Fifty years ago, arguably the most dominant college football team in the country at any level was Doane College in Crete, Nebraska.
In October of 1969, Doane was in the midst of an undefeated streak dating back to the end of the 1965 season. By the end of the ’69 season, the Tigers finished undefeated once again, going 8-0.
For the seniors on that team who went on to graduate in May of 1970, they went 33-0-2 in their four years, never losing a game. It was a feat so impressive, it drew national attention.
Sports Illustrated, far and away the most popular sports magazine in the country at the time, decided it was worth sending a reporter to Crete to find out themselves how Doane College has pulled this streak off.
Skip Myslenski, a reporter for Sports Illustrated, spent multiple days and nights observing the Tigers football team, preparing to write a story on this period of dominance.
His article, which was released in the October 13, 1969 issue of SI, was titled “A small school, but you can learn to hate it.”
Myslenski’s two-page feature story on Doane highlights the college at large in the late 60s -- including its growing enrollment and diversity. Of course, the focus of the story outlines Doane’s rapid rise to the top in football under Head Coach Al Papik, sparked with an influx of talent from Chicago and Port Arthur, Texas.
“It used to be that people were happy any time we won a game,” Papik says in the SI article. “But now because we won by only eight points last week I got three letters asking me what happened.”
At the time, in the 60s, there was a great deal of racial tension in our nation. According to The New York Times, there were more than 750 race riots from 1964-1971 in America, resulting in 228 deaths and over 12,000 injuries.
During Papik’s tenure as head football coach at Doane (1955-1970), a number of colleges did not recruit black football players, especially those located in the south. Although Doane was a predominantly white school in Nebraska, Papik and then-Doane College President Phil Heckman saw nothing wrong with recruiting black student-athletes. If anything, it was encouraged.
Papik recruited a number of black football players to Doane, many from Texas and Illinois, who became stars on Doane’s undefeated teams in the late 60s.
The starting quarterback, Larry Green ’70, came to Doane from Port Arthur, Texas. He never lost a game in his four years. Green also holds the school record for touchdown passes in a career, 62. A two-sport standout in baseball as well, Green was drafted by the Chicago Cubs.
The starting running back, Mike Sallier ’71 (pictured below), was also from Port Arthur. To this day, Sallier holds school records in career rushing yards (4,107), career rushing touchdowns (58), rushing touchdowns in a season (23), and rushing touchdowns in a single game (5). Sallier was also named a Second Team NAIA All-American in back-to-back years.
One of the linemen paving the way for the offense, Fred Davis ’69, was the first Doane athlete to be named a First Team All-American. Davis was named a First Team NAIA All-American in 1966 and 1967. Davis was also a two-sport athlete, winning the indoor shot put title in 1967 and 1968, claiming Doane’s first individual national titles in track & field.
Green, Sallier, and Davis were just a few of the black players who came to Doane because of their trust in Papik. They left Doane as Tigers football legends, but most importantly, lifelong friends because of the family atmosphere that existed on those teams.
“We developed a bond that a lot of people don’t understand,” Green said. “Al Papik was the perfect guy to lead us at that time. Back in the late 60s, those were rough times in the country as far as racial equality goes, but we never had any problems in my four years on campus.”
Green, Sallier, and a number of other players from Doane’s undefeated teams reunited at the Tigers’ Homecoming game on Saturday, October 12, a 28-21 win over the University of Jamestown.
Papik, now 93 years old, was also in attendance for the Tigers game and undefeated football teams reunion. When asked why he showed no hesitancy in recruiting minority players in a time of racial tension throughout the country, he said, “My true philosophy was to never put any consideration into the color of someone’s skin or where they were from, but to recognize the qualities in a person that would contribute to Doane and the game of football
Paul Schelstraete ’70, a standout center on the Tigers’ undefeated teams, said it was admirable for Papik to start Larry Green at quarterback, especially as a freshman, something that was unheard of at the time. Because Green was a black player from Texas, not many other colleges recruited him.
“If Larry were a high school senior today, there would be so many big schools after him,” Schelstraete says. “Schools like Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan, all of those schools would want him. He could run, throw, and was a great leader.”
In Sports Illustrated’s feature on Doane, they had a sidebar titled “Little Doane - The Nation’s Biggest Winner” with scores from Doane’s unbeaten streak from ’65-’69. At the time of publication, the Tigers had won 31 games in a row and tied twice during that stretch.
While every season during the streak was remarkable, the 1968 season was statistically the most impressive. Doane averaged 48.6 points per game on offense and only allowed 6.4 points per game. The Tigers ended the ’68 season 10-0, defeating Central Missouri State in the Mineral Water Bowl.
“By halftime of those games most of the starters were on the bench because Papik didn’t want to run up the score,” Schelstraete said with a laugh. “The longer the streak went, the more pressure built. We had a target on our back so it made it tougher to win but it was a great time.”
Doane’s 38-game win streak (including two ties), the longest in the nation at any level at the time, stretched six seasons. While the streak came to an end in 1970, the memories and bonds between players have lasted a lifetime.
“Friendships like that last forever,” Schelstraete said. “When you win every game, it helps, too.”