Cincinnati Bearcats Football

Best College Football Moments in Cincinnati History

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistNovember 4, 2013

Best College Football Moments in Cincinnati History

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    Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

    The Cincinnati Bearcats are known for their college basketball achievements. However, the Bearcats football team has made their own name in terms of longevity and excellence.

    The Bearcats have been playing college football since 1885—the 2013 season marks their 126th year of competition. 

    Heading into the 2013 season, the Cincinnati Bearcats were one of four programs in the nation to have won 10 games in five of the previous six seasons. The other elite schools to accomplish that are Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma.

    The Bearcats are the only team in the nation to have won four conference titles in the last five years.

    Here's a look at eight of the greatest moments, players and coaches associated with Cincinnati football.

Sensational 1946 Season

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    Tyler Barrick/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bearcats were supposed to be an ordinary team in the 1946 season. However, they were anything but and they let their fans know that they would be a force to be reckoned with right from the start.

    The Bearcats took on an excellent Indiana Hoosiers team that would eventually finish as the No. 20 team in the nation with a 6-3 record. Cincinnati took the Hoosiers to task and spanked them in the season opener.

    Cincinnati would eventually finish the season with a 9-2 record. They would defeat Virginia Tech 18-6 in the Sun Bowl to close the season.

    Ironically, the Bearcats did not make the Associated Press Top 20, even though the Hoosiers did. Nevertheless, it was a sensational season for the Bearcats.

Sid Gillman Takes over as Head Coach in 1949

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    Inventive Sid Gillman is considered one of the most brilliant coaches in the history of football.

    In addition to becoming one of the game's best offensive minds, he is considered to have one of the most influential coaching trees in the history of the game.

    Gillman made his name as head coach of the explosive San Diego Chargers of the American Football League.

    However, Gillman began his career as a college coach, and spent six years as head coach of the Bearcats between 1949 and 1954. He was 50-13-1 in that time and was one of Cincinnati's best coaches.

    Chuck Noll, Chuck Knox, Dick Vermeil, George Allen, Don Coryell and Al Davis are among the coaches and football leaders Gillman had on his staff at one point.

    Gillman was elected into both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

     

Bearcats' Magical 1953 Season

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    The 1953 football season saw the Bearcats feature one of the most dominant teams in football history.

    Cincinnati split its first two games, beating Tulsa and losing to Marquette. The Bearcats then reeled off eight straight victories and closed the year with a 9-1 record.

    That would be memorable on its own, but it's just the start of the story. The Bearcats finished the season with the nation's top-ranked offense (409.5 yards per game) and top-ranked defense (184.3 yards per game).

    Only three other teams in college football history have led the nation in both categories. 

    The key to Cincinnati's success was its versatility. Running back Dick Goist led the team with 521 rushing yards and he was one of four backs on the team with 400 rushing yards or more.

The Legend of Greg Cook

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    Those who saw Greg Cook play for the Bearcats or the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 1960s realize they saw one of the most special quarterbacks of all time.

    Cook was a gifted passer who had arm strength similar to Hall of Famer Dan Marino. The comparison might be unfair to Cook because his arm strength was so remarkable.

    Cook set 15 passing records for the Bearcats, and Cincinnati led the nation in total offense. His remarkable velocity and accuracy had pro scouts drooling at the thought of the 6'4", 220-pound quarterback leading their offense.

    He was drafted by the hometown Cincinnati Bengals, and he played for them in the 1969 season. 

    Cook started immediately and led the Bengals to a 3-0 start. He missed the next three games with shoulder problems but returned and played 11 games that season.

    Cook threw for 1,854 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He averaged a record 17.5 yards per completion and 9.4 yards per attempt. Both figures led the American Football League, and his completion average remains a record.

    Cook was never the same after his rookie season because of his injured shoulder. He played only sporadically after that.

    “Greg was the single most talented player we’ve ever had with the Bengals,” Bengals president Mike Brown said in a statement after Cook's death in 2012. “His career was tragically short due to the injury. Had he been able to stay healthy, I believe he would have been the player of his era in the NFL.”

Bearcat Jim O'Brien Wins Super Bowl V for Colts

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    The Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys played in Super Bowl V.

    The game became known as the "Blunder Bowl" because both teams combined for 11 turnovers and numerous penalties throughout the game.

    Nevertheless, it was one of the most compelling finishes in Super Bowl history.

    The teams were tied 13-13 in the final seconds when the Colts had the ball deep in Dallas territory. Head coach Don McCafferty sent place-kicker Jim O'Brien to attempt the game-winning field goal.

    The former Cincinnati Bearcat was nervous and could hear his own heart beating in his chest. Nevertheless, he kicked a 32-yard field goal and the Colts had their first Super Bowl title.

    O'Brien was a receiver and a place-kicker for the Colts, and this was clearly the greatest moment of his career.

Bearcats Upset Penn State in 1983 Season Opener

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    The Cincinnati Bearcats pulled off one of the biggest victories in their history when they upset national power Penn State 14-3 in the 1983 season opener.

    The game was the first of head coach Watson Brown's tenure with the Bearcats. The victory was led by quarterback Troy Bodine, who completed 25 of 36 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown. Bill Booze and Don Goodman scored the touchdowns for Cincinnati.

    Not only did the Bearcats upset Penn State, they did it on the Nittany Lions' home field in Happy Valley.

     

Cincinnati Upsets Wisconsin in 1999

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    Ron Dayne rushed for 231 yards but the Bearcats defeated Wisconsin.
    Ron Dayne rushed for 231 yards but the Bearcats defeated Wisconsin.Tom Hauck/Getty Images

    The Bearcats appeared to have little chance when they took on Big Ten power Wisconsin in 1999.

    The Badgers had powerful running back Ron Dayne and would eventually go on to play in the Rose Bowl. The Bearcats hosted Wisconsin in September that year, and Cincinnati lost the previous week to unheralded Troy.

    This game appeared to be a rout.

    However, the Bearcats were an inspired team under head coach Rick Minter and they registered a 17-12 upset. 

    Running back Robert Cooper keyed the upset. He ran for 143 yards and shocked the Badgers with a 51-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

    The Badgers had many chances to get back in the game, but they hurt themselves with penalties and turnovers.

    A victory over the Big Ten powerhouse remains one of the top highlights in Cincinnati football history.

Bearcats Have Dominant 12-1 Season in 2009

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    The 2009 season was spectacular for the Cincinnati Bearcats.

    Head coach Brian Kelly knew he had a talented team, but he didn't know how good his players were until they started rolling to victory after victory.

    Cincinnati won 12 straight games to open the season and it rose to the No. 4 ranking and the No. 3 spot in the BCS rankings. It landed a berth in the Sugar Bowl against Urban Meyer's powerful Florida team.

    Cincinnati's dreams of a perfect season were dashed by the Gators, who pulled away with a 51-24 victory.

    The Bearcats were led by quarterback Tony Pike, who threw for 2,520 yards and fired 29 touchdown passes. Explosive wide receiver Mardy Gilyard caught 87 passes for 1,191 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also added three touchdowns as a return specialist.

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