"The University of Texas football season begins with the Oklahoma game. All before that is so much throat-clearing."
Dan Jenkins, Sports Illustrated.
When Bo Schembechler resigned at Michigan, ABC persuaded him to work a few football games as a color analyst. Schembechler never really warmed to the job, but he did have one request: he wanted to work a Texas-OU game. Bo had never even seen the contest on TV, since Michigan played Michigan State on the 2nd Saturday in October as well.
Schembechler came to Austin mid-week to study for the game. He heard from just about everyone how unique the Texas-OU rivalry was.
Schembechler nodded and smiled a smile that said in essence, "Listen, your talking to a man who got his Masters from Ohio State and coached on the Michigan sideline for 20 years -- I know a unique rivalry when I see one."
Then he got to Dallas.
It took just one trip to the State Fair and the Cotton Bowl for Bo Schembechler to understand the pull of the Texas-OU contest.
Schembechler helped call the telecast of Texas' 34-24 win over the Sooners in 1992, as Peter Gardere solidified his mythic place in UT history by starting in his 4th straight win over the Sooners. In the press elevator on the way down after the game Schembechler made a remarkable statement:
"That was intense and the most unique college football game I have ever seen."
Someone brought up Michigan vs. Ohio State and Schembechler quickly stated that the Big 10 contest was as bitter and intense a rivalry as they come.
"The difference," he said, "is the setting. I mean its great to go into Columbus and shut up the home crowd when you walk out a winner, but this, this is amazing with the stadium split in half. Every play creates an emotional frenzy on both sides. And then you have the State Fair going on right outside the stadium."
There is of course more to the game than the setting. There is the blood feud between neighboring states, with one side filled with expatriates trying to come back across the border to humiliate ex-teammates.
Of course it is the men involved in the storied series who really set it apart -- and one individual stands out among all the others.
I am talking about Darrell Royal.
Royal is that rare expatriate who made the trip to South of the Red River. He is uniquely qualified to understand both sides of the equation.
Darrell Royal spent 24 Saturdays in October walking the sidelines of the Cotton Bowl, 4 as a player for OU and 20 as head coach at Texas.
His boyhood home was Hollis, OK, just five miles from the Texas border. Raised during the Dust Bowl Era, Royal was a HS star at Hollis who dreamed of playing at OU. However after graduating High School in 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Force instead.
In 1946, when Royal was leaving the Air Force, he had a buddy of his, Kenny Baker, who had played freshman ball at Texas, write a letter of recommendation to the Longhorn coaches. Royal never heard from UT and went to OU, where he was an All-Ameircan and led OU to an unbeaten season and a Sugar Bowl win over LSU in 1948.
As a player at OU, Darrell Royal went 2-2 against Texas.
He is the winningest coach in series history (12-7-1). In fact he is the only coach to win at least ten games in the series. Bud Wilkinson was 9-8, while Barry Switzer went 9-5-2 for the Sooners.
The numbers hardly reflect the visceral feelings generated, or how Royal was such a lightening rod for both sides. One game during Royal's tenure is a virtual autopsy of the rivalry, both on and off the field.
It was his last game in Dallas.
1976: MEAN, UGLY, BRUTAL
There is no other way to describe the week leading up to the game and the contest itself. This time it wasn't about national rankings. This time it was two teams led by coaches who were spitting venom at each other in public.
The perception in 1976 was that Texas was faltering while OU was dominating the national scene. Actually since the 1971 season, Texas was 44-13 which is a 77% winning rate. But five of the losses had been to the Sooners, and OU was coming off back-to-back national championships. Royal hadn't beaten Oklahoma since Chuck Fairbanks got his version of the Wishbone rolling in 1971. Fairbanks had been replaced by Barry Switzer in 1973 and he revved up the 'bone until it ran like a Lamborghini in cleats.
But it is what was happening off the field that week that held the nation's attention.
Royal had been convinced for over 4 years that OU was spying on its opponents. He specifically believed that they knew beforehand that Texas was going to the quick kick in the 1972 contest. Royal had re-installed the quick kick into the playbook for the first time in four years the week leading up to the game.
With OU holding on to a slim 3-0 lead late in the 3rd quarter, Texas was pinned inside its own 10-yard line. There was only one sub for the play – center Greg Dahlberg – and when he went in, OU players immediately began to yell "quick kick, quick kick." Texas didn't change out of the play, and it was blocked. Lucious Selmon fell on it in the end zone and OU went on to win 27-0.
Royal was convinced that someone had entered Memorial Stadium disguised as a construction worker during stadium renovations and had spied on their practices. The charges all came to a head the week of the 1976 game. Royal had found out the name of the alleged spy. He was Lonnie Williams, who had ties to OU coaches Switzer and Larry Lacewell.
Royal went public with his accusations and even went so far as to offer to pay $10,000 to the favorite charities of Switzer and Lacewell if they took and passed lie detector tests. They of course denied all allegations.
When accused of spying, Barry Switzer replied by saying Royal was hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Switzer added that, "Some coaches would rather listen to guitar pickers than work hard," taking a shot at Royal's love of country music.
Royal gave an interview to Robert Heard of AP, where among other things he said he hoped Switzer and Lacewell would sue him for slander, so he could get them into court. Thinking the interview was over, Royal added, "Why those sorry bastards, I don't trust 'em on anything."
When that quote hit print, the stakes were raised even higher.
I was a sports reporter in Austin in 1976 and spent the day of the game on the floor of the Cotton Bowl. It is easily the most bizarre, brutal and vicious athletic event I have ever witnessed. Anyone who has been in the Cotton Bowl for a Texas-OU contest knows that the intensity level is special, for the fans as well as the players.
This one was different.
This one was personal.
This one was "Eat Shit and Die."
The pre-game warm up was tense. Hell, even the Texas fans showed up early to boo the opponent. The atmosphere was ugly. When Royal came out for pre-game, students and fans of his alma mater serenaded him with chants of "Sorry Bastards, Sorry Bastards."
Then there was the pre-game coin toss. President Gerald Ford was on hand, and he was escorted out to the middle of the field by the two coaches. One OU fan yelled, "Who are the two assholes with Barry?"
Neither coach would acknowledge the existence of the other.
Even Pres. Ford knew that the boos cascading down from the Cotton Bowl were not for him.
The talent level at Texas was improving going into 1976. Royal recruited well that year getting Johnny "Lam" Jones, an Olympic gold medalist in the summer of '76. The class included other top talent such as LB Lance Taylor, defensive linemen Steve McMichael and Henry Williams, along with DB's Johnnie Johnson and Derrick Hatchett. Alfred Jackson was a deep threat at WR.
Earl Campbell was going into his junior season, as was Johnny "Ham" Jones. Royal relished the idea of Campbell at fullback with "Lam" and "Ham" supplying speed at the halfback positions and Jackson putting pressure on the opposing defenses from the wideout. The one glaring hole in the offense was at QB.
The season did not start out well. Texas would eventually settle on a walk-on, Mike Cordaro at Quarterback. Earl Campbell pulled a hamstring in the opening game against Boston College and it would haunt him the entire season. Injuries racked the team.
Saturday cannot get here soon enough.