The Texas-OU rivalry always seems to see one team or the other run off a series of wins. Who knows why. Maybe one side gets an advantage in recruiting after winning a couple in a row. Maybe the intensity of the buildup and setting puts more pressure on the side that has lost a few in a row. Make up your own theory, but over the past 70 years both sides have experienced extended periods of pain and pleasure.
Texas won 8 in a row twice --1940-47 and 1958-65 - and after a loss in 1966, the Horns ripped off 4 more wins. OU won 9 out of 10 including six in a row under Bud Wilkinson (1948-57). The past three decades have seen each team have several 5 or 6 year periods of dominance in the series.
Darrell Royal was a player at OU and on the losing end for the final two years of the first Texas streak. He then helped to start OU's decade of dominance his last two seasons. When he took the Texas job OU had won 5 in a row - including two straight shut outs.
Royal understood that in order to get the alums fully invested in his rebuilding project, he needed to address that matter of the annual October Cotton Bowl showdown. One of his first public statements after taking the job took that task head on.
"We'll find us some guys around here who want to dance every dance, and we'll turn that thing up in Dallas into a bloodletting again."
Rebuilding a Program
Texas was 10-19-1 the three previous seasons before Royal's arrival on campus. But when Royal got to Austin, he was surprised to find a talented sophomore class. So rather than blow everything up and start from scratch, Royal decided to try and patch something together for 1957 and then build on his own recruits.
A while back my then child-bride was finishing up some classes for her teacher's certificate at UT and she worked part-time at Tracor. One of the administrators in her department was Joe Williams, who was a squad member from 1956-58. He had a couple of stories that epitomized Royal's savvy handling of the takeover of the program.
Williams said that the players were dreading spring drills right after Royal was hired. They assumed it would be some kind of test of survival - a weeding out process.
"First of all, you were struck by the organization of the practice," recalled Williams. "We hadn't seen anything like it. You went from station to station, you did your drills, the whistle blew and you moved on to the next station," Joe said. "There was no wasted motion, no wasted time."
It was hard, but not unduly so, and then Royal calls everyone up.
‘Uh-oh,' "we thought," said Williams. ‘here it comes.' But instead Royal had a few words and then dismissed the team. Then it hit Williams. One of the few quality players on the squad was QB/Punter Walter Fondren. The last drill the team had participated in was punting.
"Everyone had a position on the punt team, everyone," Joe told me. "The kicking game was really emphasized. So Walt would boom a kick after kick and each punt team would run full out for 50 yards in their lanes. He damn near wore out his leg, and we got our sprints in."
"Look, Coach Royal and his staff had looked at the film," Joe added. "They knew what they were dealing with, but we hadn't quit, we just didn't have a lot to give. Why kick a dog when he is down"?
Williams also said that Royal made it clear that playing time would be earned by those who were disciplined and who would hit. He said a couple of guys early on tried to test the rules and were quickly dismissed.
Texas went 6-4-1 in Royal's first year, including a 21-7 loss to Oklahoma. The highlight of the season was sending Bear Bryant "Home to Mamma" with a 9-7 win over A&M in College Station. The Longhorns earned a bid to the Sugar Bowl, where #7 Mississippi thumped them 39-7.
1958: Off to a Great Start
Texas opened the 1958 season hosting Georgia and its new quarterback, Fran Tarkenton. The Horns led 7-0 when Tarkenton took the Bulldogs on a 95-yard scoring drive and then took advantage of a brand new rule, going for two after a touchdown. Tarkenton flipped a short pass for the conversion and an 8-7 lead. Texas came back to win 13-8, but after the game Royal stated that he didn't like the new rule, saying that it "let fans go to Vegas and play with somebody else's money."
He didn't like it, but that didn't mean he wouldn't use it.
Texas followed up with wins over Tulane and Texas Tech and entered the Cotton Bowl ranked #16. OU was also unbeaten and ranked #2. This was the first time in 8 years that both teams came to Dallas unbeaten and ranked.
Pupil vs. Teacher
Bud Wilkinson and the Sooners had opened the season with home wins against West Virginia and Oregon. The game lived up to its billing as Royal made good on his promise of turning the game back into a "bloodletting," at least as far as the hitting was concerned. Neither team made a first down for the first 10 minutes of the contest. Early in the 2nd quarter, Texas scored first - by completing three passes from three different players. Back up QB Vince Matthews hit Kleo Halm for 39 yards. The starter, Bobby Lackey, came back and found halfback Rene Ramirez for a 37-yard completion. On fourth and 4 from the OU ten yard line, Royal called for the halfback pass. The left-handed Ramirez took a pitch to the left, rose up and hit George Blanch for the touchdown.
Royal decided to take advantage of the rule he didn't like.
Texas quickly lined up to go for two points. The stunned Sooner defense was caught off guard and were barely down in their stance when Texas ran a basic off-tackle play for the conversion. The Horns led 8-0.
After the game Royal explained that while he still didn't like the new rule he thought going for it after the first score in such a big game would be an advantage.
"We thought it would totally catch them by surprise," said Royal, "and we didn't think one touchdown would hold up."
Royal wanted the plain vanilla run play because he thought after a halfback pass OU wouldn't know what to expect and he wanted to run a play that his team would have total confidence in.
This was the first, but certainly not the last time Royal would go against the popular perception of his ultra conservative coaching style.
OU dominated the 3rd quarter, and finally got on the scoreboard with 4 minutes left. The Sooners went for two, but it failed, and Texas led 8-6. Early in the 4th quarter disaster struck for the Longhorns. Bobby Lackey missed a handoff to Mike Dowdle, and the ball actually ended up on Dowdle's back, where OU's Jim Davis picked it up and moved 25 yards for the touchdown. This time the Sooners two-point conversion worked, and OU now led 14-8.
In the middle of the 4th quarter, Texas mounted a 13-play 74-yard drive that started with Royal sending Vince Matthews back in at QB. Matthews, the better thrower, quickly took the Horns down the field hitting 6 out of 7 passes, including a 4th down and 6 conversion. Bobby Lackey finished the drive by hitting Bob Bryant with a jump pass to tie the game. Lackey kicked the go ahead extra point to give Texas the 15-14 lead. In the game, Lackey, Matthews and Ramirez combined to hit 12 out of 17 passes for 153 yards and both scores.
Lackey was spectacular on both sides of the ball. Aside from throwing the winning touchdown, he recovered a fumbled punt, made an open field tackle on Bobby Boyd with a minute left in the game when it appeared the All-American was touchdown bound, and he then sealed the win with an interception. Texas stopped OU drives on its own 13, 23, 5 and 24 yard lines.
It was Texas first win over OU in 7 years. Royal had beaten his former coach on his second try. Longhorn fans tore down both goalposts. When OU President George Cross came to the UT locker room to congratulate Royal and the team he had to wait a minute.
It seems Darrell had gone outside around the back to throw up.
Beating OU: The Short-Term & Long-Term Effect
The win over OU vaulted the Horns into the Top Ten (#7) and after beating Arkansas 24-6, Texas moved up to #4 in the rankings. Royal knew this was Fool's Gold and his team didn't have the depth of talent to sustain such a lofty position in the polls.
He was right. The next week Rice ripped Texas 34-7, thanks mainly to four interceptions and two fumbles by the Horns. Texas lost three of its last five games to finish 7-3 and rejected bowl feelers from the Gator Bowl.
Long term the win over the Sooners paid huge dividends. Texas also defeated A&M that year, making it the first time since Bobby Layne's senior year that Texas had beaten both OU and A&M the same season. The success of 1958 could not be underestimated in terms of helping recruiting as well. The 1959 recruiting class would supply 28 sophomores who would be listed among the top 44 players for the 1960 season. That sophomore class would go 26-5-2 on the varsity and set the table National Championship run of 1963.
About that Rice loss. Joe Williams had an interesting story about the aftermath of that disaster, giving another look into Royal's mindset in building a program.
Joe said the team arrived for the Sunday film session and just sat in silence waiting for Royal and the staff to show up.
"When Coach got there he started right in," said Williams. "He said, ‘none of the staff slept last night, we just kept looking at the film. We didn't do a damn thing right, but they were mistakes of aggression, people were hustling.'
Williams said Royal then went on. "As long as you are doing that, and as long as you don't keep making the same mistakes over and over, we can fix those problems. Go ahead and head back to your rooms."
The team sat there for a few seconds and then left. Said Williams, "We would have run through a brick wall for him after that."