McCollum’s Column: Remembering that 1991 UCA team

Upcoming is a double Hall of Fame weekend at the University of Central Arkansas.

 

Saturday morning, UCA will induct seven into its Sports Hall of Fame.

In a special event Friday night at McAlister Hall, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame will induct the 1991 NAIA UCA national champion football team as its fifth team to be installed into the Hall.

That was an interest team that for the longest did not appear on the way to any title, much less a national title.

I remember that team fondly and that national title game at Wilberforce, Ohio, against Central Ohio.

But I don’t remember the weather fondly. It was cold. Real cold.

So, for a flashback Thursday and a salute to that team, here is a column that I wrote about that game:

“Long before folks were eating bugs on tropical islands or sweating in African heat, the 1991 University of Central Arkansas Bears were survivors.

It’s the only team in Arkansas college football history to claim an undisputed national title (NAIA).

But it was a team that spent the season against the ropes and refused to be knocked down. 1991 was a series of immunity challenges.

The team began the season with a 34-9 thumping by Mississippi College, an NCAA Division II power. The Bears began that season 2-2-2, symmetrical but not impressive.

Examine what else happened during a series of reward challenges:

* The Bears’ games against four of six Arkansas Intercollegiate opponents (no defeats) were decided on the last play of the game. UCA survived losing two games when an opponent missed an extra point, one of them by one of the top place-kickers in the country, Harding’s Brent Goodwin.

* The Bears survived a game against Southern Arkansas by stopping two straight two-point conversion plays after regulation time had ended.

* The Bears won with a true freshman quarterback, Ken Collums (who went on to become a UCA assistant), who didn’t take over until the sixth game of the season.

But that’s still wimpy stuff compared with the national title game against high-powered Central Ohio at Wilberforce, Ohio.

* Forrest Stolzer, the Bears’ best offensive lineman, doubled in the defensive line that game because of a season-ending injury to tackle Mike Lovelady the week before.

* Tyree Davis, who could barely limp out of the huddle after an injury during the game, made a key catch at 1/4 speed during the winning drive of the 19-16 victory.

* Defensive lineman David Henson (who later played with the Arizona Cardinals), kept hobbling off the field with recurring ankle problems only to come back to make big play after big play.

* And Steve Strange, who had had limited practice time during the week because of a bad back, kicked the winning 22-yard field goal with torn cartilage in his kicking leg. He had injured the leg during the game and couldn’t even kick off the second half. “It was hurting until the ball went through,” he said.

* On one of the key drives of the game, the Bears began in bright sunshine in the shadow on their goalpost. The wind shifted, the weather changed and flurries yielded to major snow. Collums scored on a fourth-down option keeper in a blizzard.

I was shooting pictures at the time and couldn’t even see the players for the driving snow. Collums picking his way into the end zone is still one of the most incredible football plays I’ve seen.

“Our football team just had tough guys,” said assistant coach Bill Keopple. “Sometimes in the playoffs against tough teams in the past, at crunch time, we would be intimidated. This team couldn’t be intimidated.”

The 1991 Bears were true survivors — and real champions.

 

More