Reusse: 50 years ago, Johnnies played in unique championship showdown

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2013 - 12:30 AM

A four-team NAIA showdown 50 years ago showcased St. John’s, which rose to the occasion against Prairie View.


File photo provided by St. John’s • Star Tribune illustration St. John’s (in white) overcame a physical mismatch when it faced Prairie View A&M and its roster dotted with future NFLers in the 1963 Camellia Bowl.

The NAIA began using a four-team playoff to determine a national champion in 1958. St. John’s had gone unbeaten in 1962 and was hopeful of an invitation to the playoff that never came. ¶ “We had heard some things late in the season that, if we stayed unbeaten, we were going to make it,’’ John Gagliardi said. “We were following what was happening around the country closely. And nervously.’’

Gagliardi was in his 11th season at Collegeville in 1963. He would last 60, before retiring after 2012 with more wins (489) than any coach in college football history.

St. John’s had closed its second consecutive 8-0 regular season with a 32-7 victory over archrival St. Thomas on Nov. 2. It took until the middle of the month for St. John’s to find out that it had been selected for the NAIA playoff and would play Emporia [Kan.] State in a semifinal.

Arrangements were made to play the game Nov. 30 at Met Stadium. The other semifinal was Prairie View A&M of Texas playing at Kearney State in Nebraska on Dec. 7.

The Johnnies blew out Emporia 54-0 on a bitterly cold day in Bloomington. A week later, Prairie View defeated Kearney 20-7.

The NAIA came up with this money-saving plan to get the two winners to Sacramento, Calif., to decide the national title in the Camellia Bowl: The Panthers from Prairie View would hang tight in Nebraska and the charter flight that carried St. John’s out of Minneapolis would stop and pick them up.

Prairie View was a historically black college from near Houston. St. John’s was a bastion of whiteness in the woods of central Minnesota.

“Remember, this was two weeks after President Kennedy was assassinated,’’ said Ken Roering, a standout end for the Johnnies. “There was unrest over civil rights, and then the president was shot … it was such a crazy time.

“We were a bunch of white kids from Minnesota who hadn’t seen much of the world. And now we would be going up against a team from a black school in the South. We had no idea what to expect, and I’m sure the Prairie View players felt the same way about us.’’

The Johnnies staked out a portion of the plane, flew to Nebraska and then waited for the opponents to board.

“They came walking down the aisle and there were so many big guys I didn’t think we were going to be able to take off,’’ Gagliardi said.

Gagliardi was getting started on his status as the legend of St. John’s. Coach Billy Nicks was already that at Prairie View. The Pittsburgh Courier, a famed black newspaper, had named Nicks’ Panthers as the national black college champions in 1953, 1954 and 1958, and would do so again in 1963 and 1964.

“We didn’t have too much interaction as coaches,’’ Gagliardi said.

“We were both trying to prepare for a game against opponents we didn’t know much about.’’

It was probably a good thing the Johnnies did not know many specifics about the players they would be facing.

There were eight players from that Prairie View team drafted by the NFL and/or AFL: quarterback Jim Kearney, defensive backs Ken Houston and Leon Carr, receiver Otis Taylor, halfback Ezell Seals and linemen Ray Scott, Ray Johnson and Carl Robinson.

Houston became a Pro Football Hall of Famer as a safety. Taylor was a great wide receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs. Kearney was a longtime starter as a strong safety for the Chiefs, including in the 1970 Super Bowl.

Taylor had six catches for 81 yards in that game, including a relentless run on a 43-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that basically clinched the Chiefs’ 23-7 upset of the Vikings.

  • related content

  • Chart: NAIA had football playoff idea early on

    Friday December 13, 2013

    NAIA HAD PLAYOFF IDEA EARLY ONThe National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics was formed in 1952 to oversee small college athletics....

  • NDSU players braced for Saturday's early playoff start

    Friday December 13, 2013

    Kickoff for Saturday’s Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal playoff game against Coastal Carolina is 11 a.m.

  • The coaches in the 1963 Camellia Bowl: Billy Nicks of Prairie View A&M and John Gagliardi of St. Johns.

  • St. Johns quarterback Craig Muyers had a throwing lane on one passing play. His fourth-quarter TD pass settled the game.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 8 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: E. Volquez 0
Minnesota 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington 1 FINAL
Buffalo 6
Carolina 3 FINAL
Columbus 6
Pittsburgh 2 FINAL
Detroit 0
Montreal 3 FINAL
Chicago 1
Arizona 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Fla Atlantic 6:00 PM
UCF 6:00 PM
Arizona 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton 10/10/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa 10/11/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters


Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pm30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 am
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA




question of the day

Poll: How will the Gophers do against Michigan?

Weekly Question