Cape man was on the field the last time Mizzou played on New Year's Day

Monday, December 31, 2007
MU football player Mike Bennett in 1969, when the Tigers went to the Orange Bowl under Dan Devine. (Photo submitted by Mike Bennett)

Mike Bennett and his wife will have a different vantage point watching Tuesday's AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic game than they did in 1970 -- the last time the University of Missouri Tigers played in a bowl game on New Year's Day.

On Tuesday, the Cape Gir-ardeau couple will watch the game from the stands at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas as 7th-ranked Mizzou takes on No. 25 Arkansas. Their seats are near the end zone, Bennett said.

Thirty-seven years ago, they were a whole lot closer to the field.

Bennett, 58, a Cape Girardeau dentist, played for the Tigers in the 1970 Orange Bowl game against Penn State, while his wife, then his girlfriend, cheered from the sidelines.

Because fewer bowl games were played in the '70s than today, playing in one was "kind've a big deal," Bennett said.

"When you went to a bowl game, it was great honor," he said.

That trip to Florida for the Orange Bowl was only the second time Bennett, a self-described "farm boy," had ever left the state of Missouri.

Before more aggressive recruiting took over college football, it was understood that if you were a football player and you were headed to college, you went to the state university of your home state, he said.

That's not so today. In fact, several players on Mizzou's team this year are Texas natives.

"They used to seal the borders more," he said.

That home state pride, combined with Mizzou's status as a major school of journalism, led to a campus media frenzy surrounding the teams Bennett played on that "made you feel like you were the toast of the town," he said.

On the field against Penn State, Bennett, a defensive end, had a great game, he said, and the Tigers held Penn State's offense to just 10 points.

But Terry McMillan, the Tigers' quarterback, threw five interceptions during the game, and Mizzou scored just a field goal against Penn State.

"It was just one of those games," said Bennett, who is staying with McMillan when he travels to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl.

"[Penn State coach] Joe Paterno put all his best players on defense, it was predictable that they'd slow us down. I just didn't think we'd only score three points," he said.

Now, Bennett watches Mizzou's games from his easy chair, preferring to avoid crowded sports bars because he gets so into the action, he said.

"My children gave me a foam brick that I can throw at the TV if I get frustrated," he said, laughing.

While today's teams tend to be more athletic than some of those from the late 1960s, the focus on fundamentals doesn't seem to be as prevalent, Bennett said.

Overall, It makes for a more exciting brand of football, he said, talking about Mizzou's spread offense.

"It's fun to watch the defense attack that offense, but i can honestly say I'm glad that it wasn't there when I played," he said.

The excitement surrounding this year's Mizzou team has unleashed a flood of memories for Bennett, and he's anticipating setting foot in Cotton Bowl Stadium.

"It makes me feel like a child again," he said.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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