As a whole, the 1980s would not be a particularly excellent decade for Mizzou football, but when the decade dawned, things looked bright.
Quarterback Phil Bradley led the Tigers into his senior season in 1980. He was one of the great all-around stars in Mizzou athletics history. For football, he was a three-time Big Eight Offensive Player of the Year, and he set the conference total offense record at 6,459 yards, which stood for 10 years. He was also a star outfielder for the baseball team, and in the spring of 1980 he was on an MU baseball team that won the Big Eight championship and made the NCAA Tournament.
He was from western Illinois, so he was semi-local. Beyond that, he quarterbacked the Tigers in many memorable games, and led them to three winning records and three bowl games in his three years as a starter.
Bradley went on to play eight years in Major League Baseball, mostly with the Mariners, for whom he was an All-Star in 1985. He also played for the Chicago White Sox in 1990, their last of 81 seasons in old Comiskey Park. For decades, Comiskey was the older of the two ancient ballparks in Chicago. Unfortunately, after the Black Sox scandal of the team allegedly losing the 1919 World Series on purpose for money, the White Sox only played one postseason series in their final 70 years at Comiskey, losing the 1959 World Series.
Bradley didn’t play in the final game at old Comiskey, but he did start and bat leadoff the day before, in the next-to-last of more than 6,000 games at Comiskey Park. He started in left field, then later moved to center field, playing next to a young Sox rightfielder named Sammy Sosa. Bradley walked twice in the game, one an intentional walk, and scored a run in the 7th on a wild pitch while Carlton Fisk, more known for his work with the other Sox, stood in to pinch hit.
In the 8th inning, during Bradley’s final major league at-bat, a strikeout, Ozzie Guillen, who had walked as a pinch hitter, stole second base. Guillen would later roll into town to manage the White Sox, say things like, “ain’t no curses, only horse shit teams,” and lead the Sox to a World Series title in 2005, breaking their epic championship drought.
So yeah, Phil Bradley had a long and interesting athletic career. But before all those baseball games, over 1,000 MLB games in his career, he had a memorable senior season in Columbia.
Missouri opened the season with some hope and a No. 17 ranking. The Tigers opened the season by cruising to a 47-16 win over New Mexico on Sept. 13 at Faurot Field. It was a fairly forgettable game, but of note was the Lobos’ first-year coach, Joe Morrison. Morrison would go on to coach South Carolina starting in 1983 and provide memorable contributions to the Gamecock football experience. It was under Morrison that South Carolina began its tradition of using “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” as its pregame entrance song. Also, after a raucous home win against USC in 1983, when the east upper deck at Williams-Brice Stadium noticeably swayed, Morrison said, “If it ain’t swayin’, we ain’t playin’.”
Missouri, now No. 15, then hosted Illinois, and crushed the Illini 52-7, months ahead of the schools’ first meeting in a December basketball game in St. Louis, which has been an annual tradition every year but one since 1980.
Missouri then traveled to San Diego to face the San Diego State Aztecs. This is the kind of home and home series I’d love to see Mizzou schedule again. The game was in San Diego, so we’ll assume the weather was gorgeous. Bradley led the Tigers to a 31-7 win in San Diego Stadium, later known as Jacky Murphy Stadium and Qualcomm Stadium. Years later, Bradley would play Major League Baseball games there for the Phillies, against the Padres. Having your team ranked No. 12 and playing in San Diego and winning big, that would’ve been a great week to be a Tiger fan.
Now 3-0 and ranked No. 9, Missouri welcomed No. 17 Penn State to Faurot Field on Oct. 4. It was an incredible scene, October in Columbia, a crowd of 75,298, the biggest in Memorial Stadium history, jammed the old bowl. Joe Paterno and Penn State were coming off a home loss to Nebraska, but the Nittany Lions were a formidable team. This was Paterno’s 15th of 46 seasons coaching Penn State, and he’d already been in Happy Valley for 30 years as an assistant or head coach at the time. Future Chiefs quarterback and Penn State national champion Todd Blackledge led Penn State. Missouri fought hard, but the Nittany Lions escaped Columbia with a 29-21 win.
It was a big sports month in Missouri, as the Royals were again facing the mighty New York Yankees to try to get to the World Series. The Royals came up short in the American League Championship Series in 1976, 1977 and 1978, losing to the Yankees each time. But this time they broke through, winning on Oct. 8, 9 and 10, with the Game 3 win punctuated by George Brett’s dramatic upper deck home run off Goose Gossage to put the Royals ahead. After many years of Mizzou’s St. Louis students being able to walk around campus proud their city was in the World Series, the school’s Kansas City students could finally do the same.
The day after Brett’s famed homer, Oct. 11, Missouri bounced back from the Penn State loss with a 30-7 win at Oklahoma State to open Big Eight play. It was part of a hot start to conference play, and maybe some Tiger fans were starting to wonder about a conference title as October rolled on.
Missouri beat Colorado 45-7 on Oct. 18 in Columbia. The same day, the Royals beat the Phillies 5-3 in Kansas City to level the World Series at two games apiece. But the following Tuesday, the Phillies won Game 6 4-1 to take their first World Series title. TVs all over downtown and across Columbia were surely tuned into the game, which to this day has the highest TV rating of any World Series game in history.
With the focus fully back on football, the Tigers then ground out a 13-3 win on Oct. 25 at K-State.
After a Friday night Halloween in Lincoln, No. 15 Missouri took on No. 8 Nebraska. Both had lost a home nonconference game, but both were 3-0 in Big Eight play and gunning for a league title. But the game was appropriately ghoulish for the day after Halloween, with Missouri’s conference title hopes likely shattered like so many shattered pumpkins after the traditionally mischievous holiday. Nebraska won 38-16.
The following Tuesday, Nov. 4, Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in an Electoral College landslide to win the Presidency. Missouri’s electoral votes went to Reagan. Missouri’s governor race was a rematch, with incumbent Democrat Joe Teasdale again facing Republican Kit Bond, who had been governor when Teasdale narrowly beat him in 1976. This time Bond won, with 52.63 percent to 47.02 percent for “Walkin’ Joe” Teasdale.
Freed from political advertisements, Missouri recovered from the Nebraska loss with a 14-10 win over Iowa State in Columbia, but then had to travel to Norman to take on Barry Switzer and the No. 10 Oklahoma Sooners. Oklahoma, en route to another Big Eight title, rode its robust defense to a 17-7 win, Switzer’s eighth straight win over the Tigers.
Now 7-3, Missouri again took out its frustration by pounding Kansas for the third year in a row, winning 31-6 in Columbia.
The Tigers returned to the Liberty Bowl, two years after their last appearance there, facing Purdue. The Boilermakers’ quarterback, Mark Herrmann, led the Big Ten in passing yards that season, so this bowl featured one of the best passers in the Big Eight vs. one of the best passers in the Big Ten.
Purdue led 28-15 heading into the fourth quarter, but Missouri mounted a furious comeback attempt. Bradley kept battling till the end, but Purdue held on. Like Drew Lock 38 years later, Bradley’s storied Mizzou career ended at the Liberty Bowl after a comeback attempt that fell short.
Herrmann was brilliant in the game and was named the Liberty Bowl MVP.
After a 6-1 start, Missouri lost three of five to end the season and cool the optimism some. But two of those losses were on the road against juggernauts Nebraska and Oklahoma, and the other was a narrow bowl loss to a good Purdue team.
Overall, it was another successful season, 8-4 and 5-2 in the Big Eight. In the era of Nebraska-Oklahoma dominance, being clearly the third best Big Eight team counted for something. But Tiger fans once again were wondering what could have been with some close losses that could’ve opened the door to a 10-win season.
1980: 39 years ago, third in the Big Eight
Record: 8-4, 5-2 in Big Eight