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HCS Op-Ed: With the UT-Arkansas Rivalry Renewed, a Look Back on the 1969 Classic

With 77 meetings strong, the rivalry between Arkansas and Texas remains a fan favorite.  Each fan base still considers it one of their team’s top rivalries, even with the Longhorns’ comfortable 56-21 all-time edge. It’ll be great to rejuvenate a rivalry that only has four meetings since the Razorbacks’ departure from the Southwest Conference in 1991.

For Arkansas, it’s the most played rivalry in program history, while it’s down the list, at five, for Texas.

The Longhorns and Razorbacks met annually as Southwest Conference members between 1932 until 1991.  The most heated period between the two teams was when Darrell K Royal was on the Texas sideline and Frank Broyles was on Arkansas’.  The coaches arrived on their respective campuses and made immediate impacts.  They were on opposing sidelines for seven Top 10 matchups and rose their programs to new heights and standards, some of which have not been met since.  Their programs battled for National Championships, Southwest Conference titles, recruits from Texas, trips to the legendary Cotton Bowl, and of course, bragging rights.

This month, the programs celebrate the 45th anniversary of the most notable meeting, “The Game of the Century.”  All of the above and more were on the line for the 38 degree, overcast and rainy afternoon in December 1969.  Both football programs had the chance to solidify themselves into college football history with a signature win.

The teams were asked to move their regularly scheduled October meeting to the first weekend in December to accommodate a television audience.  Only two weeks prior, Michigan upset the #1 team in the country, Ohio State, 24-12 in Ann Arbor to set up the #1 vs. #2 matchup between the Southwest Conference rivals.  Texas faced a rival in back-to-back weeks to end the regular season, coming off its annual Thanksgiving tradition with Texas A&M.  Arkansas was also riding high, shutting out Texas Tech in Little Rock 33-0.  ABC broadcasted the noon kickoff from Fayetteville with special guest Richard Nixon on site.

A classic was in the making.  The programs had two of college football’s most desirable coaches in Broyles and Royal.  They both aimed for a second title in the decade, after trading national championships in 1963 and 1964. They also had two of the nation’s longest winning streaks, with the Longhorns at 18 games and the Razorbacks at 15.  It was one of college football’s first “national championship games” before they were organized in the 1990’s.

The wet early December weather wasn’t great, but the overcapacity crowd at Razorback Field gave Arkansas the early edge.  The Razorbacks had the #2 defense in the country, allowing 6.8 points per game heading into the contest, and they forced six turnovers that day.

Arkansas kicked off to start the game, but on the second play from scrimmage, Texas Quarterback James Street mishandled the handoff, intended for fullback Ted Koy.  The Razorbacks were back in control after the fumble recovery and scored three plays later. Within a minute and a half, Bill Burnett had a 1 yard touchdown run and Arkansas was alone on the scoreboard.

The teams traded unsuccessful drives until the next Arkansas score.  The Longhorn offense added two more fumbles to its resume, as well as an interception.  The Razorbacks finished every drive with a punt.

The Razorbacks expanded their lead with a 29 yard touchdown reception by Chuck Dicus halfway through the third quarter.  The Longhorns needed an awakening!

The nation’s second highest scoring offense finally got a break on the first play of the fourth quarter.  Street, always out to prove the critics wrong, had a 43 yard touchdown run and followed that up with another quarterback keeper for the two-point conversion.

The Razorback fans in the crowd were stunned.  It was a completely different ball game.  The Longhorns were torched by the turnovers they had committed and the defense was at fault for allowing the game’s first two scores, but the game had swung in their favor.  They had finally taken a page out of their rival’s playbook.

The Texas defense finally broke through the Arkansas offensive line in the third quarter, recording a sack and some pressure on the Razorback scoring drive.  Sometimes all it takes is the levee breaking for the water to flow at a rapid pace.  Everything fell into place for both the offense and defense in the fourth quarter.

The Longhorn defense allowed Arkansas quarterback Bill Montgomery to escape for a huge 19 yard run in the third quarter, but that was the beginning of the end for Arkansas. The Longhorn defensemen swarmed the quarterback like bees and forced two important turnovers in the closeout quarter.

The first one set up the game-winning score.  Montgomery led the Razorbacks to the Longhorn 7, looking for a field goal to put the game out of reach.  On that drive, the irritating defense forced him to overthrow and underthrow passes intended for touchdown scores.  The second was picked off by Danny Lester, who stepped in front of one of Montgomery’s favorite targets on the day, Chuck Dicus.

Reports say James Street was shocked to hear Coach Royal call for “Right 53 Veer Pass.”  This play became his signature moment playing football at the University of Texas.  The two-sport athlete found Randy Peschel, who completed the difficult play with a spectacular catch over his shoulder, for a gain of 44 yards on 4th and three. Two plays later, Jim Bertelsen’s touchdown run from the Arkansas 2 tied the game at 14.  Donnie Wigginton’s save on the high snap allowed Happy Feller to make the go-ahead extra point.

Texas led 15-14 with 3:58 remaining, but everyone expected a final stand from the home team. Bill Burnett had three receptions for 27 yards on the Razorbacks’ final drive but Montgomery’s pass was intercepted by Tom Campbell near the Texas 20.  All-American kicker Bill McClard never got the opportunity to kick his Hogs to victory.  President Richard Nixon presented the University of Texas with the National Championship plaque after the come from behind win.

They celebrate the historic outing with a reunion in Houston on Monday. While tensions have receded since that 1969 battle, it’s still a rivalry that will forever be in the hearts of those from Arkansas and Texas.

This isn’t any old bowl meeting.  Each fan base and program remembers the last time they faced off in the postseason.  The Longhorns and Razorbacks renewed their rivalry at the 2000 Cotton Bowl Classic after an eight year hiatus, and there are high stakes this time around, too.  Monday is the fifth meeting since the “renewal”. The victor will hold the 3-2 edge and the all-important bragging rights as well.


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