James Saxton a runner so talented that Darrell Royal came up with a new formation to utilize his gifts, has passed away at the age of 74.
Saxton's son, Jimmy, who followed his fathers footsteps to UT, said Saxton finally succumbed to dementia Wednesday morning.
Saxton spent he early childhood in College Station, but drew Royals' attention as a 5-11 140 lb., running back for Palestine HS. Legend was that Saxton was so quick he could chase down rabbits as a youngster. Royal likened his running style to "watching the air come out of a balloon," and teammates joked that they should hold their blocks as long as they could, "because James will be back around."
By the time he reached his senior season Saxton was all the way up to 160 pounds, but still as quick as a minnow. Royal decided during that summer that he needed to get Saxton the ball at least 20-25 times a game.
Texas was running the wing-T at the time and Royal didn't want Saxton spending half the game at wingback. Royal took it another step and decided that in order to simplify blocking assignments he would have the strongside (guard, tackle, end, wingback) all flip to whatever side of the field was called for. Royal felt it would make for less confusion on the offensive line.
The coaches found out that it meant the halfbacks and the linemen only needed to learn half the assignments, which in turn cut down on busted plays.
The biggest problem was making sure that the team could smoothly break out of the huddle. Since the new formation was put in after spring football, Royal was worried about how it would work.
So Royal asked several athletic department staffers to join him at Gregory Gym so they could practice getting to the line of scrimmage. Royal assumed that if a bunch of administrators could flip smoothly then surely his players could as well.
The Flip-Flop formation was born.
About that goal of getting Saxton the ball 20-25 times a game. Not so much.
Saxton carried the ball exactly 107 times in 1961, for 846 yards or an obscene 7.9 yards per carry.
Saxton gained 173 yards on just 16 carries against SMU and then followed that up with 171 yards against Baylor.
Saxton would end up 3rd in the Heisman voting in 1961, and might have actually had an even stronger case for the trophy if not for the infamous "Cockroach" game.
Nov. 18, 1961
Texas was unbeaten and #1 in the Nation when a 2-4-1 TCU came into Austin. The Horns were a 24-point favorite, but TCU had gone to Columbus earlier in the year and fought the #1 Buckeyes to a 7-7 tie.
Sonny Gibbs, the Horned Frogs 6-7 QB hit Buddy Iles for a quick early touchdown and TCU led 6-0. Texas came right back when Saxton took a swing pass from Mike Cotton all the way down to the Horned Frog 10-yard line. As he quickly jumped up to his feet, Bobby Plummer, pursuing the play for TCU slammed into Saxton, knocking him unconscious.
Texas stalled and Saxton said later he couldn't remember a single thing about the first half. He actually returned to try and play in the second half, picked up 35 yards on two carries -- but fumbled at the TCU 5-yard line. TCU won 6-0.
Texas finished 9-1 and #3 in the nation, and went on to defeat Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl. It was after the the loss that Royal uttered his famous quote, comparing TCU to a cockroach:
"It isn't what he eats or totes off, but what he falls into and messes up."
Jimmy Saxton said the family will hold a private memorial back in East Texas. The family will plan on holding a public memorial sometime in June.