A fall ago there were bumper stickers all over the state of Texas proclaiming that 1967 was THE YEAR OF THE HORNS. This meant that it would be the season for the University of Texas Longhorns to reclaim the glory of days past, to get off of the 6-4 records that Coach Darrell Royal's teams had been suffering for a couple of years, to get back to winning the Southwest Conference championship again and, even more importantly, to get back to challenging for No. 1. Indeed, with the talent returning—Chris Gilbert, Bill Bradley and others—it looked as if there might be a 9-1 or even a bowl-game 10-1 on the immediate horizon.
But then the Longhorns played their opener against USC. The Trojans unveiled O. J. Simpson, and a 17-13 loss sent Royal's team reeling toward still another 6-4 season. Two days after that game Darrell's wife Edith was driving through Austin and she almost wrecked her car at the sight of a new bumper sticker. It said: WOULD YOU BELIEVE '68?
Well, a lot of Texas boosters would. Royal not only has Chris Gilbert, who has gained more than 2,000 yards in two years, and Bill Bradley returning once again, he has his finest crop of sophomores ever, a schedule that lets him play most of his toughest opponents at home and not face USC at all, thank you, and something else that the Longhorns have not been forced to dredge up since Royal's beginning years in Austin: a hunger for success.
The schedule is not easy, despite the absence of the Trojans, for the Southwest is a strong conference in 1968. But Texas is fortunate in catching three good teams in front of its own feverish fans—Houston in the opener, Arkansas on October 19 and Texas A&M on Thanksgiving Day, a game that will be televised nationally. The other test will come on October 12 in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas against old enemy Oklahoma, a team that lost only to Texas (9-7) last year.
The Oklahoma game was the only one in which Bradley, Gilbert and the other Steers looked like the winners they were supposed to be. That day Royal told his team at half time, "There's a heck of a fight going on out there, and we're not in it yet." Super Bill Bradley was a quarterback living up to his early reputation in those last two quarters, running the keepers and throwing the short passes that drove Texas to a winning touchdown and field goal against a team that was one of the best.
Bradley today is supposed to be the Bradley of that game, and the Bradley everyone in Austin has been waiting for, in this, his senior season. In the spring he looked quick, in better shape, smart, eager and fully recovered from some nagging injuries. This summer he kept in shape by working at a boys' camp instead of relaxing in a cushy Miami job interviewing airline stewardesses, as he did in the summer of '67. However, some of his critics say that Bradley will never carry the Longhorns through, because his hands are small; that he will always throw a key interception or fumble at the most inopportune time. Eight close games have been lost for Texas with Bradley at the controls over the last two seasons, but Royal insists this has not all been Bill's fault. "We had six years of good luck and it just caught up with us. You can't go your whole career winning those 10-7 games," Royal says.
One of the best reasons why Bradley may finally come through is all of the help he will have. Texas has more quality players than any other team in the area—and more than all but a few in the nation. Nine regulars return to the offensive unit and 10 to the defensive team. It will be a squad with experience, size and speed. The main aide to Bradley will again be Gilbert, who carried a lot of the offensive load by himself over the past two seasons when he gained 1,080 and 1,019 yards rushing. He did have some fumble problems last year, but Assistant Coach Mike Campbell thinks Gilbert's darting style of running is the cause, not carelessness. "His problem is momentum," says Campbell. "When he makes a move it's so fast the ball doesn't always get the message." Then, too, there is Fullback Ted Koy, who is a smaller but faster version of his older brother, Ernie, now with the New York Giants, and a tight end named Deryl Comer, who is being called the best all-round player on the squad. Comer, who hails from the same Dallas high school (Highland Park) that produced Doak Walker and Bobby Layne, is talented enough to have Jones Ramsey, the Longhorn publicity man, say "In four different positions, he'd be the best we have."
There are other Longhorns with established names, too, such as Danny Abbott, a guard, Corby Robertson, the millionaire-to-be linebacker, Lloyd Wainscott, a defensive tackle, and Mike Perrin, a linebacker, all of whom have been picked on preseason all-conference teams. Two promising sophomores, Danny Lester and Fred Stein-mark, will add zip to the defensive secondary. Of Steinmark, Royal says, "Somebody described him as running like a knuckleball. And that's true." But none of these are causing as much commotion as a sophomore named Steve Worster.
Worster was Texas' most wanted high school star of 1966. He is fast and strong. Already considered the best blocker on the team, he is also a fine runner and a good receiver. Royal has Worster learning three backfield positions. He will probably start at wingback but also share time with both Gilbert and Koy.
To all of this Texas talent, Royal is adding one other ingredient—the old wing T offense that the Longhorns used to run in their winning days of the early 1960s. He has tried the I formation, but he is—understandably—sick of it. "You can't get good enough passing patterns off of it," Royal says. "In our case, we found that we couldn't get much of an attack to the tight side without going in motion."
So, reenter the wing T, the attack Texas had when it relied largely on defense and its distinctive attribute of crisp blocking. "We have good runners, so we're going to let 'em run," Royal says. "And we should have better throwing. It's like those high school dances I used to go to in Hollis, Okla. You'd go up to a girl and ask her to dance, but she'd say, 'No thanks, I'm gonna dance with the one who brung me.' Well, that's what we're going back to on offense. We're going with the one who brung us."
Though slightly overdue, the Year of the Horns may be brung in after all.