Heading into tonight’s big game between Texas and Arkansas, so much of the conversation has centered on Arkansas’ ability to slow down Texas football star Bijan Robinson.
Robinson, a 6-foot, 222-pound sophomore, ran for 20 carries, 103 yards, caught four catches for 73 yards and had two touchdowns overall in Texas’ season opener against then No. 23 Louisiana.
“Bijan Robinson is a stud. If you do not know his name yet, you’re gonna know it quickly,” said Emmanuel Acho, the FOX Sports analyst and former Texas football star at linebacker.
“His balance through contact is phenomenal. To me, he’s the most skilled running back Texas has seen since Ricky Williams.”
As impressive as Robinson’s abilities are, his knowledge of the past leaves something to be desired.
As he takes the field tonight in Fayetteville, he knows Arkansas football fans really don’t like Texas but didn’t quite no know why.
Most importantly, he didn’t know about one of the most games in the histories of both programs — the 1969 “Big Shootout” in Fayetteville between No. 2 Arkansas and No. 1 Texas. No less than a national title was on the line. It’s most heartbreaking loss in Arkansas football history, one that still pains older fans to think about.
Kirk Bohls, the longtime Texas football reporter, wrote that heading into Saturday night “the Longhorns don’t know what they don’t know. And that could get them beat.”
“Because Arkansas does know. Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman said he gave his team a history lesson this week.”
When Robinson was asked if he’d even heard of the Big Shootout, his simple answer was “No. I heard they don’t like us at all.”
No doubt, Bijan Robinson isn’t the only Texas football player who is in the dark about the legacy of Texas and Arkansas. Despite Pittman’s efforts, there’s bound to be some Arkansas players in the same boat.
That extends to the fans, too. Every year, the percentage of Arkansas football fans who remember that monumental game shrinks. Most of the sellout crowd that gathers at Razorback Reynolds Stadium will not have experienced any of the searing lows or soaring highs that defined much of the program in the 1960s.
For the current Texas and Arkansas players battling on Saturday night in Fayetteville, it’s just another football game on the schedule.
Arkansas football players from Texas, like the star sophomore Jalen Catalon, will have a lot of pride on the line playing against guys they might have known or played against in high school, and against the flagship university from their home state.
Texas’ players will care a little bit more for this game than it probably did last week at home, but it won’t be Oklahoma to them. It never has been.
That’s OK. The older crowd still knows what it means.
See our latest here:
It’s time to learn some history:
1965 Arkansas vs Texas
They know that Fayetteville was the site of one of Arkansas’s greatest victories in program history — the 1965 27-24 win over then No. 1 Texas in mid-October, a nationally televised game on NBC with the great Lindsey Nielsen calling the action.
Quarterback Jon Brittenum led the Razorbacks on a heroic 80-yard winning march after the Hogs had watched a 20-0 first-half lead evaporate, and Arkansas, holder of a claim to the 1964 national championship but still not fully embraced by the national pollsters until after that 1965 win, continued on to what would eventually reach a 22-game winning streak.
For one week, just one, the wire service polls ranked Frank Broyles’ team No. 1 the next Monday, only to push them down a spot the next week behind Michigan State when the Hogs trounced North Texas State the score of only 55-20.
1969 Arkansas vs Texas
No. 1 (Texas) and No. 2 (Arkansas), on Dec. 6, a game moved from its usual October spot solely for television, with President Richard Nixon, evangelist Billy Graham and many other notables on hand.
On that day, it was the only game broadcast the television and so had a degree of national scrutiny no regular season game could have today. The stadium was carpeted in new AstroTurf, solely for the game to be staged that late in the year in the Ozarks with a green playable field that was concrete underneath.
I wonder now (and I wish the surviving players would say),which was worse: carpet laid over concrete, or dormant Bermuda atop near-frozen tundra. In immediate hindsight, sports media began dubbing it the “Game of the Century,” one of a few so named in the 1960s and 1970s.
It’s still amazing, and sad, how long many of us have dwelled on a lost Arkansas football game that’s now 52 years in the rearview. A lot of Texas Longhorn heroes in that game have died, the first being safety Freddie Steinmark, who had a movie made about him just six years ago called “My All American.”
Doctors found cancer in his hip mere days after the “Big Shootout,” and amputated his leg not even a week after the 15-14 victory that kept Texas undefeated and on the way to an historic Cotton Bowl matchup with Notre Dame. Steinmark had started all season despite growing, intense pain in that leg, and during the Arkansas contest in which the Hogs got up 14-0 in the third quarter it became so obvious to Texas coaches it was finally affecting him enough that they had to pull him.
Texas Came Back From 14-0
He wasn’t in the game (in spite of the fiction in that biopic) when Texas right halfback (or cornerback) Danny Lester picked off an underthrown pass by the Hogs’ star, Bill Montgomery, on third down in the fourth quarter with the Razorbacks just seven yards from the Texas endzone.
For a moment, All-America receiver Chuck Dicus, who had already caught a 29-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, was open. A touchdown there probably would have sealed an Arkansas football win.
Even an incompletion or maybe a third-down running play likely sets up a field goal (not a sure thing, mind you) that would have put Arkansas up 17-8, and Texas would have had to come up with more than just the magical James Street to Randy Peschel 44-yard pass that set up the tying touchdown by Jim Bertelson and the go-ahead point-after kick by Happy Feller.
And, yes, there was still time for Arkansas heroics, and Montgomery got one more chance to march the Hogs into scoring position inside the final 2 minutes — but he was intercepted near the Texas 21 by Tom Campbell.
Texas ended up with the 15-14 win and you can see the devastation all over Frank Broyles and the Hogs players in the locker room afterward here:
What makes the loss especially galling is that the Hogs really did outplay Texas for the majority of the game.
Arkansas got SIX turnovers that day against Texas, and committed just those aforementioned two interceptions late. But it still couldn’t win. They didn’t miss a placekick, punting was never a problem, they covered exceptionally well on punts and kickoffs, they even hit so hard they jarred the ball loose a few times on Texas returns.
It wasn’t like Texas just dropped the ball on the ground, snapped it over the punter’s head, or handed the ball right to the Hogs the way Fred Akers’ No. 1 Longhorns did in October 1981 in losing 42-11.
Even Darrell Royal admitted that “Arkansas probably played better in the ballgame than we did on’ on that fateful day in 1969. See the 2:03 marker here:
Aftermath of the “Game of the Century“
Texas ended up winning that 1969 national title, rallying against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl in similar fashion to the comeback versus Arkansas, and making a new ‘Horn hero out of running back Billy Dale.
Then Texas added a share of the 1970 title as well as the win streak hit 30 straight games (No. 1 before the bowl games in the United Press International poll and its MacArthur Trophy as national champs; Texas lost a Cotton Bowl rematch to Notre Dame and Joe Theismann, letting the next great power, Nebraska, claim a share of the national title after the bowls).
Those great Arkansas seniors in 1970 who had come so close the year before were no match in Austin in another December made-for-TV shootout, losing 42-7, and turned away any post-season bowl invite.
I never understood why Arkansas’s program didn’t take that near miss at an undisputed national championship and build from it, recruit even better off the national acclaim and keep aiming high — in other words, keep knocking on the door the way others have after shattering losses in championship matchups: Oklahoma, Penn State, Colorado, Clemson, Washington, and others over the past 50 years.
Still there is something in the back of my mind that thinks even if Arkansas had held off Texas at the end, the Midwest and Eastern AP voters could have screwed Arkansas and jumped Penn State, which also was used to getting shafted in the polling, to No. 1 over the Hogs; the coaches’ UPI poll already had Penn State at No. 2 over Arkansas at No. 3 going into the Shootout.
Instead, Frank Broyles had what was easily his WORST recruiting class the next February following that loss and subsequent 27-22 defeat to Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl.
Consider: Arkansas was on the national stage, No. 2, played for a national title, and reeled in an abysmal signing class, maybe the worst among SWC teams that winter. It makes no sense; it wouldn’t make sense in these times either, yet it happened.
Broyles was obviously devastated after the loss, never to get over it, and his coaching staff likely had focused on Texas every day of the fall, but for whatever reason, Texas “bluechips” weren’t lining up to fill the vacancies to come from that great Razorback class of Montgomery, et al.
Superstar quarterback Joe Ferguson was on campus, waiting in the wings, and would be eligible the next fall, but the struggles that started at times in 1971 and definitely arose in 1972-74 all stemmed from a near-total washout in recruiting out-of-state talent after the Shootout, coupled with one of the worst in-state prep classes of that era.
It took three years before recruiting could catch back up again as the Southern football teams began adding African-Americans to their rosters en masse after 1970. Remember, the Arkansas-Texas game of 1969 was the last time two all-white college teams met with a national championship on the line.
If you haven’t read it, Terry Frei’s book “’Horns, Hogs and Nixon Coming” is a great read about everything, on the field and off. There’s also the documentary, Mike Looney’s “The Big Shootout,” as well as the recent Steinmark film and even more books and media out there about one game — perhaps more than any one college football contest (including the titanic 1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma game) has produced.
Where Are They Now? Arkansas vs. Texas 1969
Maybe no game of such national magnitude has affected the players involved so much.
Who else gets two teams together 35 years after the fact, the way these former ‘Horns and Hogs did when the programs met on the field again in Fayetteville in 2004? (Broyles wanted no part of it, but the players did.)
In truth, the reunion probably meant more to the Texans, as they won the game. But new friendships were kindled among former rivals who beat heads that day. Guys who smashed into each other for three hours on a cold December day in Fayetteville had a newfound, mutual respect and shared the stories of their lives since that day.
The players reminisced about Freddie Steinmark and the late Danny Lester, another Longhorn hero who died too young. They knew that evening, the Friday night before the younger versions of themselves would meet on a field totally foreign in look to the Razorback Stadium they knew in 1969, that there was no more time left to live as athletic enemies, and only precious time left to be friends.
Even since then, we’ve lost several stars from the game.
The ‘Horns’ charismatic, heroic wishbone quarterback, James Street, truly one of the nicest “star players” you could ever meet, died a few years back of a sudden heart attack, just 65.
Just before that, Street had been in Little Rock for a special event at the Clinton Presidential Center Grand Ballroom, where Mike Looney’s documentary about the 1969 game was shown. Street’s son Juston, a dead ringer for dad, played James in the Steinmark biopic, “My All American.”
Bob McKay, an all-American offensive tackle, and Ted Koy, one of the starting offensive halfbacks on that team, are still with us and have maintained a friendship for the past several years with Bruce James, the Razorbacks’ All-America defensive end from the 1968-70 teams.
Having watched them on the other side as “the enemy” more than a half-century ago, a now old Razorback follower turned sportswriter was taken aback by how genuine and nice these Texas guys were when a few of us were invited to dine with them at Joe Kleine’s Corky’s Ribs and BBQ in Little Rock some time back. James Street was with them; before the night was over, I felt like we were best friends.
Danny Lester, the thieving cornerback who helped break Hog fans’ hearts, roomed with Bruce James during their stint with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles after college. After Steinmark’s death in 1971, Lester became the second heartbreak among his ‘Horns teammates when he was killed in a freakish accident while on a week off from an offshore drilling job in 1973: The pickup truck he was driving collided with a wind-blown tractor-trailer that flew over an interstate median during a hurricane evacuation near Galveston Bay; he was 24. During their brief time with the Eagles, Lester had told James that he really needed to meet up some day with McKay and Koy, as they would be perfectly suited for one another. He was so right, James says now.
Most recently, Jim Bertelsen died at his home outside Austin at age 71. Among all the Texans off that 1969 team, he may have had the most prolific NFL career, playing mostly for the Rams.
I thought of him in those days being this big, bruising, powerhouse wishbone halfback with terrific speed, but I was surprised to note recently that he stood just 5-10 (and 210 pounds). That’s about average for a lot of backs today, of course, but the Wisconsin native just seemed bigger than life and near impossible to stop.
Arkansas Football Survivors
Arkansas’s former players and stars on that team, in contrast to the Longhorns, seem to have enjoyed relatively good health and fortune as they have move into their 70s.
As for starters, as far as we could find, only offensive tackle Jerry Dossey has left us. Dick Bumpas, the All-America defensive tackle, has retired from coaching but had an impressive run as an assistant coach with the Hogs, Notre Dame and TCU, employing much of what he’d learned as a player in the old 4-3 defense installed by coordinator Charley Coffey.
Bruce James, of course, besides running a successful Little Rock insurance business since his playing days ended and raising three boys with wife Barbie, appears on KATV and KABZ, 103.7 “The Buzz” with his no-holds-barred expectations for the Hogs and his wealth of SEC knowledge, being a Mississippi native.
I have noted where Cliff Powell, the great middle linebacker off that team, was playing golf really well into his 60s. I was privileged to get to know safety Jerry Moore from Benton in recent years, also on the golf course; as a member of the Chicago Bears he had maybe had the most notable pro career of any of those Hogs.
Bill Montgomery has been quite successful in Texas in the business world and has remained involved in the athletic program. Chuck Dicus, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, is retired in Hot Springs, but I got to know him better when he headed up the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation; before that, he was the face everyone recognized in leading the Razorback Foundation under his head coach, Frank Broyles.
John Rees, the speedy receiver opposite Dicus who had a key, diving catch at the sideline early in the game to set up the Hogs’ first touchdown in the Shootout, now watches his grandson, John David White*, play receiver for the Hogs.
My fellow Pine Bluffians, fullback Bruce Maxwell and linebacker Mike Boschetti, have done well, and Maxwell had a good run in the NFL with the Detroit Lions.
In sum, a lot of Razorbacks from that 1969 team did quite well after college in their chosen fields. I’m not sure how many dare watch the replays of the ‘69 game, though it’s often available on the Longhorn Network, of course. Frank Broyles never watched a game film or video replay; he never revisited it (or so he said).
But it left its mark.
Saturday’s game won’t feel as special as those monumental matchups of the 1960s, and perhaps may not even match the intensity of the 2003-04 games when Houston Nutt and Mack Brown helmed their respective ships.
Arkansas stole one with quarterback Matt Jones starring at Austin in 2003, 38-28, and then Jones left the ball on the lip of the goal line late in a 22-20 loss to Vince Young and the Longhorns the next year before a sellout crowd in Fayetteville.
There won’t be books written about this Arkansas vs Texas game, there won’t be songs written and sung about the Razorback players like they were in 1965, and some long-winded, sentimental old columnist and Arkansas native won’t muse about it 52 years from now.
They’ll play it, ESPN will broadcast it, and then both teams will move on to the important business for this season as they both build for the future under their newest head coaches. Texas has big plans, always has.
Arkansas hopes to become a winning program again, sooner rather than later, and to be on somewhat equal footing the next time the teams play as conference rivals.
*John David White’s great-grandfather Harold “Greasy” Rees played football for the Razorbacks, uncle John Aaron Rees played from 2005-08 and father David played golf at Arkansas in the early 1990s. Grandfather John Rees played receiver from 1968-70.
For more insight from Jim Harris into Saturday’s game, go here:
Watch the ’69 “Game of the Century” here: