always looked down upon as were its academics. As hard as Texas and Texas A&M fought to prevent the University Of Houston from joining the state educational system and with that acceptance, a piece of the legislative budget, it did all it could to prevent its inclusion to the Southwest Conference.   
As the Houston Cougars entered the early sixties, they still had a reputation in the football community as somewhat of an outlaw school. In part, this was due to the propaganda pushed by in-town neighbor Rice University and both Texas and A&M, in part to the scheduling of a broad range of other schools, and perhaps primarily because they were seen as a rag-tag collection of athletes that could not cut it at other institutions of higher learning. Hogan Wharton, the very tough 1958 All American tackle who later starred at offensive guard for the first three Houston Oiler teams, stated "Burr Davis, Harold Lewis, John Peters, and Bob Borah were about the only ones who hadn't transferred from another school." Wharton himself was an SMU transfer who was All Missouri Valley two times and Conference Lineman Of The Year. When Bill Yeoman took the head coaching reins from Hal Lahar in 1962, the team already owned a reputation of "intellectually challenged drop-outs from other schools". Wharton admitted that "We were a bunch of rowdies" and some of the fellows may not have provided a first-impression of an erudite college man. "One day in our meeting Andy Zubel (an assistant) tells us 'We're going to attack these people methodically'. Then he asks Don Boudreaux, 'Do you know what that means/' Boudreaux tells him, 'Yes sir, bordering on mediocrity.'" Another coach informed the team that "Out of this formation, they do two things-run or pass." 
The outlaw reputation only increased because of the team's rugged style of play, enhanced by the hiring of Bill Yeoman as head coach in 1962. Yeoman was a multi-sport athlete at Texas A&M as a frosh in 1945 and had fouled out of twenty-four of the thirty basketball games he played in during the 1945 season and his squads reflected this "take no prisoners" attitude. Specific to the series with Cincinnati, the 1957 game ended with what was termed " the biggest gang fight on the field you ever saw..." and later continued as the Cougars and Bearcats squared off on the bus that was taking the Houston team to the airport. The 1957 game was the start of a six game series that ran through 1962 and Houston won every game. Yeoman did push to break new ground after the success he experienced as an assistant on Duffy Daugherty's Michigan State staff and his toughness made him more impervious to criticism than most. He received a commission to West Point in 1946 and was Army's team captain in '48 on a squad that went 22-2-4 in his three-year period. Serving in the Army through the Korean War, he was discharged in 1953 and spent 1954 through '61 on the Spartan staff. Daugherty was known for recruiting southern and Texan African-American players when schools in their home states would not think of allowing a Black player on the gridiron. Yeoman broke the color barrier in the Southwest by signing Houston's first African-American player to a football scholarship on July 11, 1964. That the specific player was Warren McVea of San Antonio, perhaps the most highly recruited player in the nation, provided tremendous impact and notoriety.
The game in 1964 with Cincinnati was played at Houston and came after the announcement that once again, Houston would be denied entrance to the SWC. Promised support by Rice, it was not forthcoming and Texas and Texas A&M again prevailed by preventing expansion of the conference. This didn't prevent the Cougars from putting a tremendous amount of talent onto the field but may have played a role in the disappointing 2-6-1 record. That one of those victories was a 10-0 decision over A&M made it more palatable but Cincinnati QB Brig Owens and HB Al Nelson guided the Bearcats to a 20-6 decision over Houston. Because the Bearcats tied a loaded Tulsa team for the Missouri Valley Conference crown, this wasn't considered an upset. Owens of course played many top-level seasons with the Redskins and Nelson did the same with the Eagles, both at defensive backfield positions but some of the locals were surprised that their hometown Cougars had suffered through consecutive two-win seasons. 1964 marked the introduction of a brand new offense that Yeoman developed and the adaptation to it also limited the attack but the Veer was born and would later prove to be one of the era's most effective schemes.
Houston took the field in bright red helmets with a white interlocking "UH" decal on each side and red jerseys with white front, back, and sleeve numbers. They always looked big because relative to a lot of the other southwest area teams, they did have more size and the level of increased aggressiveness they seemed to display was always a consideration. The
1965 game was highly anticipated because it would be played indoors, at the brand new Houston Astrodome. The so-called "Eighth Wonder Of The World", the first indoor stadium, wasn't, and a frequently overlooked fact is that the field was dirt and rocks! To reduce glare produced by sunlight streaming through the glassed roof which played havoc with fly balls during the inaugural baseball season, it was painted over with green paint. This certainly reduced the level of glare but also prevented any grass from growing, thus, the first football season at the Astrodome often necessitated constant watering of the field of play to prevent the players from being obscured in a cloud of dust. Having been shut out in their first two games against Tulsa and Mississippi State, the Cougs opened up a twenty-one point fourth quarter barrage against UC to win 21-6. While McVea was the big name, he was a bit of a disappointment and had not yet found his more effective position at running back, staying almost exclusively at the flank. The Bearcats' Denny Matthews blanketed him very effectively. However, '64's leading rusher Dick Post was a tough runner who later proved his worth with the Chargers and was well-known in NFL circles as a "fashion plate", so much so that he eventually opened up his own clothing store in San Diego that was known for having the hippest of "mod threads." Tom Beer was an effective TE who had transferred to Houston when Detroit Mercy University dropped football. UC had also benefited from that unfortunate situation when the respected Catholic university could no longer fund the program as QB Mike Flaherty and others transferred in with the ability to play immediately. Beer played a six-year pro career with the Broncos and Patriots and later played and became a front office administrator in the WFL. The Cougars had improved to 4-5-1.
Houston changed its helmet for the '66 season, maintaining the white interlocking U and H on the sides of the headgear but adding two white flanking stripes around the one-inch red center stripe, a great look. Thank goodness the series with the Bearcats took a two-year sabbatical because the Veer really kicked in on the brand new $250,000.00 artificial grass rug that was laid upon the Astrodome floor. Everyone who played there noted that it was like playing on concrete and that one's forearms would be torn to shreds sliding across the plastic carpet. Most of the jerseys still had three-quarter length sleeves but it wasn't until part-way through the season that visiting teams realized that some sort of padding was necessary to avoid severe skin damage and in some cases, eventual staph infections! Post became Houston's first 1000-yard rusher in fifteen seasons, McVea seemed to learn how to utilize his great speed and elusiveness, and the team ran up an 8-2 record with a monster seventy-three points laid upon Tulsa. The '67 season finished at 7-3 with a seventy-seven point outburst against Idaho and when the UC vs. Houston series resumed in 1968, the Cougars' 6-2-2 record included ridiculous offensive numbers. Consider scores of 54-7 (vs. Tulane), 77-3 (against Idaho, the second consecutive year they ran up seventy-seven points on the Vandals), a scorching 100-6 mark against Tulsa, and a record-setting offensive outburst vs. Cincinnati in a 71-33 triumph. The high-powered Veer as the expression went "was all of that!"
History shows that once Houston was accepted as a member of the SWC, they immediately made all of the other conference members pay for not allowing them in sooner. They swept in and won the conference title but with the break up of the SWC, now find themselves in the competitive Conference USA where they remain an offensive powerhouse.