They'd fought and they'd fit and they'd scratched and they'd bit like the proverbial Kilkenny cats nearly every year since 1900, and now, just 18 seconds before half time in the 54th game of the series, the football team of the University of Texas threatened the goal line of the University of Oklahoma as menacingly as a goal line can be threatened. Behind 7-12, Texas had moved the ball against time and a passionately unwilling Sooner team to within a few inches of the line. On opposite sides of the field of the Cotton Bowl at Dallas the old Oklahoma master, Bud Wilkinson, and his sometime pupil but enemy for the day, Darrell Royal, tensed for the critical play. Up in the stands 75,581 people were experiencing heart palpitations that would have made frightening electrocardiograms.
It was a moment of moments in a Dallas football weekend that stood the town on its ear and shook it by the heels. Events marched toward it in fine dramatic order, with a Southern Methodist-Missouri game as an appetite-sharpening curtain raiser Friday night before the smash finale on Saturday. As expected, Friday's prelude focused on SMU's quarterback, Don Meredith; it was a one-man show and a good one.
While Meredith was honing his aim in practice at Dallas last week, Darrell Royal was grooming his undefeated, unscored-on Longhorns for the annual go-for-broke effort against Oklahoma in an atmosphere of exuberance and expectation on the campus at Austin, 200 miles south.
A slender, not very tall man of 35, with a cleft chin, bold blue eyes and ruddy cheeks, Royal trotted into the dressing room after the Thursday workout, whipped through a shower, changed his clothes and slipped into the rear seat of a crowded car that would hustle him to the Texas-Baylor freshman game that night at Waco, 90 miles away. He was a man in a hurry—was, is and always has been—and he fidgeted impatiently with his wristwatch on the long ride.
October 18, 1959
High up in the Baylor stands, Royal squirmed and concentrated on his blue-chip freshmen, and when a boy named Pat Culpepper scampered like a jack rabbit for a nice gain, he recalled that Pat had led his high school team in pregame prayer.
"He always prayed for the Lord to help them be good winners," Royal said with satisfaction. "That boy didn't even think about losing."
Obviously Royal doesn't want to think about losing, either; something in the way he said it gave the remark a depth of feeling that he apparently seldom displays in conversation. His dislike of emotional display is evidently deeply rooted in the struggles of his boyhood. Royal talks about those struggles without anger or self-pity, and the intent here certainly is not to paint a syrupy, Horatio Alger figure. But Royal did migrate with his family from the small town of Hollis, in the bleak southwest corner of Oklahoma, to California in the dust bowl days. He heard the sneering word "Okie" and did odd jobs and finally got fed up and hitchhiked back to live with his grandmother in Hollis. Among other things, he was able to play varsity high school football. They wanted to put him on the peewee team, he says, in California.
In a delicious twist of fate, Royal became a tremendous quarterback for Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma, just after World War II when the fabulous Wilkinson era was just beginning. A journeyman assistant after his playing days, Royal was tapped for his first head coaching job by Edmonton of the Canadian Football League and then had so-so sessions in two years as head coach at Mississippi State and one at Washington.
Texans fondly tell the story of how it rained in Austin for the first time in months on the day Royal signed his contract. And, in fact, the terrible Texas drought did end at the time when fate's best twist delivered Royal to the greatest rivals of Bud Wilkinson's Sooners. Parched Texas soil soaked up rain, and not long afterward Longhorn football fans, who had had a terrible drought of their own in the mid-1950s, began wetting parched lips with victory toasts.
In 1957, Royal's first Texas team won six games, lost four and tied one—surprisingly good in view of the previous year's miserable 1-9 record. Continued improvement last season brought seven victories, including a dazzling 15-14 decision over Royal's once beloved but now hostile Oklahoma. Royal began the 1959 campaign as a man of achievement; with warm, widespread backing, a contract reportedly calling for $17,500 a year and a team blessed with more speed than a year ago, he continued to achieve with a vengeance. Nebraska fell 20-0, Maryland 26-0 and California 33-0, and there was Texas rated No. 4 in the nation.
Admittedly, these were not superior opponents, but the Texas goal line had not been crossed and the orange victory lights that bathed the tall Tower, high above the red-tile roofs of the handsome campus buildings, looked as if they might shine on and on.
The excitement of winning, which seems to have a higher octane rating in Texas than anywhere else, was obvious in the looks and speech of deep-dyed fans like Crockett English, manager of the campus bookstore. English is one of a number of Texans who have been heard to say that football is a way of life, not merely an earnest avocation. Darrell Royal fits excellently into this pattern.
"Darrell brought the rain and he brought the victories, and we're grateful," English says.
Last Thursday, after Royal returned from that freshman game (won by Texas) he took a sleeping pill, but even so he awoke at 7 a.m. on Friday. At midmorning, seated behind a desk in his small, plain office in the fieldhouse, he gazed at an enormous pair of mounted horns—longhorn horns—and shaped an answer to a question about his coaching technique.
"I just try to do what comes natural," he said. "If it comes natural and I feel good about it, I just do it. I live from day to day. I don't try to set up an objective for two years from now or anything like that.
"Except for technical football I seldom put any thought on what to say to the team before I get up and say it. There's an old saying that you can't kid a kid. I never have tried to fool any player and I don't think I could. I wouldn't dare do anything unless I felt it was natural."
Meanwhile in Dallas another Southwest Conference coach who favors the natural approach, at least in one important respect—the utilization of Don Meredith—was ready for Missouri. SMU Coach Bill Meek says of Meredith, "He's the best passer in the country as far as I'm concerned. If we've got a guy who can really throw that ball, we'll throw."
Before 33,000 in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night, the 21-year-old, 195-pound Meredith, a genuinely gifted athlete who can run and tackle effectively as well as pass superbly, did what came naturally. He passed for two touchdowns in SMU's 23-2 victory and altogether accounted for 120 yards on 10 completions in 14 attempts. He fired the first scoring pass at close range, with a Missouri tackier hanging onto his waist, and against spirited rushes by the Missouri linemen demonstrated his celebrated coolness again and again. Behind Meek's spread formation he cruised back and forth, shaking off and faking off tacklers as he waited patiently for his receivers' patterns to unfold.
SMU's Friday night victory over Missouri put the state of Texas one up on the invaders, and Saturday afternoon hordes of Longhorn and Sooner fans streamed into Dallas for the battle of the Kilkenny cats to see whether or not the University of Texas could give the state its second win of the weekend. As in the past, a large and vociferous part of that horn-honking, pennant-waving cavalcade was bent on the modern equivalent of getting a skinful and shooting up the town, though they no longer attempt to dismantle it.
At the kickoff the crowd simmered in its traditional highly charged state of mingled anticipation and apprehension. No need for them to worry if the players were up for the game; they always are, on historical principle. And right now, this year, Texas would defend its winning streak the best it knew how, or a little better. Oklahoma, for its part, considers it un-Oklahoman, and possibly illegal, to lose more than one game in the season—and the Sooners had already been drubbed by Northwestern (A Slight Case of Murder, SI, Oct. 5).
Oklahoma struck suddenly and powerfully. Near the middle of the first quarter, Second-string Quarterback Bob Cornell passed to Fullback Jackie Holt on a scoring play covering 23 yards. Soon First-string Quarterback Bobby Boyd pitched out to the swift right halfback, Dick Carpenter, and he tightroped 38 yards along the sideline to score again.
Permitting Oklahoma 12 points early in a game might well have disheartened Texas, but it did not. The Longhorns pounded 72 yards to a touchdown in the second quarter as Halfback Rene Ramirez ran, caught and, spectacularly, passed the ball. Twice he ran to the left and passed left-handed on picture plays, and the second time End Larry Cooper snared the ball in the end zone. Oklahoma had failed to convert after both touchdowns. Now Bobby Lackey's deflected placement just did wobble over the bar to make the score 12-7.
Late in the second quarter the crowd, which had been rising to middling peaks so far, began to scale an Everest of delirium. Texas was on the move. From the 48, one of Texas' half dozen notable sophomores, a speed merchant of a quarterback named Jimmy Saxton, swept wide to his right, accelerated ahead and, with his jersey half torn away by a tackier, squirmed to the Oklahoma 22. Six plays later, Fullback Mike Dowdle smashed across the line for the game's climactic touchdown—with just 10 seconds left on the clock.
Now Texas led 13-12. It was still a high-voltage game, but it did not matter that Texas scored again in the last half or that Oklahoma, despite damaging injuries, was able to unleash the bulldozing Prentice Gautt. All in all, Gautt gained 135 yards, but Texas stiffened whenever they were really threatened. The Longhorns won 19-12, without really needing the last touchdown. As the game ended, the south goal post came splintering down. Then the other went, and Texas partisans flowed downtown to whoop it up.
It was some game, some Texas weekend. With four victories in a row put away (and some fans dreaming of the first perfect Texas season since 1920), Darrell Royal allowed he was mighty happy.
COLOR OF THE WEEK: TEXAS MAKES ITS POINT
Rising high above the pack of fallen linemen, Jerry Tillery, Oklahoma's right end, reaches to heaven in a valiant but futile effort to block Quarterback Bobby Lackey's extra-point attempt after the first Texas touchdown. The ball apparently hit Tillery's hand and barely wobbled over the crossbar. Orange-shirted Longhorns went on to defeat Oklahoma 19-12 before 75,581 fans in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.