After six agonizing years Texans need no longer avert their eyes. Last Saturday afternoon a long-overdue account was settled in the Cotton Bowl at Dallas. Texas beat Oklahoma 15-14, thereby righting all the injustices of the recent past.
Football is more than a game in Texas; it is a way of life. The humiliation which Oklahoma has piled on Texas at the annual game in the Cotton Bowl in recent years can be compared with the memories of Santa Ana and the Alamo. Maybe even worse. It is one thing to lose honorably to a foreigner but something else when treachery plays a part. Oklahoma, during those past six years, was beating Texas with Texans.
Until Bud Wilkinson's formula for football victory first began to flourish at Oklahoma in 1952, this rugged old southwestern rivalry had been a mighty one-sided affair. Texas had won 30 and lost only 14 against the rivals from across the Red River. From the time of the Texas victory in 1951, however, until last Saturday, Oklahoma won 68 of its 72 games and beat Texas without serious difficulty. One way the Sooners accomplished all this was by employing some of the finest athletic talent raised in Texas. On this year's Oklahoma roster, for instance, 21 come from Texas, eight of them members of the first two teams. The Texas football fan does not appreciate his own kith and kin going abroad—and then returning to help humiliate the home folks.
Well, all that was ended on Saturday—and perhaps something more.
Only a week before, when Oregon scared the Sooners silly before bowing 6-0, there had been an indication that perhaps Oklahoma's reign was coming to an end. Not that Oklahoma will lose again in 1958, for probably it will not. But no longer will it take a great team to beat the Big Red, only a good one playing reasonably inspired football, and last Saturday in Dallas this was just what happened. Texas, which has now won four straight games, is hardly a great football team. It is, however, a very good one and boy, can it get tough.
"We don't have the speed to be spectacular," said Darrell Royal the night before the game. Then this very impressive young man, who once played quarterback under Wilkinson at Oklahoma, had to grin. "But these kids sure like to play football; they'll tee off against anybody."
This is likely to become the hallmark of Royal-coached Texas teams. Though he arrived in Austin only a little over a year ago, his teams are already characterized by toughness and determination and a liking for knocking people down. On Saturday they simply started knocking Oklahomans down at the kickoff and didn't quit until the final gun told them it was time to let up. Yet it was the ghostlike figure of a young man named Vince Matthews which won the game.
While the entire Longhorn line—Shillingburg, Parkhurst, Padgett, Jones, Bryant, Doke and all the others down through Royal's first two units—smashed Oklahoma's famed speed with a ferocity that sent loud, crunching noises all the way up to section 127 there on the rim of the sky, Texas probed and punched and felt its own way. Then, despite the heroic efforts of Oklahoma's great center, Bob Harrison (who comes from Stamford, Texas), the Long-horns pounded to a first-half score. They drove 52 yards in six plays, and Rene Ramirez, the left-handed halfback, threw a running pass to George Blanch for the touchdown. Fullback Don Allen went over left tackle for the two extra points, and Texas led 8-0. In all this time Oklahoma's vaunted offense had been held to a net gain of 39 yards on the ground.
But in the third quarter the Sooners came out with that old hungry look, and they began to roll. They stormed to the five—and Texas held. Back they came again and this time they scored, Dick Carpenter (Breckenridge, Texas) swinging around left end from the four. Only the conversion attempt by pass failed, and Texas still led. So back came the boys in the blood-red jerseys once again. This time Texas stopped them on the 24.
But anyone who relaxes, even for a moment, against Oklahoma, is left for dead. On the first play, Guard Jim Davis (Tyler, Texas) popped through the Longhorn line, snatched a hand-off somewhere in transit between Texas Quarterback Bobby Lackey and Fullback Mike Dowdle and rumbled to the goal. This time Bobby Boyd (Garland, Texas) passed to Jerry Tillery for the conversion and the score was 14-8 Oklahoma, with most of the fourth quarter still to be played.
This was the cue for Texas to collapse. As much as two touchdown underdogs in some of the better betting circles, the Longhorns had made a gallant try and no one could ever say they should have done more. Only, as it turned out, that wasn't why they made the trip up to Dallas. Without enough speed to rip through Oklahoma, with Lackey not quite the passer needed to open the Sooner defenses, Royal reached back into the past and produced Vince Matthews.
TEXAS' FORGOTTEN MAN
Four years ago Matthews was one of the great passers of Texas schoolboy history, a rating which places him in rather select company. As a Texas sophomore in 1956, he started out like a house afire—and then, in his fourth game, injured a knee. He missed the remainder of the season, injured the knee again in the summer of '57 and missed all of last year, too. In fact, people had almost forgotten about him, including the Texas coaching staff. "He had so far to come back," said Royal, "that we just couldn't count on him at all."
In three previous games Texas had completed only eight passes in 26 tries, for a measly 93 yards. When Matthews finished firing late in the fourth quarter Saturday, he had personally hit eight out of 10 for 123 yards. The most important, by far, were the six completions which triggered Texas' 74-yard march to the winning score. With the ball on Oklahoma's seven, Royal pulled Matthews out, sent Lackey in with one play—a quick jump pass to End Bob Bryant—and the game was tied. Lackey, who is quite a football player himself, then kicked the winning point.
"Maybe the best thing about this," said Royal, "is that now they'll have a little more trouble coming down here and talking our kids into crossing that river."
Undefeated football teams and great players are not the exclusive property of big schools like Texas and Army and Auburn and Wisconsin and Michigan State, however. Believe it or not, at Stockton, Calif. and New Brunswick, N.J. there are unbeaten teams, too. The main reason for this is two vastly dissimilar young men named Dick Bass and Billy Austin. Probably nowhere in America are there two better football players, or more interesting ones, than these two young men who perform so sensationally 3,000 miles apart for tough little College of the Pacific and dear old Rutgers.
On the Pacific Coast they have been reading and hearing and talking about Dick Bass for years, although virtually no one has really ever seen him. Three games deep in the 1958 season, however, and to the consternation of COP opponents, Dick Bass has apparently materialized. The only trouble now is that football fans, like opposing tacklers, are still having trouble seeing Dick Bass. He moves too fast to keep in focus.
On a football field Bass is something of a missile with muscles. A 21-year-old from Vallejo, Calif., he stands 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighs 190 pounds and can run 100 yards in 9.6 seconds. At times it appears that he can do this sideways and backward as well as forward. In his junior year in high school Bass scored 186 points and gained 1,726 yards running with a football. No longer inexperienced, he came back in 1954 to gain 1,964 yards for an average of 14.7 yards a carry and scored 256 points. This attracted the interest of several colleges.
When the dust had cleared away, Michigan State, Iowa, California, Washington, Michigan, Syracuse, Princeton, Colorado, Indiana, UCLA and a dozen other institutions discovered that Dick Bass had become a student at COP. Exactly how this happened has been the subject of some conjecture. Bass says he picked COP because "I was afraid in a big school I would be just another football player and not learn anything." It is not true, he insists, that he received a handsome bonus to sign at COP, which has an enrollment of only 1,670 but a stadium which seats 35,975, nor that his parents were given a house. And almost never does anyone mention the possibility that the lack of intellectual attainments had anything to do with it, although the late Red Sanders almost cried when he discovered that Bass could not qualify academically for UCLA.
As a matter of fact, Dick had trouble qualifying academically at COP. Busy scoring touchdowns—he made 10 of the 11 frosh scores in 1955—he flunked biology and hygiene and had to hump during the spring semester to become eligible for his sophomore season the next fall. It was hardly worth the trouble; after three games Bass suffered a badly bruised knee and missed the rest of the season. Then, apparently sound once more, he came out of a preseason scrimmage in 1957 with a broken leg and missed that year, too.
In this season's opener against highly favored California, Bass looked like a cross between Red Grange, Rodney the Road Runner and Man o' War. Playing only part of the game he ran 78 yards for one touchdown, gained 215 yards rushing in 24 carries and passed for three conversions. COP won 24-20. The next week, against an Arizona State team which hadn't lost in its last 12 games, Bass left them gasping, and COP walked away with a 34-16 victory. This time he gained 212 yards in 17 tries, scored touchdowns from 45 and 35 yards out, set up another with a 52-yard pass play and threw for another conversion. Again he played only part time. And Saturday night, against Brigham Young, the new wonder boy of college football (in less than 30 minutes of action) scored on a 50-yard dash, sped 135 yards in 12 carries and paced COP to a 26-8 win.
"This kid," says COP Coach Moose Myers, "is the finest runner in football. He has two speeds—fast and faster."
Actually, speed alone would hardly get Bass where he is going the way that he does. "Explosion," says his high school coach, Bob Patterson, "is what this boy has."
Bass starts like a California drag car and accelerates like a rocket. When hit, he resembles nothing quite so much as a rubber ball. He bounces off to one side, feet still churning and, upon landing, takes off again. "I guess," he says, "I just like to stand up." He weaves along behind blockers as if they were wooden pegs and then, spotting an opening, takes off across country on his own. He can also pound the line like a fullback; his size and speed give him tremendous power.
The pros will draft him this winter, although he still has another year of collegiate eligibility, but to get him it is almost certain someone will have to shell out an awful lot of money. "Bass should get $100,000 on a four-year contract," says Myers.
Bass himself isn't so sure. Big league baseball scouts, who offered him almost $50,000 after he hit .371 as a 17-year-old high school outfielder, still send him Christmas cards. And on the advice of Patterson, Dick has been studying speech and phonetics; once football season is over, he will have a disc jockey show on a Stockton radio station. He wants to play football next year, graduate in 1960 and then make up his mind which way to go.
Billy Austin is a pleasant young man with light brown hair, intelligent green eyes and a broken nose, which is about as close as he will ever come to dying for dear old Rutgers. To Austin, college football is neither a way of life nor the means to an end but simply a game which one plays on Saturday afternoons when there are no classes. You get the idea, from watching Austin play, that it is also a whale of a lot of fun, which may be the reason he does it, in his own way, just about as well as Dick Bass.
When Billy completed his football career at Scotch Plains High School in New Jersey, the occasion was marked by complete silence. College recruiters, who have been known to pummel and claw one another into rare beefsteak in pursuit of their prey, usually manage to display marked restraint in their approach to medium-size halfbacks whose teams win only four games in three years. Not that it would have mattered; Austin never once thought that he would become a good college football player, anyway, and couldn't have cared less. He wanted a good education in a pleasant, small-college atmosphere and, turning down scholarship offers from Princeton and Tufts and a scattering of other eastern and New England schools, he stowed away his sweat socks and moved the 10 miles from home to New Brunswick.
For a school which helped invent the game—the first intercollegiate football contest was played there against Princeton in 1869—Rutgers has often exhibited a remarkably casual approach to the whole thing. Eighty-nine years of practice, unkind observers have been wont to claim, haven't improved Rutgers a bit.
RUTGERS TURNS RUGGED
But Billy Austin, and his startling development into one of the most gifted football players in the land, changed all this. As a sophomore in the single-wing system which John Stiegman brought over from Princeton, Austin was starting tailback; he missed all of two games and part of another with a dislocated shoulder—the team lost all three—but otherwise led Rutgers to a 3-7 record. Last year the school had its first winning season since 1949, and the man who lit the fuse was Billy Austin. He scored 12 touchdowns, passed for three more, ran for 946 yards, passed for 479, punted well, defended like a demon, and, when all the statistics were in, No. 2 man in total offense in the nation was Billy Austin. The leader, Washington State's Bob Newman, beat him by only 19 yards and played in one more game.
This year, as Rutgers races along unbeaten before the astonished gaze of every football fan in sight, Billy Austin is apparently a better football player than ever before. The key game was the opener against Princeton, which Rutgers won by a rather shocking 28-0 score. "Austin hurt us with his running and passing," said Princeton's Coach Dick Colman, "but he absolutely killed us with his defense." Two weeks ago the Scarlet Knights beat Colgate 21-7 and last Saturday defeated Richmond 23-12.
In the Southwest this may verge upon heresy but the football player Billy most closely resembles is Doak Walker. He has good speed but no one has any real trouble keeping him in focus as long as he is going in a straight line; it is only when he cuts that Austin has a tendency to blur out. This quickness, remarkable peripheral vision—which is a fancy name for that strange sixth sense of anticipation about approaching tacklers which good runners seem to inherit along with the color of their eyes and big feet—and a well-balanced, controlled stride are his greatest assets. He also follows blockers well, which is a sensible thing for a 168-pound halfback to do these days, although when they fail to appear Billy is capable of producing a great deal of drive and determination all on his own. He doesn't mind running over people a bit.
As a passer he has improved steadily; this is not the thing he does best but it is something he does well, particularly under pressure, and with the double threat he presents on a swing around end, with the option of running or throwing on almost every play, he can be a tough man to figure out. He is a good punter, a fine receiver, an exceptionally alert pass defender and a deadly tackier who loves to come storming up from his safety position to dump an opposing runner behind the line.
"He can be spectacular, all right," says Stiegman, "but I guess the thing we like about him best is the steady, dependable job he does for you on every play. He's just a good football player."
YOUNG MAN OF DISTINCTION
If Austin makes All-America this year, it will be a remarkable achievement, since Rutgers' football players do not usually make All-America for several reasons. When you mention the possibility to Billy, he only grins and shakes his head. Captain of the team, Cadet Colonel of the Air Force ROTC wing, president of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, a star lacrosse player and a good B student, he thinks he has probably had all the honors that any one boy deserves. He expects to spend three years in service after graduation and then look around for a career in public relations—but definitely not pro football. The game against Columbia on November 22 will probably be the last he will ever play.
"Football at Rutgers," he says, "has been a lot of fun. Even if I had dreamed that I might become a real good player at a big-time football school, this is where I would have gone. Here, football has been a part of college, not college a part of football. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way."