Larry Pendleton remembers the team meeting fondly. Florida State head football coach Bill Peterson told the players they had been invited to a bowl game.
“We got the Sun Bowl here. How many of you guys want to go to the Sun Bowl?” Pendleton recalls Peterson asking. “And nobody said anything.”
The silence was because the players knew the bowl game would be played on Christmas Eve 1966 with the return flight arriving in Tallahassee about 3 a.m. on Christmas morning. By the time the players drove to their parents’ homes, Santa would have already come.
Not a great way to spend Christmas.
So, Coach Pete asked for the vote again, a different way.
“’How many of you guys, who want to go, raise your hand,’” Pendleton recalls Peterson asking. “And only about five guys did.”
Pendleton said it was obvious Peterson wanted to go to the game as he exclaimed, “Great! It’s unanimous.”
Johnny Crowe, a safety on that team, was one of the five.
“I was excited about a bowl game as there were only eight or nine back then,” Crowe said. “We played a very good Wyoming team with Jim Kiick and Vic Washington. Both went on to great NFL careers.”
Pendleton, who played middle linebacker in that game, said while he and others weren’t initially excited to go to El Paso on Christmas Eve, they had a great time once they got out there.
And those memories came rushing back when he heard FSU had once again been invited back.
“I was excited for the players because I know they would have a good time out there as they keep you busy with a lot of activities,” said Pendleton, who served in athletics at FSU for 19 years. “I have friends at the University of Florida, who has been out there since then, who said it is still a really fun bowl experience.”
“The activities leading up to the game were fun and likely why the Sun Bowl was known as the “Fun Bowl,” Crowe added.
Crowe recalls there was no turf on the field, only a green layer of paint to make NBC television viewers believe they could grow grass in West Texas in late December.
The players heard El Paso was a mile high city (actually 3,720 feet), which lead to one of Peterson’s more-quizzical answers to a reporter’s question about whether the altitude would affect the players’ performance. “No, the team has a good altitude about the game,” Pete replied. “The team is really up for the game.”
Bill Peterson was the master of the forward pass and for malapropisms – his tounge could not keep up with his brain – which affectionately became known as “Petersonisms.”
El Paso is also a border city, the former players remind us, which lent an unofficial dimension to the bowl experience.
Pendleton shared a few of those “unofficial” memories.
“Coach Pete didn’t want us to go to Juarez,” said Pendleton, “so a bunch of us snuck out the first night and went over there and we ran into a bunch of coaches. The coaches started yelling at us and telling us, ‘You all shouldn’t be here.’ One of our players yelled back, ‘You shouldn’t be here either.’ One of the coaches, it may have been Bobby Jackson, said, ‘We won’t tell if you won’t tell.’ ”
Crowe still won’t: “What happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico.”
Not all of the activities in Mexico were “unofficial.”
“We went into Mexico and had a few events for both teams,” Crowe said. “A border town is a unique experience as the bowl planned activities on both sides of the border. What a great experience! I still have my Sun Bowl watch.”
Oh, by the way, Wyoming won that game 28-20.
Jim Kiick, who enjoyed a great career with the World Champion Miami Dolphins, earned the MVP trophy with 135 yards rushing on 25 carries, caught four passes for 42 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Ron Sellers finished with six receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
Florida State quarterback Kim Hammond threw second-quarter touchdowns to Ron Sellers for 49 yards and a 59-yard TD pass to future FSU President T.K. Wetherell to give the Seminoles a 14–7 lead at halftime.
The Cowboys tied the score with a 39-yard pass before Kiick broke off a 43-yard touchdown run to put Wyoming up 21-14. Hammond hit Sellers on a 23-yard pass to cut margin to eight but the two-point conversion failed. The Seminoles’ comeback bid failed when they suffered an interception from the 10-yard line and failed on fourth down from the five.
Those of you who remember the Miami Dolphins’ Perfect Season in 1972 will recognize Kiick as “Butch” of the “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Backfield.” Kiick and Larry Csonka were roommates and running mates on and off the field in Miami.
Sellers and Kiick were teammates in Miami in 1973.
Crowe will never forget Kiick.
“Jim Kiick jumped completely over me on one play like a high-hurdle runner,” the math major recalled.
The flight from El Paso to Tallahassee was just as exciting as the game. The aircraft was not a jet, like the current FSU team will enjoy, but what Peterson called “a two-plane engine,” Crowe remembers.
“We were on a Standard Oil plane, an old four-engine plane, and they were afraid it wouldn’t take off because we had so many souvenirs to bring back from Mexico,” Pendleton said. “We had sombreros, bullhorns and all kinds of stuff. They revved the engines up good before attempting takeoff.”
The plane landed safely in Tallahassee and no one saw Santa Claus or Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer along the way.
“We got back about 3 a.m. and got in our cars and just drove home,” Pendleton recalls. “I got to Winter Garden about 6 a.m. and that’s about when Johnny Crowe got back to St. Cloud. It was a memorable trip for us all and will be for these players too.”
Where are they now: Larry Pendleton
Upon graduation, Larry Pendleton taught in Central Florida high schools and middle schools until FSU football coach Larry Jones hired him as a graduate assistant in 1973 to work with FSU’s Junior Varsity team. Eddie Feely was the JV coach. When Larry Jones was fired, FSU brought in Daryl Mudra, who hired Pendleton as an offensive line coach along with longtime assistant Bob Harbison. When Mudra was fired, everyone was fired again. Coach Bowden chose to keep Pendleton and Jim Gladden, who was then a graduate assistant. Pendleton was put in charge of football academics. Athletic Director John Bridgers eventually promoted him to assistant AD, where he worked for 19 years, overseeing basketball and facilities.
In 1991, then Speaker of the House Wetherell talked Pendleton into starting the Florida Sports Council within the Department of Commerce. Several years later, Gov. Lawton Chiles privatized the Sports Council and tabbed Pendleton to run the Florida Sports Foundation, which he did for 23 years.
Now retired, Larry currently serves on the executive committee of the FSU Athletics Board and is a member of the FSU Hall of Fame.
Fondest memories: “I enjoyed all my time as a student-athlete. We had good teams in 1967 and ‘68. We tied Bama in Tuscaloosa, 37-37, the year after they won the national championship.
“Joe Gibbs was my offensive line coach. What a wonderful man. What a wonderful coach, as evidenced by multiple Super Bowl championships. He was loved because he treated everyone with respect. He had a way of getting you to perform at your very best.”
Where are they now: Johnny Crowe
John B. Crowe is the retired Chairman of the Board and CEO of Buckeye Technologies Inc., a manufacturer of specialty fibers used in a variety of products. Prior to a 33-year career in the timber products business, John served 28 years in the Air Force as a senior pilot and lieutenant colonel in Vietnam and until 1997.
John serves on the Seminole Booster Board of Directors and is currently co-chair of the Unconquered Campaign, which has a goal of raising $100 million for FSU athletics facilities and football operations. He is an FSU Hall of Fame Inductee.
Fondest memories: “The 1967 victory at Florida and the tie with Alabama 37-37. Also playing in the first Peach Bowl game in 1968 and being selected to the All-South Independent team in ‘68. Greatest influences were teammates like Kim Hammond, T.K. Wetherell, Ron Sellers, Dale McCullers, Chuck Eason and coaches Gary Wyatt, Harbie Harbison, Bobby Jackson, Joe Gibbs, Bill Peterson and my Mathematics advisor, Dr. De Witt Sumner, who was pretty special too.
“My roommate and teammates Larry Pendleton and Ron Sellers had dinner recently and talked about the 1966 Sun Bowl and the travel home the night before Christmas and the drive home for Christmas with our families; a day with Mom and Dad.
“Of course, the young lady I met at FSU, Betty Williams Crowe or BeBe as she is called by all. We are currently celebrating our 50th anniversary in Positano, Italy with our entire family.
“Playing football at FSU taught me how to be a team player and how to be persistent with a never-give-up attitude. The experience made me realize I could always keep going and could find the energy to complete a task.”