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Problem is, since the 1976 retirement of resident deity and coaching legend Darrell Royal, who brought the school its only three national championships (in 1963, 1969 and 1970), the Longhorns spent almost three decades falling short of state expectations.
But in 2004, the Longhorns earned their first Bowl Championship Series berth after a string of cruel near misses. And on New Year's Day, UT scored 17 fourth- quarter points to beat Michigan 38-37 in one of the most thrilling Rose Bowls in history.
It might get you punched out in Italy, where extending the pinkie and index fingers from a closed fist is considered a particularly personal insult, but at Texas the Hook 'Em Horns signal is sacrosanct. Created by UT cheerleader Harley Clark in 1955, it signifies a steer's horns and is raised before and after games as 85,000 fans at Royal Memorial Stadium stand and sing "The Eyes of Texas." Game days are filled with pageantry, ranging from Smokey the Cannon, which fires two blank 10-gauge shotgun shells after each UT score, to performances featuring the Longhorn Band and Big Bertha, at 500 pounds and 54 inches in diameter the largest bass drum in the world.
After Royal retired in 1976, new coach Fred Akers installed an offense called the I-formation to showcase the talents of wishbone fullback Earl Campbell, who responded by running for 1,744 yards and 19 touchdowns in winning the 1977 Heisman Trophy. "A long time ago someone said to me, 'A person is not measured by the breaths he takes, but by the breathless moments he creates,'" said Akers. "And he has created more breathless moments than anybody I have ever been around."
In retrospect it sounded like the unthinkable: Hire a hated Oklahoma Sooner to guide UT's football fortunes. But that's just what Texas did in December 1956 when it lured a 32-year-old former All-America quarterback (OU, 1946-49) away from Washington, where he was head coach. Folksy but tough, Darrell Royal turned out to be a pretty good fit. His teams won 76 percent of their games and captured three national titles. The key to his best years was the wishbone offense that he and offensive coordinator Emory Bellard unveiled in 1968. Royal retired after the 1976 season at the age of 52, young for a legend that's as large today as the stadium that now bears his name. "I didn't need to have my picture taken again, and I didn't need another trophy. Life's been good to me."
The 1969 Longhorns, after a year of perfecting the nuances of the triple option, used it to roll to their second national title. Quarterback James Street, nicknamed Slick as much for his glib personality as his deft handling of the offense, spearheaded a powerful attack featuring three All-Americas -- halfback Steve Worster, offensive tackle Bobby Wuensch and receiver Cotton Speyrer -- that ran and ran and ran to a 10-0 record. In the Cotton Bowl, a Street-to-Speyrer pass on fourth-and-two at the Notre Dame 10-yard line on the game's last drive set up the winning touchdown. Final score: Texas 21, Notre Dame 17.
Before the 1969 season, which marked the 100th anniversary of college football, ABC television executives approached administrators from Texas and Arkansas about moving their Oct. 18 game to the end of the season. At the time it was just a move to get a game for Dec. 6. By the end of November, it looked like pure genius. Texas was No. 1 in both polls; Arkansas was No. 2 in AP and No. 3 in UPI. "It makes them look wiser than a tree full of owls," said Royal, who in an off-the-cuff comment dubbed the game the Big Shootout. In front of a sellout crowd in Fayetteville that included President Richard Nixon and evangelist Billy Graham, the host Razorbacks held a 14-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter. But Street broke a 42-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion, the Horns' first of the season. Later, facing fourth and three at the Texas 43 with 4:47 left, Royal had a hunch and called a pass. Street hit tight end Randy Peschel, who was double covered, with a 44-yarder. Two plays later halfback Jim Bertlesen scored the game-winner in the 15-14 comeback.
Exasperated by a reporter's question about No. 3 Nebraska being a 21-point favorite heading into the first Big 12 championship game, UT quarterback James Brown cracked, "I think we're going to win by three touchdowns."
A group of Nebraska coeds sent Brown a funereal bouquet of tulips with a card that read, "Thanks for keeping us focused."
Late in the game on Dec. 7, 1996, focus was never more important. Facing fourth and inches at their own 28-yard line and clinging to a 30-27 lead over the Cornhuskers, the Longhorns' logical call would have been to punt the ball and then take their chances with an option team's passing attack. Instead, coach John Mackovic gambled. With the Huskers stacking the middle against the Longhorns' triple-I, Brown rolled left and found tight end Derek Lewis wide open. Lewis' 61-yard ramble set up an insurance touchdown, and the unranked Longhorns beat Nebraska 37-27.
Following a legend is an unenviable task, but Akers nearly won the ultimate get-out-of-jail card in his first season, going 11-0 before Notre Dame foiled hopes for a national title by dominating the top-ranked Longhorns in the 1978 Cotton Bowl. Akers would get another chance, in 1983, and the outcome was even more heartbreaking. The No. 2 Longhorns went into the Cotton Bowl against No. 7 Georgia with one of the most dominant defenses in recent college football history and an offense that did enough to win. But not on Jan. 2, 1984, when a string of UT mistakes and letdowns limited them to only three field goals on seven penetrations inside the Bulldogs' 33-yard line. UT's defense forced Georgia into a fourth and 17 at its own 34 with less than five minutes left. Fearing a fake, Akers kept his defense in, a move that backfired when safety Craig Curry muffed Chip Andrews' punt and Georgia the UT 23. Three plays later Georgia scored the winning touchdown. "The sad part is that no one will remember the 11 games we won," UT defensive tackle Tony Degrate said later. Later that night, Miami got the last word, stunning No. 1 Nebraska 31-30 in the Orange Bowl to win the national title.
Mack Brown rarely completes an interview without invoking the name of his idol, Darrell Royal, so it was little surprise he borrowed a motivational technique from the legendary coach. In 1965 Royal's Longhorns were down 17-0 to rival Texas A&M at halftime. Royal entered the locker room, wrote "21-17" on the blackboard, then turned on his heel and left. UT came back to win 21-17. Thirty-nine years later, Brown found his Longhorns in a tighter spot, down 28 points at home to Oklahoma State. Brown told his players, "They don't know who we are. We're going to go out and score on our first drive and we're going to win 42-35." Brown didn't have Royal's skill for precise prognostication, but he didn't mind. With running back Cedric Benson rushing for five touchdowns and quarterback Vince Young completing a school-record 12 straight passes, the No. 6 Longhorns came back to win 56-35, the biggest comeback in UT's history. After the game a chagrined Brown delivered another message to his team: "I apologized for underestimating them." The come-from-behind victory, one of three the Longhorns had over their last five games from deficits of at least 10 points, propelled UT into its first BCS berth. True to form, UT came back from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter against Michigan to win the Rose Bowl.
UT was on a seemingly unstoppable roll early in the 1970 season, riding the wishbone offense to a winning streak that had reached 22 games, tied with Arkansas for the longest in Southwest Conference history. Then, on Oct. 3, UCLA came to Austin with two weapons ready for the Longhorns: quarterback Dennis Dummitt and a defensive scheme that shot an outside linebacker or cornerback toward the Longhorns' pitch man. The wishbone was shut down, and Dummitt threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns. With 20 seconds to play and the Horns down 17-13, UT's winning streak appeared to be over. Then split end Cotton Speyrer showed why he's considered the best clutch receiver in Texas history. On recovered at third-and-19 at the Bruin 45, quarterback Eddie Phillips hit Speyrer with a 45-yard TD pass that gave the Horns a 20-17 win. The streak reached 30 before the Longhorns, who had already been named national champions by United Press International, were upset 24-11 by Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.
The 1969 Longhorns were the last all-white team to win the national championship. Guard Julius Whittier became the first African-American to letter at Texas in 1970, paving the way two years later for star fullback Roosevelt Leaks and, ultimately, Earl Campbell in 1974.
Three days after beating Arkansas in the Big Shootout to win the school's second national title, bone cancer was diagnosed in safety Freddie Steinmark. Two days later his left leg was amputated. "They said there was just muscle holding the bone together," defensive coordinator Mike Campbell said. Steinmark recovered from the surgery in 1969 in time to be on the sideline for the Horns' Jan. 1 Cotton Bowl win over Notre Dame, and he made light of his predicament. When chemotherapy threatened his full head of hair, he shaved his scalp, got a gold hoop earring and pretended he was a one-legged pirate. But the cancer spread to his lungs, and on June 6, 1971, he died at age 22.
In 1903 D.A. Frank, a writer for the school paper, The Daily Texan, labeled the team the Longhorns and it stuck. In the 1920s it was recognized as their official name.
Legend has it that Bevo was named, at least indirectly, by a bunch of Aggies. In 1916 former UT team manager Stephen Pinckney proposed that the team get a live mascot, and he collected $1 from more than 100 fans to buy an orange-and-white steer. It had seemed like a good idea, but the steer was wild and ornery. While the students were trying to figure out what to do with the rambunctious animal, some Texas A&M students stole onto his home turf and branded him with the score of the 1915 game, a 13-0 Aggie win. His handlers doctored the brand, turning the 13 into a B and adding an E and V before the O to give the beast his name, which was also the name of a nonalcoholic beer. Bevo I never calmed down and was eventually the guest of honor -- and main course -- at a barbecue for fans of both schools. In 1936, the tradition was restored, and the student group the Silver Spurs now tend to Bevo XIV, who joined the lineage of UT mascots in fall 2004.
On May 10, 1900, the board of regents approved orange and white as the official school colors. In the past 50 years, the uniforms have remained fairly constant, with burnt orange home jerseys and white road jerseys, both over white pants. In 1978, the school added the word "Texas" to the front of its home jersey, a move that upset some hard-core fans who felt an explanation was unnecessary. Coach Royal had earlier defended tradition when he responded to a suggestion that the UT uniforms be jazzed up with stripes: "Hell, no! I'm not going to candy this thing up. These are work clothes."
Some 10,000 students, alumni and fans donated $275,000 to build the original 27,000-seat stadium, which opened on Nov. 8, 1924. Dedicated to the Texans who died in World War I -- including 1914 team captain Louis Jordan -- the facility was expanded six times during the century. In 1996, the name was changed to Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.