Big 12: Harry Ledbetter

Remembering the player who caught 'The Texas Special'

February, 11, 2009
2/11/09
11:36
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's a shame that ESPN's "College Game Day Final" wasn't around 44 years ago. Because if it was, Ken McLean's fame would have been built for one remarkable play that still resonates in the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry.

I'm remembering McLean today after learning that the former Texas A&M player passed away Monday after a long battle with cancer. His memorable catch on "The Texas Special" is still recalled as one of the first grainy memories I have of college football.

If Rece Davis, Mark May and Lou Holtz had been breaking down plays when McLean was playing, he likely would have been a household name for one bit of trickery in a 1965 game between the Aggies and Longhorns.

Texas A&M coach Gene Stallings singed the Longhorns for a 91-yard touchdown pass from wingback Jim Kauffman to McLean.

Early in the second quarter, Texas A&M quarterback Harry Ledbetter bounced a lateral to Kauffman, who stomped his feet in anger as the fans at Kyle Field thought it was a busted play. All of the Aggie players acted like it was an incomplete pass rather than a lateral.

Kaufman then looked up and connected with a wide-open McLean, who had jetted 15 yards past the Texas secondary. The field judge had been tipped off before the game by Stallings so that an inadvertent whistle would not be blown when the lateral hit the ground.

The play, which at the time was the longest in Texas A&M history and the Southwest Conference, helped stake the Aggies to a 17-0  halftime lead.

"It was one of the most original, clever plays I have ever seen," Texas coach Darrell Royal said at the time.

McLean produced some Michael Crabtree-like numbers in the game that were unusual for the era -- 13 catches for 250 yards. The receiving yardage remains an A&M single-game record. But it wasn't enough as Texas stormed back to win, 21-17.  

The major reason, Texas players remembered, was Royal's simplistic approach after being burned for the long touchdown on "The Texas Special."

"Coach Royal told us he could put all kinds of diagrams on the blackboard and they wouldn't help," Texas quarterback Marvin Kristynik told Steve Richardson in his fine book "Tales from the Texas Longhorns."

"It was just a matter of whether we wanted to win or not. Then he wrote 21-17 on the blackboard and said, 'That's what we can do. And then we did it.'"  

After his football career ended, McLean graduated from law school and began a long career as a noted defense attorney in the Houston area. 

Funeral services for McLean, 65, will be at Klein Funeral Home in Houston at 3 p.m. Friday. Graveside services will be held Monday in Stennett, Texas, where McLean was a high school teammate of legendary former Texas Tech and Green Bay Packers running back Donny Anderson.

I mourn McLean's passing for his family members as I think about one of the most innovative gadget plays in college football history.

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