While fans (and the media) wax nostalgia over the last time USC and Texas played a football game, (by the way, how did that turn out?) – I wanted to look back at the last time these two met in a home-and-home series.
Just over 50 years ago, John McKay and Darrell Royal, two of the most charismatic coaches in the game, played each other in 1966 and 1967.
First, a little background.
Texas was coming off a disappointing 6-4 campaign in 1965. That didn’t match the possible disappointment of an off-season story.
Darrell Royal thought about leaving Texas.
There wasn’t much grumbling about that 6-4 record, since Darrell had a National Championship, and a stranglehold on the series with OU. Royal had won 8 in a row against the Oklahoma. The last six were by an average of 18 points.
The Sooners decided that “if you can’t beat ‘em, then hire ‘em”. OU President George Cross got the OU Athletics Council to unanimously recommend the hiring of Royal, who had indicated that he still had strong feelings for his alma mater.
Cross said that “I have talked to Mr. Royal and he is interested. We would not make the offers except with the expectations that he would accept.”
And it was one helluva offer. OU proposed giving Royal a package worth $50,000 a year, an unheard of amount for that time, and more than double ($24,000) what he was making at Texas.
Royal took a weekend to decide and called President Cross to say that he was staying put.
“It’s been the hardest decision I’ve had to make because of the respect and love for my friends in Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma,” said Royal. “But I find that I have a deep affection for the University of Texas and my roots, and those of my family are mighty deep in the state of Texas.
UT rewarded Royal with a new contract worth $30,000 a year.
That settled, Royal turned to getting ready for the 1966 season, one where he would have to depend on the Bill Bradley-Chris Gilbert sophomore class to produce right away.
I have written before about the myth that in that era of unlimited scholarships Texas would recruit more players than everyone else and, as other coaches said, “sign players to sit on the bench so they wouldn’t have to play against them.”
While there was basically no limit on the number of scholarship players you could have, most of those years under Royal Texas did not have the largest recruiting classes in the SWC.
The advantage Texas did have was foremost in the unlimited budget for recruiting and evaluation. UT assistants were always on the road watching high school recruits play – whatever sport they were in. The coaches got more information on how players reacted to the pressure of games, and the players knew how much Texas wanted them — just by looking up in the stands.
The only time Royal went away from this template was after the 1963 National Championship. Texas signed 67 players after the championship season, too many to legitimately evaluate. Royal distanced himself from the process that year spending way too much time with personal appearances, speaking to almost any group or coaches clinic that wanted him. He may have been ahead of his time in trying to “Build the Brand” of Texas, but he later admitted he went about it the wrong way.
His biggest recruiting class failed to produce a single consensus All-SWC player. There were only 15 of them left by the time they were seniors in 1966, and only 6 of them would letter.
The 1966 squad would have to pay for the sins of the 1963 recruiting class and that meant that the spectacular sophomore class built around QB Bill Bradley and RB Chris Gilbert would have to play immediately.
The September 15th season opener was a big deal. USC was ranked #9. The game was on national TV. Dan Jenkins was there for Sports Illustrated.
The contest even made the Universal Newsreel, seen in movie theaters across the nation.
Texas wasn’t ranked, but they had that spectacular sophomore class, headed up by QB, “Super” Bill Bradley. The Palestine native had turned down a $40,000 bonus from the Detroit Tigers to play football at Texas. He was the latest state H.S. legend to be greeted with outlandish expectations. Dan Jenkins noted that Bradley was a main reason for his covering the game.
Seldom do sophomores come along who create as much preseason, pregame excitement—Royal says insanity—as Bill Bradley did last week,” wrote Jenkins. “Most of them fail to live up to the unrealistic expectations, but a few have, such as SMU's Doak Walker. Bill Bradley was surely the most raved-about sophomore since Walker in the Southwest Conference, and even though he had not played a varsity down his fame had spread quickly across the country as Texas prepared for USC.”.
Texas was starting 7 sophomores -- and that didn’t include Gilbert, who would not see action until the 2nd half.
USC dominated the first half building up a 10-0 lead holding Texas to just 52 yards total offense. After halftime Gilbert was inserted into the lineup. He picked up 103 yards rushing in 14 carries. Bradley scored to make it 10-6.
Midway through the 4th quarter Bradley pinned USC back on its own 2-yard line with a spectacular punt. USC picked up a couple of 1st downs. Later, facing 4th and 1 at its own 35, John McKay sent in the punter. But the offense talked him into going for it. The Trojans got the yard needed and then ran out the clock.
“When you have them pinned on their own 2 and can’t take it away from them for 8 minutes, the only thing you can do is meet them in the middle of the field and shake hands with the better team,” said Royal.
The score didn’t indicate how dominate the Trojans were in the contest. USC ran 56 offensive plays to just 38 for Texas. USC had 345 yards total offense compared to 222 for Texas. The Horns held on by producing maximum effort, playing sound fundamental football and at least giving themselves a puncher’s chance up until that last 4th quarter drive.
The next season Texas returned the visit out to Los Angeles. We will talk about the 50-year anniversary of that contest tomorrow, where the Horns ran into a running back with all the speed and power of a Ford Bronco.