1965-1972 Cowboys
(Authentic Reproduction)

When more than 10,000 Wyoming Cowboys fans made the trip to the 1968 Sugar Bowl, it became a celebratory nod to the 1967 squad that finished with a 10 – 0 record and number six national ranking. In every way possible it was a coming out party, a reflection of the realization that Wyoming, somewhat isolated and usually no more than a blip on the national consciousness of college football, had truly arrived as a major power. Wyoming diehards had waited a long time for the moment they could go to a major bowl game and claim that their team was either on par or superior to a major conference opponent and 1967 was that season. Although there were individual stars, Wyoming had made the ultimate team effort to earn the national spotlight as they prepared to take on always dangerous LSU. The 5 – 0 contingent cracked the top ten on October 16 although detractors noted that the latest victory over Wichita State reflected a perceived lackluster schedule. At the conclusion of their regular season, they stood at 10 – 0 – 0 and their stifling defense was strong enough to get the assignment to the prestigious Sugar Bowl against a solid 6 – 3 - 1 LSU team. The ascension of Wyoming football from what was considered to be a backwater outpost began under the aegis of Bowden Wyatt, a mid-1930s College Football Hall of Fame player at the University of Tennessee who took the head coach position for Wyoming in 1947. He reeled off an impressive 39 – 17 – 1 record through 1952 before moving on to Arkansas and then his alma mater. Phil Dickens came over from small Wofford College and elevated the Cowboys record to a fine 29 – 11 – 1 with an undefeated 10 – 0 mark in 1956.  Dickens left for Indiana University but the Cowboys continued to attract sterling coaching talent with the arrival of Michigan State assistant Bob Devaney  for the ’57 season [ see HELMET NEWS/REFLECTIONS  http://www.helmethut.com/Features/Dr.Ken140.html , June, July, August 2015] who brought defensive line coach Lloyd Eaton with him. Eaton was a disciplined individual who expected perfection from what were generally undersized defensive linemen under his tutelage. He taught specific techniques that were considered to be new and innovative and Wyoming consistently had tough and effective defensive fronts. Devaney continued the success of his coaching predecessors in Laramie, posting a 35 – 10 – 5 record and winning or tying for the Skyline Conference title in four of his five seasons. He departed for Nebraska where he enjoyed a College Football Hall of Fame and National Championship career, which moved Eaton up to the head coaching slot. As head coach at Alma (Michigan) College, Eaton had proven his mettle garnering forty victories in seven seasons and then concluded a 7 – 0 – 1 mark at Northern Michigan before moving to Wyoming as an assistant under Devaney. Eaton learned well under his mentor, becoming a terrific recruiter who sent his assistants far and wide to reel in talent. The ’67 team had better representation from the Northeastern U.S. with only eight Wyoming residents on the roster.

With the formation of the Western Athletic Conference and its entry into a much more competitive group of universities, Eaton forged a five win and then three consecutive six win seasons before hitting his stride with ‘66’s ten victories and a second consecutive ten win mark in 1967. Despite the presence of bigger name players like the Chargers number one draft choice, defensive tackle Ron “Pedro” Billingsley, safety Paul Toscano demonstrated excellent leadership skills on a 1966 defense that led the nation against the rush allowing but 38.5 yards per game, was number six against scoring, and ranked fifth in total defense. His 165 yards on six interception returns set a new school record. The offense was solid with Rick Egloff the quarterback, surrounded by running backs Jim Kiick and sophomores Dave Hampton, Gene Huey, and two-way performer Vic Washington. Washington finished the season as the country’s top punt returner, Jerry DePoyster’s seventy-one points led the nation in placekicking points, but it was the defense that stole the show. Their 28 – 20 Sun Bowl victory over Florida State almost made up for the infamous “Bounce Pass” loss to Colorado State, the only negative on the season’s slate.  Entering the ’67 season, opponents expected more of the same; a lot of defense and a brutal running attack although Egloff’s graduation to a few games in the CFL left a hole at quarterback. With his Second Team All WAC safety the best option, Eaton had Toscano take the helm and he was outstanding, piloting the squad to a 10 – 0 record, the only major college team to go undefeated, and the Sugar Bowl berth.  

Toscano had been a three-sport team captain at Clarkstown High School in Rockland County, a far suburb of New York City and best known as a record setting basketball player. His All County work at center field relegated his Honorable Mention All County quarterbacking to the least appreciated of his high school athletic talents yet he attended Wyoming on a football scholarship, one of a relatively large number of Eastern recruits.  He was the team’s most improved player as a junior, earning Second Team All Conference notice and Eaton tapped his vast athletic ability and leadership skills when placing him at quarterback for the ’67 season. Toscano’s response was1915 total yards of offense, the nation’s leader in touchdown passes, eleven WAC records, the conference MVP and Player of the Year Awards, UPI Rocky Mountain Region Player of the Year winner, and a finisher in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Despite the presence of Kiick who went on to an excellent professional career with the Dolphins and Broncos, Dave Hampton who was a solid running back with the Packers, Falcons, and Eagles, Gene Huey who swung between record setting wingback receiver and defensive back, and Vic Washington who also played a dual offensive and defensive role, it was Toscano who carried the team to the dizzying heights of 1967.

Their bowl game against LSU in an era of limited bowl games was truly ground-breaking for the Cowboys. One of the four major New Years Day Bowls, a national television audience, and the recognition as the only undefeated major college team of the season made for well deserved exposure. The game, played in a quagmire, reflected typical Cowboys style in the first half as the suffocating defense capped the LSU offense and Toscano led his team to a Jim Kiick touchdown plunge after a grinding eighty yard drive as the second quarter began. The 13 – 0 halftime lead would not hold up however as the potent Bayou Tigers fought back to win 20 – 13 with Wyoming stranded on the LSU five yard line as the game ended. Though just missing out on a perfect season, the point was made; Toscano and a handful of supposedly second-tier players had performed in disciplined, team-oriented lockstep to become a national power.  The reward was the drafting of a number of players. Kicker DePoyster was a second rounder of the Raiders who enjoyed a few years in the NFL despite having his career interrupted by two years of military service. Offensive guard Mike LaHood like DePoyster was a second round pick, spending time with the Rams, Cardinals, and in the CFL despite also having his career disrupted by military service before returning to his hometown of Peoria, IL to serve as a labor union officer. Jim Kiick and All American defensive tackle Mike Dirks had solid pro careers with Dirks an excellent performer for the Eagles for four seasons before playing another seven in the CFL. Toscano was a late draft pick of the Oilers but did not make the cut, later returning to his Clarkstown High School alma mater where he became their highly successful, beloved, and long-time basketball coach since the 1976-’77 season.   

The Wyoming helmet was reflective of Eaton’s Wyoming teams, with the brown “Cowboy Joe” logo on both sides of a white shell. Eaton allowed small light brown player identification numerals on the rear but as might be expected, the helmet stated “function” and “not fancy.” The Wyoming logo depicting a cowboy on a bucking horse has been part of Wyoming lore since 1918 when the image was used on the uniforms of a Wyoming infantry unit and it was adopted by the University’s athletic department in the early 1920s. It pays homage to National Cowboy and Rodeo Halls of Fame horse Steamboat, a legendary Wyoming born bucking bronco. There has been discussion related to the rider, with some insisting the image was taken from a 1903 photograph of Steamboat and cowboy Guy Holt, and others believing it is Clayton Danks, both famous, award winning riders who had a history with Steamboat. The official symbol for the state “represents the toughness and never-say-die spirit that is Wyoming.” Toscano’s Riddell RK 2 helmet featured the BD9 two bar mask which was typical for backs of his era. The clearly stated and to-the-point Wyoming helmet that Toscano and his teammates so proudly wore immediately identifies Wyoming and Wyoming football. The team turned in another WAC winning season in 1968 but racial discord led to the suspension of “The Black 14” in 1969 in what was an increasingly difficult process of communication among coaches and groups of discordant athletes in the late 1960s. Wyoming reeled off six consecutive wins to open the season, and then lost four after the suspensions. It was worse in ’70 as the Cowboys toppled from the heights of the nation’s best teams to a 1 – 9 mark which led to the resignation of Coach Eaton. Paul Toscano and the 1967 team proved to be the high-water mark for the Wyoming program, a level they have yet to approach since.