Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6, 1969: The Longhorns come back

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - The hype for the 1969 Texas-Arkansas game started before that season even began. The Longhorns and Razorbacks had combined for eight of the previous 10 Southwest Conference championships and had spent the 1960s taking turns knocking each other out of national championship contention. Arkansas had beaten a top-ranked Texas team two years in a row in 1964 and 65, while Texas had handed Arkansas their only loss in 1968.

Anticipating another important matchup, ABC executives moved the 1969 game from its originally scheduled October date to the last game of the season. They also arranged for president Nixon to attend the game and convinced Arkansas to install AstroTurf for the season.

Despite all the anticipation, it seemed like all the maneuvers would be for naught, as Ohio State easily dominated the college football season. But then, while Texas and Arkansas had a week off to prepare for their big matchup, top-ranked Ohio State was upset by Michigan. As a result, Texas moved to No. 1 and Arkansas moved to No. 2, setting up the dream matchup ABC had been hoping for.

With Nixon flying in on Marine One and landing on an Arkansas practice field just as the game was starting, Texas and Arkansas kicked off on December 6, 1969, for the biggest game in college football's 100th season. The game received a 52.1 share, meaning more than half the TV sets in the country were tuned in.

The people watching saw a game that truly lived up to its hype. It was a matchup between the best offensive team in the country in Texas and the best defense in Arkansas. At first, it looked like the defense would dominate, as Texas turned the ball over six times in the game. Arkansas took a 14-0 lead into the fourth quarter.

That's when Texas woke up. On the first play of the fourth quarter, quarterback James Street scrambled for a touchdown for Texas, cutting the lead to 14-6. Before the game, Texas coach Darrell Royal had decided to go for two after their first touchdown to reduce the possibility of a tie, and so they did, with Street diving in to make it 14-8.

Arkansas responded, with quarterback Bill Montgomery leading the Razorbacks on a 73-yard drive to the 7-yard line. With Arkansas in range for the field goal that would put the game away, Montgomery was instead intercepted on a third-down pass into the end zone. It was Arkansas' first turnover of the game.

On the ensuing drive, it appeared the Longhorns had stalled with 4:47 to go. Facing a fourth down, Royal called for a deep pass, something that hadn't been in the Longhorns' game plan. Noticing the Arkansas defenders looking into the huddle, Street stared at receiver Cotton Speyrer while explaining the play to Randy Peschel, the actual target. The deception worked, as Street found Peschel for a 44-yard gain that put the Longhorns 13 yards from victory.

Two plays later, Texas scored, then made the extra point despite a high snap. Holding a 15-14 lead, the Longhorns held off Arkansas' last-ditch drive with an interception at the 21-yard line with less than a minute to play.

After the game, Nixon presented Texas with a plaque declaring them the national champions, which was a bit awkward because the bowl games still hadn't been played and Penn State also finished the 1969 season undefeated. But Texas beat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl and won the national championship.

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