Photo Courtesy Donning. Com
Johnny Roland is a Texas native who traveled to Missouri for his college education.
He was a tireless athlete with incredible ability, superior size, shocking speed and enormous hands.
Standing nearly 6'3" and tipping the scales at a powerful 227 pounds, Roland lettered for the Tigers in 1962, '64 and '65, earning an All-Big Eight Conference selection each season.
In the mid-'60s, the presence of the "two-way player" had faded from campus. However, Johnny Roland established himself as a star on offense, defense and the kicking team.
Demonstrating unequaled skill as a halfback and receiver on offense, Johnny was recognized as one of the finest offensive players in the nation.
On defense, he had no equal. He was considered the finest defensive back in college football.
Adding to his acclaim, Roland was regarded as the premier kickoff and punt return specialist in the country.
Johnny led Missouri in rushing and scoring in 1962, in punt returns in 1964 and '65, in kickoff returns in 1962 and '64 and in interceptions in 1965.
During his sophomore year of 1962 he led the Big Eight Conference in scoring and was a unanimous All-American in 1965. Johnny also was elected as team captain for his final season.
Absent from the laudable achievements listed previously is the year of 1963, the season that was to be Johnny's junior year.
The actions of young Roland in 1963 left him booted out of school, but he eventually re-earned the respect of his teammates and Tigers head coach Dan Devine.
Thought to have stolen a pair of tires, Roland told a weak story of swapping tires with a teammate. Coach Devine suspected Roland was protecting someone else and taking the blame for the action to keep the other person out of trouble.
Unable to get to the bottom of the situation, Devine was forced to boot Johnny off the team and out of school.
Not one to crawl back home defeated, Roland moved to Kansas City and began work. He supported himself with an ordinary job in 1963.
Over the course of the next 12 months, information concerning the tire situation surfaced, which enabled Dan Devine to go visit Kansas City and ask Johnny to return to school and the team.
Although such youthful chivalry and codes of honor now seem passé, Johnny Roland is viewed as a man who does not turn on friends regardless of the personal consequences.
In Roland's final college game (pictured), he led the Tigers to a 20-0 lead going into the fourth quarter against quarterback Steve Spurrier and the Florida Gators in the 1965 season Sugar Bowl.
Big No. 23 even found time to throw a touchdown pass in the first half to Tigers teammate Earl Denny
Spurrier led a furious fourth-quarter assault that eventually cut the margin of victory for the Tigers down to 20-18 but, Roland's constant dogging of Florida All-American receiver Charlie Casey kept the Gators out of the end zone as time ran out.
And lest you believe Roland may have been some kind of "flame out" professionally, he was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1966.
Following his retirement as a player in the 1970s, Roland would go on to coach running backs for over 30 years. He followed his college mentor, Dan Devine, to Notre Dame and the Green Bay Packers.
Later, he was the position coach for Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith and Jerome Bettis among other notables in the professional ranks.
Roland's fearsome rushing attack philosophy is best recognized from his work as the running backs coach of the Chicago Bears in the mid-1980s.
Under Johnny's direction the Bears led the NFL in rushing four consecutive years and his ground attack was the backbone of "'Da Bears" in 1985, one of the most powerful teams in the history of professional football.
Johnny Roland is a man among men to remember.