Looking back: Upset win placed ’67 Cougars on map

Warren McVea streaks toward pay dirt after outrunning the Michigan State defense. | File photo/The Houstonian

Warren McVea streaks toward pay dirt after outrunning the Michigan State defense. | File photo/The Houstonian

Forty-five years ago under the direction of head coach Bill Yeoman, the 1967 Houston Cougars football team headed to East Lansing, Mich. in search of a victory against a powerhouse Michigan State program that had won 19 of its previous 21 games and a national championship the season prior. What Houston gained instead meant much more.

“That was a seriously critical game for us in the program’s progress,” Yeoman said. “I think it was an awakening moment for a lot of people to see how many football players are in this state. They don’t all go to A&M or Texas.”

The Cougars throttled the much larger Spartans squad with a score of 37-7 that day in front of more than 75,000 people, assembling a victory that is still regarded by many as the greatest win in the program’s history.

“They just did not think we were very much,” Yeoman said of Michigan State’s expectations. “When you measured them up, compared to Michigan State, we weren’t (very big). But they just didn’t understand what was inside.”

UH was led by a tandem of running backs, Paul Gipson and Warren McVea, who helped the Cougars average 427 yards of total offense per game making it the second consecutive year the team would lead the nation in that category.

“Nobody had a better backfield in the United States,” Yeoman said. “Paul Gipson was a physical freak; he was exceptionally strong, quick and fast. And no one could get a piece of McVea.”

The ’67 Cougars would climb as high as No. 2 in the polls and average attendance at the Astrodome was more than 46,000 making it the highest attended season in program history — a figure that still stands.

“I remember when I went over and talked to (then-Astros owner) Roy Hofheinz about playing in the stadium,” Yeoman said of the former Harris County judge who helped build the Dome, “I was giving him the very casual and mature approach and he kind of smiled about five minutes into our discussion. He patted me on the head and said, ‘Son, 10 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing.’ He then worked very hard to make sure it was a suitable venue for our football games.”

With the anticipation of another season growing, a look back shows there may have never been a period of excitement surrounding UH football equal to that on the gridiron 45 years ago.

“It was a lot of fun for the students and the alumni because we played the best (we could) and we did very well,” Yeoman said. “It was a source of pride for the student body and a source of pride for the alumni. We had some good people to watch.”

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  • I remember the game well. I had just transferred from Michigan State to Houston that year. I told Bill Pickens there was no way they would beat State. Was I ever wrong. That UH team was the most exciting team to watch that I have ever seen.

  • I attended that game with about 75 other Cougar fans. It was intiminating sitting among 77,000 fans. You need to remember the year before, Michigan State was co-national champions with Notre Dame. On the opening kickoff, we (I believe Gus Holloman) decleated their returner to the surprise of the fans.
    From that point on, the Cougars dominated with the Mad Dog defense as well as the offense of Gipson and McVea. Wide receiver, place kicker, Kenny Hebert was also magnificent. After the first quarter, you could hear a pin drop. It was surely the most important game in Cougar history up to that time. Gipson went on to finish third in the Heismann voting two years later. He was outpolled by O.J. Simpson and Mercury Morris. McVea has a notable career with the Kansas City Chiefs. What a game!

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