All season long the Southwest Conference had been looking like it did in the old days—cuckoo. Everybody was beating everybody, which was kind of fun. The most injuries since the defense of the Alamo had brought Texas back to the field, back to the common folks. Arkansas had lost to Baylor, and when you glanced up there at the standings you found Texas A&M and SMU, a couple of the oddest sounding names since Toby's Business College and the Deaf and Dumb Institute used to appear on the schedules. But this was all before last Saturday, when Coach Frank Broyles and his squiggly Arkansas Razorbacks finally found themselves and, in the process, returned the league to the predictable calm it usually has known in the 1960s.
Last week offered one of those day-night doubleheader possibilities for which Texans dream, yearn and save. In Austin, Coach Darrell Royal's Longhorns, who had lost 12 offensive and defensive starters in six games, were to try to regroup on crutches and meet surprising SMU, which had been busy losing its reputation as a have-not. And then, just three hours later and 100 miles away on an open farm road, equally shocking Texas A&M was going to receive Arkansas. This clearly was the Saturday of the season for the thousands who had tickets for both games.
SMU did its part in the afternoon, edging out the Longhorns in the last 18 seconds on a field goal, 13-12, thereby stealing a game the Mustangs could easily have lost by 20-7. Swell. All things normal for 1966. In the Austin press box a Dallas writer said, "The way to figure the games this year is to decide which is the worst team and the least deserving, and there's your winner." But the evening game at College Station, the home of Texas A&M, known to most non-Aggies as Sing Sing on the Brazos, was yet to begin. And absolutely no one, least of all the poor Aggies, could have known how ready Arkansas was.
With historic old Kyle Field brimming over with 40,000, the largest part of the crowd being ex-Aggies who have not had much to march, whoop or sing about since Bear Bryant left nine years ago, the Razorbacks blew in like a Texas norther and had the big game over in 14 minutes. They rushed to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter, and won laughing, or rather sooey-pigging, 34-0.
After the two-game debris was cleared, the Southwest race still might have looked strange to a person who had not witnessed the doubleheader. SMU had the conference lead, at 3-0, and was 5-1 for the season—the best record that Coach Hayden Fry has had in five years. And Arkansas and A&M were loitering in second place at 3-1. However, those standings are the most deceiving things since squirting neckties. Anyone who saw SMU squeeze by Texas and Arkansas mutilate A&M can tell you that Broyles's team is now quicker and more deadly than ever, and that the only way the Mustangs can beat the Razorbacks on Nov. 12 in Fayetteville is with guns, tanks and planes. Arkansas should finish 9-1, as expected in early September, and deservedly rank among the nation's best.
To better appreciate the puzzle that was created and the order that has been restored, you have to look at the principal teams one by one. It is best to start with Texas, for Darrell Royal's unfortunate Longhorns have had the strangest experiences of all.
Texas has had five seasons of bad luck heaped into just seven games, four of which the Longhorns have lost—giving up only one touchdown in each. Among the injury losses for the year: Royal's best wingback, center, guard, defensive back and two defensive ends. And you might as well say quarterback, for sophomore sensation Bill Bradley has been only half a player since the third game. He led Texas against SMU with a heavily bandaged knee and shoulder, the results of a twist and strain. The leg allows him to run about as fast as a tackle, and the shoulder allows him to put as much zing on a pass as your grandpa.
For all of this, Texas barely lost an early game to Arkansas 12-7 and was down on the Razorbacks' three-yard line with a golden opportunity late in the day. And Texas did everything but defeat the miracle that has become SMU. Sophomore Halfback Chris Gilbert, who has emerged as the best runner in the conference, sprang for a 74-yard touchdown, and Bradley passed his team to a couple of field goals. He also took them 68 yards to the SMU one, toward what should have been the clinching score. On fourth down, however, he threw a grand-fatherly pass to a wide-open receiver, and it was an inch tall. After that, he personally one-legged the team to the SMU 33, eating away time, before he fumbled on a quarterback sneak. SMU recovered and drove to the winning field goal, just as it used to do in Doak Walker's day.
Said Royal, "The reason all this is so hard to take is because we could have been a good team this year. But there's nothing wrong we can't fix. I'll guarantee you we'll be back." Next year, he means.
SMU, which also defeated Rice in the last nine seconds, does not have a Doak Walker, it is true, but it has more weapons than in its recent past. Mac White is a five-year quarterback who can run, a player who way back in 1963 engineered an upset over Roger Staubach and Navy, and Mike Livingston is an alternating quarterback who can throw. The offensive line is strong, and out on the fringe sits little Jerry Levias, the first Negro player ever to receive a Southwest scholarship. Levias is fast and tricky, and he gives a defense something to worry about. He wriggled among the Texas defenders to catch a touchdown pass last week, and he both threw and caught touchdowns in the frantic last quarter two weeks earlier against Rice.
Hayden Fry likes to think that part of his team's success can be ascribed to the fact that he has "put his coaching shoes back on," after riding around the workout field in a golf buggy and standing on his tower for two years. He may be right. Despite an obvious lack of team speed—the kind Arkansas has—SMU possesses that intangible something that enables a team to win.
Texas A&M's flurry of success was more fun for Texas' football hordes than SMU's, primarily because the Aggies are always the fall guys for the conference jokes. People like to incite A&M riots by telling about the Aggie who lost $10 watching a touchdown run on television and $20 on the instant replay. And it is easy for a visitor to learn why A&M had to close its library: somebody stole its book. A&M is a grim-looking military school. Placed on probation during Bryant's days there, it is on probation again because Coach Gene Stallings, a Bryant pupil, ran 40 players off his team and ordered more football in P.E. classes than P.E. It possibly could go into deeper probation for recruiting.
But coming to the Arkansas game, the Aggies had looked good. They had flogged Texas Tech (38-14), TCU (35-7) and Baylor (17-13). Their young players were revved up, old Aggies were crawling out of their county agent's offices and Stallings was Bryant reincarnate. Afterward, they realized the truth. "Arkansas," said Stallings, "is what a football team is supposed to look like."
It sure is now, for several big reasons: Quarterback Jon Brittenum has condescended to run the ball, thus taking the pressure off Halfback Harry Jones and the passing game; the Razorbacks, after a stumbling start, have now had their usual midseason restorative, a 41-0 win over Wichita State; and the defense has jelled into the best Broyles has had.
Brittenum hates to run, admits it and had not run in six games. But he is fast, quick and tough, and against the surprised Aggies ran for 82 yards. "We finally decided Jon had to run," says Broyles. "Defenses were practically going to bed with Jones and covering our receivers. The threat of Jon's running opens it up for us."
When the A&M defense did not open up, Brittenum turned Jones loose or threw, once left-handed for an 11-yard completion. "He'd been wanting to throw one left-handed all season," Broyles laughed. "I'm glad he got the opportunity." Brittenum was racing to his left under a heavy Aggie rush, and just before he slid out of bounds he lofted the ball to sophomore Halfback David Dickey, who took it away from an A&M defender. "It was either that or eat it," said Jon simply.
Broyles attributes his team's disappointing early-season look to a couple of factors. First, he thought, defenses against the I formation were improving. Second, Arkansas' globs of success had aroused his opponents to superefforts. "Baylor, for example, played a fine game against us," he said, "and there was nothing we could do but take our lumps. But the two teams have changed character since then, haven't they?"
And there was something else. A&M's and SMU's sudden display of power had allowed Arkansas to start a new season in late October. In the past, with Texas out of the way, Broyles's teams have glided through November without a care or a problem, winning championships five out of eight years. Now, from a slightly different direction, comes what surely will be Broyles's sixth title in only nine years. The fun, in the Southwest, is over everywhere but in the Ozarks.