Texas-Alabama series stories: 1948 Sugar Bowl
Dec. 26, 2009
Lead in by Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
(Editor’s Note: Texas first played Alabama in 1902, and thus this pairing ranks as one of the oldest on record for the Longhorns. Texas holds a 7-0-1 lead. The first three games – in 1902, 1915 and 1922 – all ended with the Longhorns’ shutting out Alabama. The teams didn’t play again until the 1948 Sugar Bowl following the 1947 season. That began a series of five bowl games that featured some of the best match-ups in college football, as well as a couple of individual efforts where one player, and one play, made all the difference. Here is a look at those bowl games.)
1948 Sugar Bowl – Bobby Layne versus Harry Gilmer
The season of 1947 had only one blemish on it for the Texas Longhorns – a heart-breaking 14-13 loss to Doak Walker and SMU. The Pony victory gave them the Southwest Conference title, and the right to represent the league in the Cotton Bowl. Texas accepted a bid to play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. In a time when the final rankings were done before the bowl games, Texas had finished No. 5 in the nation, and Alabama was No. 6.
The following is an account of the game from Lou Maysel’s book, “Here Come The Texas Longhorns”:
…Texas, correspondingly, was a seven-point favorite over the Crimson Tide, but Red Drew’s Alabama team was the sentimental favorite in New Orleans because its crack little tailback, Harry Gilmer, had played such a great game as an 18-year-old freshman there three years before. Gilmer had stolen a lot of hearts by harassing a stronger Duke team in a losing, 29-26 effort and his play led the venerable Grantland Rice to call him “the greatest college passer I ever saw, barring neither Sammy Baugh nor Sid Gilman (this, of course was in the days of the single wing).”
(Texas QB Bobby) Layne came into the game with the better credentials for the year. He was the ninth-ranked passer nationally with 63 completions for 115 attempts, good for 965 yards and nine touchdowns. Gilmer’s 57 completions had spanned only 610 yards and produced five touchdowns. Texas also had the more impressive offensive statistics with 324.3 yards per game, 210.7 of it rushing.
The New Year’s Day game, witnessed by 73,000 in bright, chilly weather, did not develop into an offensive spectacular although Texas won going away, 27-7. The Longhorns sat on the Alabama offense and allowed it just seven first downs and Gilmer only four pass completions for 41 yards. Layne, who completed 10-of-24 passes for 183 yards, started the scoring with a five-yard pass to Peppy Blount at the end of an 85-yard drive. Gilmer steered his team 41 yards in the second quarter to tie the game but after end Ed White wrestled an eight-yard touchdown pass away from Texas’ Jimmy Canady for that score, Alabama did virtually nothing. The Tide gained only 25 yards the second half and failed to get past its 27 until the final score was in.
When the Texas offense bogged down, the defense even took over the scoring job. George Petrovich blocked a punt and guard Vic Vasicek, who had played against a number of the Alabamans in the 1946 Rose Bowl as a Marine trainee at Southern California, snuggled the ball for a touchdown. End Lew Holder followed with an 18-yard touchdown run after intercepting a Gilmer pass and recovered a Gilmer fumble at the Alabama five to set up the final Texas score. A penalty cost Texas five yards, but Layne scored on a fourth-down sneak from a foot out after racing eight yards on a bootleg carry the play before.
Layne was named the game’s outstanding back, although he felt he had a poor day because of the way Alabama left the air lanes open to stop the Texas running game. The Tide accomplished its prime goal since Texas made just 59 yards rushing against the likes of guards Ray Richeson and John Wozniak and linebacker Vaughn Mancha. Still, Texas had its chances to cash in offensively, but was stopped twice in the second half after reaching the Tide 11 and 5 with first downs. Although Texas clearly dominated the game, the New Orleans papers failed to give the Longhorns their due. One even referred to “breaks” as deciding the game. “Breaks?” snorted Layne. We had Alabama backed up on its goal most of the last half and cashed in on their mistakes.”
The Sugar Bowl brought an end to the Layne era at Texas. Without statistics from bowl games, he finished with 3,145 yards passing on 210 completions and 400 attempts. Both Layne and Gilmer have been named to the NFL Hall of Fame, as well as the National Football Foundation’s College Hall of Fame. Another star on the Texas team was junior back Tom Landry, who would captain the 1948 team and lead Texas to a victory over Georgia in the Orange Bowl. Landry, of course, would have a good playing career in the NFL, and become a legendary coach for the Dallas Cowboys.
NEXT: The 1960 Bluebonnet Bowl breaks Darrell Royal out of the losing column in bowl games with a tie.