Game Recognizes Game: The Saga of Texas vs Arkansas Through the Decades

Legendary Razorback Ken Hatfield shares his thoughts on Texas vs Arkansas.

Arkansas vs Texas

Purely by name, this week in Arkansas football differs from all other weeks just as it did back when Arkansas played in the Southwest Conference. 

In Arkansas, there have been no “Aggie Weeks” when Arkansas played Texas A&M in the bygone Southwest Conference nor in the SEC today.

Last week wasn’t “Rice Week” when the Razorbacks beat their old SWC foe to open the season.

In the SEC, Arkansas has no “Alabama Weeks,” nor even border state rival weeks vs. LSU,  Ole Miss or Tennessee.

And nobody but a sponsoring insurance company touts the “Battle Line Rivalry” artificially prefacing Arkansas’ annual SEC football game with Missouri.

But “Texas Week” lived bigger than life within Arkansas when the Razorbacks and Longhorns annually clashed in the Southwest Conference.

Expect its rebirth with the Hogs and ‘Horns clashing on ESPN Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Especially now that it’s a precursor to Texas and the Oklahoma Sooners joining the SEC once they dispense their contractual obligations to the Big 12.

Ken Hatfield on Arkansas vs Texas

Ken Hatfield, the Helena-born Arkansas football player in 1962-1964 player and the Razorbacks’ 1984-89 head coach, recalls some heated Arkansas SWC rivalries  with A&M, Texas Tech, SMU and Baylor and as a coach vs. Houston and nonconference clashes vs. Ole Miss.

None but one though, carved  an annual identity unique to all others.

From the time the game was over the week before you knew it was Texas Week,” Hatfield said in a telephone interview.

For Arkansas coaches and players, Hatfield said Texas Week made men of few words in constant thought.

You didn’t have to have any motivational talks that week,” Hatfield said.  “Your focus day and night 24 hours was do what you’ve got to do to prepare to win the ballgame. You played 10 games (as 1960s players) back then and it would be nice to say you prepared each one the same, but you didn’t.”

The statewide frenzy about Texas Week, particularly on campus of course, wouldn’t allow for any same old, same old.

Especially during the coaching Hall of Fame heydays of Texas’ Darrell Royal and Arkansas’ Frank Broyles.

“That game the great respect you had for Texas and their players and their fundamentals,” Hatfield said. “It was going to take your best effort to compete and have a chance to win.”

Funny thing about the Arkansas vs Texas rivalry back then, the Razorbacks and Longhorns players and staff generally held each other in high regard even as Arkansas fans reflexively hated Texas like Hatfields (no kin to Ken) hated McCoys.

Frank Broyles and Darrell Royal

“It was unique,” Hatfield recalled.  “Coach Broyles and Coach Royal would play golf in the summer together and then turn around and try to whip each other’s tail every year.  Those games usually brought out the best in each other.” 

“The games were a showcase for sportsmanship and the value of the game of football because both coaches coached to be good sportsmen yet do whatever it took to win.”

Hatfield recalled Royal’s sportsmanship apex in 1964. Beginning with Hatfield’s 81-yard punt return touchdown and capped with Arkansas thwarting Texas’ 2-point conversion attempt, the Razorbacks defeated the No. 1 reigning national champion Longhorns en route to Arkansas’ 11-0 season and Arkansas football’s lone national football championship.

“I remember Coach Royal coming in our locker room after the ballgame,” Hatfield recalled.   “You could hear a pin drop when he walked in. I thought ‘Did he get lost? ‘”

“I still remember him saying, ‘Congratulations on the victory.  I want you to know you didn’t beat just a good Texas team today. You beat a great Texas team. We aren’t going to lose another game. And if you don’t stick to your knitting and pay attention to what you are doing we will pick up the pieces.’  And he was right.  They didn’t lose another game the rest of the year.”

And because the Longhorns didn’t lose and the Hogs continued winning, Arkansas picked up the pieces of its national championship.

Alabama claimed the wire services Associated Press and United Press International versions of the 1964 national championship. Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide ranked No. 1 at the regular season’s end and that’s where the AP and UPI ended their polling despite the following bowl games.

Other national championship polls including the Football Writers Association of America and the Helms Athletic Association included the bowls before naming their national champion like the wire services would do post 1964 before first the BCS designated championship and then current 4-team playoff decided the national champion.

By edging Nebraska, 10-7 in the Cotton Bowl New Year’s Day followed by Texas edging Alabama, 21-17 in the Orange Bowl New Year’s Night, the 11-0 Razorbacks finished as the nation’s lone unbeaten and FWAA and Helms national champion.

“Texas stopped Joe Namath on the 1-inch line to preserve us winning the national championship,” Hatfield said. “So it was a great family affair.”

These are rare, and mostly long forgotten, Arkansas football fan kudos to Texas.

Far more often the mere thought of Texas burnt orange has made Arkansas fans seethe red.

Whether real or imagined, older Arkansas fans can recite chapter and verse of officiating perceived in Texas’ favor with Arkansas the lone non-Texas based school in the SWC.  Especially, it seems, from the storied Shootout of 1969 when the undefeated Hogs fell to the undefeated Horns by the 2-point conversion that the 1964 Longhorns  couldn’t achieve.

Arkansas fans weren’t alone loathing the Longhorns.

Perceived Texas arrogance demanding to run the league’s administrative show contributed to original Big Eight members Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado eventually fleeing the Big 12 after the Big Eight took in orphans Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor.

Texas A&M and Missouri fled together to the SEC. Texas A&M most publicly expressed displeasure when news first broke that Texas was SEC bound.

Texas Football Fans Fake Nonchalance with Texas vs Arkansas

Regarding the Razorbacks, it seems Longhorns fans mostly feign to be above it all.  The football series is lopsided in Texas’ favor. Texas football fans are usually most obsessed with rivalries vs. Oklahoma and Texas A&M, though some great Arkansas teams certainly captured their attention.

Too often for Arkansas they were in defeat, like the Shootout or Lou Holtz’s 1977 11-1 eventual Orange Bowl champion Hogs falling 13-9 Texas denied by Earl Campbell.

Ironically a merely 8-4 good but certainly not great Arkansas team, Holtz’s 1981 Razorbacks, were so celebrated for trashing No. 1 Texas, 42-11 at Razorback Stadium that Fayetteville’s venerable Roger’s Recreation Pool Hall on Dickson Street for the lone occasion in its history entirely ran out of beer.

Hatfield’s Razorbacks suffered heartbreak at home in 1985, ’87 and ’89 in Fayetteville and Little Rock to the Longhorns but 1986 and ’88 sweet success in Austin.

Jack Crowe’s Hogs won Arkansas’ last SWC meeting with Texas in 1991, a year after Arkansas announced it was leaving the SWC for the SEC:

Four years later, Texas fans’ public rage at Arkansas overflowed in Austin.

It wasn’t football and the Longhorns weren’t even there.

But their fans assembled en masse for Arkansas’ 1995 NCAA Basketball Tournament games in Austin vs. Texas Southern and Syracuse. They so blamed Arkansas leaving the SWC for the SEC (though of course it’s the Longhorns changing leagues now) that they not only both games constantly booed and cursed Nolan Richardson’s basketball Hogs but even booed and cursed the Razorbacks cheerleaders and pep band.

Now the Texas football fans are apt to finding their departing Big 12 destinations even more hostile this autumn than Fayetteville come Saturday night.

Since the Arkansas vs. Texas 1991 SWC football finale the 1999 Hogs and ‘Horns  next met in the Cotton Bowl won 27-6 by Houston Nutt’s Hogs.  

Nutt’s 2003 Hogs won 38-28 in Austin and in 2004 lost, 22-20, at the last in Fayetteville. Aransas was routed 52-10 by Texas in Austin four games into Bobby Petrino’s 2008 Arkansas debut season.

Arkansas’ last Texas meeting proved the rivalry requires perspective.

In 2014, at the very ordinary Texas Bowl, Bret Bielema’s 6-6 Razorbacks finished 7-6  because they routed a Charlie Strong Texas team that finished 6-7.

Not exactly the stuff of vintage Broyles vs. Royal.

But Bielema called it “borderline erotic.”  Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long, so craving to thrust himself into Arkansas history, rewarded Bielema with an enormous post Texas buyout the UA eventually settled after firing Long and then Bielema in 2017.

Now, Texas Week returns.

Both Sam Pittman’s Hogs and new Texas football coach Steve Sarkisian’s nationally No. 21 Horns clash with 1-0 records. But remember it is only Week 2.

Satisfying though an Arkansas vs. Texas Saturday success would be to the victor, a long season can eventually wither the bloom off a September rose.

Get up to speed on Texas vs Arkansas here:

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