For Longhorn fans the history is short but sweet: Texas holds an all time record of 7-0-1 against Alabama.
It's been 28 years since the Horns and the Crimson Tide played, and of course they will renew their infrequent rivalry in the BCS Championship game next Thursday.
These two preeminent college football programs have played only three times in the last 45 years, but if those games are any indication, Thursday's contest will be a fierce, physical one that won't be decided until the very end.
Texas recorded wins over 'Bama in the 1965 Orange Bowl, 1973 Cotton Bowl and the 1982 Cotton Bowl by the narrow margins of 4, 4, and 2 points. They were played on the national stage, they generated controversy at times, but they also created a bond between opposing players that would continue well past their football-playing careers. Over the next few days we will take a look at these three games, to help give historical perspective to what shapes up to be another addition to a classic rivalry.
1965 ORANGE BOWL -- COLLEGE FOOTBALL COMES TO PRIMETIME
NBC-TV had asked the Orange Bowl to move to their kickoff to 7:00 pm for the Jan. 1 game, and kicked in an extra $600,000 to make it worthwhile. The Orange Bowl Committee then put together a match made in TV Heaven. From 1961-64 Texas was 39-3-1 with a National Championship, while Alabama was 40-4 with two National Titles.
Texas, the defending National Champion, was a failed 2-point conversion away from keeping its title. The Horns had dropped a heart-breaking 14-13 decision to unbeaten Arkansas in Austin in October, but when Texas defeated Texas A&M 26-7 on Thanksgiving, the Horns accepted the invitation to the Orange Bowl.
Alabama finished its season on Thanksgiving as well, defeating Auburn 21-14. When USC upset #1 Notre Dame, the Crimson Tide were declared National Champions. Texas was 4th in the final AP poll before the bowl games.
From 1961-64 finished in the Top 5 all four years.
Alabama entered the game with a question mark at quarterback. Joe Namath, the most glamorous player in college football, had suffered a knee injury in the middle of the season. Steve Sloan took over as the starting QB, but Namath played extensively, and was expected to start against Texas.
But in a practice a few days before the contest, Namath handed off, suddenly clutched his knee and fell down. He had re-injured his right knee.
Alabama was a 6 point favorite in the game. When Namath re-injured his knee the line dropped to 3. "He moves like a human now," Bryant said. "He did move like a cat."
According to a recent article in the Tuscaloosa News, Royal gave specific instructions to his defense. Texas def. end Dan Mauldin said, “I remember Coach Royal telling us before the game that we would do our usual and go after everybody as hard as we could but we were not to go low to hit Namath in the knees.”
Namath was cleared to play after warmups, but Bryant decided to start Sloan. Midway through a scoreless 1st quarter, Texas took over at its own 20 yard-line. Texas halfback Ernie Koy popped through a hole on a power sweep to the right, got a key downfield block from receiver George Sauer, and went 79 yards for the first score of the game.
Prior to this Ernie Koy Orange Bowl-record 79 yard score, the Horns longest run from the line of scrimmage that year was for 21 yards.
A few minutes later, Texas made another long-range strike, this time when substitute QB Jim Hudson found Sauer on a 69-yard play action pass for the 2nd touchdown of the night.
That was enough for Bryant, who inserted Namath into the lineup. Namath took the Tide on an 87-yard scoring drive, 83 of it through the air to make it 14-7 Texas.
Again, another Alabama miscue led to a Texas score. Late in the 2nd quarter, Texas lined up for a David Conway field goal. ‘Bama blocked it, but the Crimson Tide defender fumbled it right back trying to advance it. Koy punched it in with just 23 seconds left to make it Texas 21-7 at the half.
The 2nd half was a matter of survival for Texas. The Horns never snapped the ball on the Alabama side of the field, and had only 4 first downs for the entire half.
Texas preferred a soft cover 2 defense, keeping receivers in front of the defensive backs, and then punishing them after the catch. But Namath’s release was so quick it negated any kind of rush, and he riddled the Texas defense with mid-range completions.
Texas coaches and players admitted after the game that they hadn't seen a QB with the quickness and velocity of Namath before.
Namath completed 18 of 37 for 255 yards and two touchdowns. The final threat from the Tide came midway through the 4th quarter. Alabama had a first and goal from the Texas 6-yard line. Three Steve Bowman carries had the ball inside the 1. Namath tried a QB sneak on 4th down where he was met by a host of Longhorns, led by Frank Bedrick, Tom Currie and Tommy Nobis. Namath was ruled down, and Texas took over.
Alabama offensive lineman Gaylon McCullough complained bitterly that Namath had scored because, "he was lying right on top of me and I was in the end zone."
Years later I got a chance to interview Nobis and asked about the famous 4th down play. We stopped him short," said Nobis. We heard a whistle, and knew the play was dead before he hit the endzone."
Alabama got the ball back, but Namath threw and interception and then on their last possession he had four straight incompletions. Texas had the win 21-17, and the Orange Bowl had a game that drew more national attention than any other in its history.
Namath was the object of a heated NFL-AFL bidding war, and he signed for the then-outlandish amount of $400,000 with the AFL New York Jets. Just four years later, Namath and several of his Texas adversaries would be back in the Orange Bowl to play the game that would change pro football.
Four Longhorns who played against 'Bama — Jim Hudson, John Elliott, Pete Lammons and George Sauer — were teammates of Namath’s with the Jets in Super Bowl III.
This was the game where Namath made his famous guarantee of victory during the buildup. Joe Willie credits Lammons with giving him the idea. Namath says that while coach Weeb Ewbank was going over Baltimore scouting report during the week, Lammons piped up and and said, “If we watch any more of these Colts game films, we’re going to get overconfident.”
In Super Bowl III, George Sauer caught 8 passes from Joe Namath for 133 yards in the Jets 16-7 win.
Namath was asked in an interview about the pre-game jitters before Super Bowl III and he specifically mentioned how he and his Longhorn teammates understood better than most how to handle the pressure.
"We had played in the Orange Bowl when it was everything. Namath said. "That's why we felt it was our kind of game, whereas some guys might have been tentative or anxious. We weren't anxious."