Arkansas football:

Caveness, 1964 cog, dies at 71

By: Bob Holt
Published: Monday, May 12, 2014
Ronnie Caveness was a two-time all-American linebacker at Arkansas.
Ronnie Caveness was a two-time all-American linebacker at Arkansas.

A key member of Arkansas' 1964 national championship team will be missing when the players gather for a 50th anniversary celebration in Fayetteville this fall.

Ronnie Caveness, an All-American senior middle linebacker for the 11-0 1964 Razorbacks team and College Football Hall of Fame member, died Saturday at a hospice care facility in Little Rock. He was 71.

The 1964 team will have a reunion when Arkansas plays Alabama this season on Oct. 11.

"It's just a shame that in this 50th year anniversary of the 1964 team that Ronnie's not going to be here physically to be part of it," said Ken Hatfield, the former Razorbacks coach who was a defensive back and punt returner for the 1964 Razorbacks. "But I guarantee you his spirt will be everywhere, because we couldn't have done it without him."

Caveness, who was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame into 1999 and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010, died from melanoma -- a form of skin cancer. He also suffered from dementia for several years as well as Parkinson's disease.

Ronnie Caveness Jr. said Sunday there is some comfort in knowing his father no longer is suffering in pain.

"He actually lived a few months longer than they thought he could even possibly live," Caveness Jr. said. "We've been preparing for this for four months. It was time."

Caveness Jr. said his father's body will be cremated and there will be a celebration of his life held at 2 p.m. June 5 at Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock.

"A lot of our old teammates that live in Little Rock have been by to see him several times," Hatfield said. "I don't think he really knew how bad off he was, but he had a good attitude and a good spirit all the way to the end from what I understand. We'll sorely miss him."

Caveness, who came to Arkansas from Houston Smiley High School, had a combined 309 tackles in 20 regular-season games as a junior and senior with 155 in 1963 and 154 in 1964.

"His contribution as a leader, contribution as a Razorback is immeasurable," Hatfield said. "He was just a catalyst for the defense.

"You could always count on Ronnie. He was in the center of everything defensively we did."

Caveness, who also played center, has Arkansas' two highest single-game tackle totals with 29 against Texas in 1963 and 25 in 1964, but it was an interception he made in a 31-22 victory over Tulsa in 1964 that stands out for Hatfield.

"We were just getting torn up, down 14-0, and right before the half, Tulsa tried a halfback throw-back to the quarterback, and Ronnie read it perfectly, intercepted it and went in for a touchdown," Hatfield said. "He gave us both the points and the confidence to come out and win the game in the second half. It probably was as big a play as he ever made while he was here."

Frank Broyles said Caveness was among the greatest players at Arkansas during his 19-year coaching tenure from 1958-1976.

"We didn't coach him," Broyles said of Caveness in 2010. "We put him in the game and wished him well."

Caveness was heavily recruited by Alabama Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant as well as Broyles, and he signed conference letters of intent with both schools at a time when the Razorbacks were in the Southwest Conference before joining the Crimson Tide in the SEC.

Bryant and Broyles both dispatched assistant coaches -- Gene Stallings for Alabama and Doug Dickey for Arkansas -- to pick up Caveness before his freshman year.

"Bear Bryant sent Gene Stallings on a train to get him in Houston," Caveness Jr. said. "Well, Coach Broyles sent Doug Dickey down there in a plane, and he picked him up earlier that morning."

Caveness, who played four seasons in the AFL with Kansas City and Houston, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame 46 years after his last game at Arkansas.

"He was actually able to live that experience," Caveness Jr. said. "He had to go into a nursing home facility about six months after the final event.

"That was his shining moment. He couldn't have been any more proud to represent the University of Arkansas and get into College Football Hall of Fame."

Caveness Jr. said his father was far different off the field than he was as a player.

"He was the exact opposite of what you would think from a linebacker. He was just a gentle giant," Caveness Jr. said. "He had the biggest heart of anyone. The greatest dad."

Sports on 05/12/2014