Texas-Alabama series stories: 1960 Bluebonnet Bowl
Dec. 27, 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.)
1960 Bluebonnet Bowl – The “Bear” and DKR
The 1960 season had been bittersweet for Darrell Royal at Texas. The Longhorns had been among the nation’s top four teams for much of the 1959 season, but two one-point losses (14-13 in the season opener to Nebraska and 24-23 to Arkansas), as well as a 7-0 shutout at Rice had caused a disappointing 7-3 record, even though the Longhorns had closed with four straight wins.
Darrell Royal was in his fourth season at Texas, and he had inherited an unofficial Longhorn bowl policy that limited UT’s appearance in post-season games to the four New Year’s Day bowls – the Cotton, the Sugar, the Orange, and technically the Rose – which had been limited to the champions of the Pac 8 and the Big 10 since the late 1940s.
Paul “Bear” Bryant had become a friend of Royal’s, and the legend-to-be was in his third year as the Alabama head coach when the two teams agreed to meet in the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, which was only in its second year of existence.
Again, from “Here Come The Texas Longhorns” by Lou Maysel, here is an account of the game:
Alabama accepted the Bluebonnet Bowl spot opposite Texas after defeating Auburn, 3-0, and the pairing set up an attractive match of Royal against personal friend Bear Bryant, who was still a drawing card in Texas because of his years at Texas A&M. Alabama, which finished strong after an early-season tie by Tulane and a loss to Tennessee, brought a superior 8-1-1 record and a No. 9 ranking in both polls. Texas, which closed out a 7-3 year with four straight wins, managed only to regain the No. 17 peg in the final United Press (coaches poll) listing.
“The Bear can’t beat the Orange,” folks were whispering because of orange-clad Tennessee and Texas teams in annual meetings during his long career. However, Bryant’s scramblers had built up outstanding credentials with the nation’s second-best yardage defense (157.6 per game) and the second-best defense against scoring (53 points). “They’re fanatical in their effort. They’re the most aggressive team I ever saw,” warned UT assistant coach Mike Campbell after studying films on the Tide.
However, that defense had the Tide a mere one-point favorite over Texas, which had played solid football but had been involved in a string of nip-and-tuck games since the rampage against Oklahoma (24-0). Texas’ modest 252 yards per game gained and 214.4 defensive yield led to speculation the game would be a low-scoring struggle with superb hitting, in which Alabama’s lightweights (only guard Billy Neighbors at 216 topped the 200-pound mark) figurged to have the edge.
The game, which was played before 70,000 fans at Rice Stadium and brought each team $96,608.70, developed as expected and the exciting 3-3 tie produced 15 big defensive plays by the two teams. The defense completely prevailed the first half except for one play, a 49-yard Alabama pass from Bobby Skelton to end Bill Rice, who was dragged down at the 7 by David Russell’s save. The Longhorns defense was equal to the occasion, taking over on downs inches from the goal line.
A poor kick set the Tide up at the Texas 34 in the third period and when Alabama stalled at the 13, Tommy Brooker sliced a 30-yard field goal that barely passed inside the right upright. Texas opened up immediately. Mike Cotton hit James Saxton on a crossing pattern with a pass the dashing halfback turned into a 38-yard gain after a thrilling run to the Tide 23. Alabama stiffened and UT’s Dan Petty missed a 35-yard field goal. The Longhorns gave Petty a second chance with 3:44 left in the game after a tedious 71-yard push to the 3, and his 20-yard kick knotted the game.
In the final moments Alabama barely crossed the 50 before surrendering the ball on downs, after losing a first down when the pass receiver retreated and then was tackled. Johnny Genung came in for the final 22 seconds and on his third pass, interference was ruled against Alabama on a pass to Texas end Bobby Moses at the 19. Only six seconds remained and Texas went for the field goal again. Petty, whose kicking talent had been discovered after a field goal failure cost Texas the opener with Nebraska, was unable to pull it off. The 36-yard try for his seventh three-pointer of the year was both wide and short.
Outstanding player honors in the game were divided. Saxton, who accounted for 86 of Texas 232 yards of offense with his runs and pass catches, was named the outstanding back while Alabama sophomore linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, who made a key stop of Jack Collins on a fake field goal and pass at the 4 late in the game, won the lineman award.
“I don’t think we lost the (hitting) battle,” Royal said pointedly to writers in the dressing room. “Everybody has been building up Alabama as a tremendous hitting ball club, and they are, but so are the Longhorns.” Defensive line coach Charley Shira also expressed satisfaction with Texas’ play. “They’re not a great offensive club, but any time you hold somebody to four first downs you’re doing something,” he said.
All comments at the post-game party were on the tremendous defensive play of the two teams. Finally an Alabama writer, mindful of the appointment of Royal and Bryant as co-coaches for the forthcoming North-South Shrine game, approached the two and asked quizzically, “which one of you is gonna be the offensive coach at Miami?” The two coaches had a hearty laugh over the put-down.
Royal could laugh readily now that the season was over, but there was a time when there were few laughs. This was after his team stood 3-3 with four tough games ahead and had suffered morale-sapping losses to Arkansas and Rice. His Longhorns had bounced back to win all four and then tie Alabama.
“All things considered, that stretch even overshadows what we’ve done during some of our best seasons. I still look upon that finish as one of our finest accomplishments,” Royal once recalled.
As far as star players of the early 1960s were concerned, it couldn’t get much better than Saxton and Jordan. Both were all-Americans who are members of the College Football Hall of Fame, and Jordan went on to a superb professional football career with the Dallas Cowboys. Prior to the tie in the Bluebonnet Bowl, Royal’s teams had played and lost two bowl games – the 1958 Sugar to Ole Miss and the 1960 Cotton to Syracuse. Following the game with Alabama, the Longhorns were about to go on one of the more remarkable runs in college football history.nIn the four years that would follow, Texas would post a 40-3-1 record. And ironically, the final game of the 1964 season would once again match Royal and Bryant, and Texas and Alabama.
NEXT: A Showdown for the ages – the 1965 Orange Bowl.