Commentary

John Tyler's win among top moments in Texas Stadium's history

Updated: December 27, 2008, 7:14 PM ET
By Jeff Miller | Special to ESPNRISE.com

Despite a late Saturday night of high school football at Texas Stadium and a long bus ride back home to the East Texas town of Tyler, Darwin Brown dutifully attended services at the North Teneha Church of Christ bright and early Sunday morning, Nov. 27, 1994.

Brown was a senior safety for the John Tyler High School Lions. He now recalls being greeted that Sunday morning by two divergent and misinformed views of the previous night's game, a third-round Class 5A Division II playoff game against the Plano East Panthers in a battle of unbeatens played at the storied home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys.

"Whew, you boys won another blowout." That came from the faithful who checked out of the game with a little more than three minutes to play, the Lions safely ahead 41-17.

"It's a shame how you lost that game." That portion of the congregation couldn't watch or listen anymore after Plano East amazingly scored four touchdowns in the closing minutes -- three following successful onside kicks -- to give the Panthers a 44-41 lead with only 24 seconds to play.

If only they knew.

Plano East's comeback for the ages was nullified in a matter of seconds. John Tyler senior Roderick Dunn -- the same Roderick Dunn who lost control of the second and third onside kicks -- caught the final Plano East kickoff of the night at the 3-yard line and raced nearly untouched down the east sideline -- in front of the John Tyler bench -- to provide the final TD in the unbelievable 48-44 victory.

[+] EnlargeTyler vs Plano East
Courtesy Jeff SteadTyler's improbable win in 1994 still haunts Plano East's coaches.

The game, which helped propel John Tyler to the Division II state title, gained national attention when the Plano TeleCable broadcast of the game was replayed by ESPN2. Announcers Eddy Clinton and Denny Garver were joined by Mike Zoffuto (coach of Lake Highlands, the next opponent for the winning team) to give the unlikely sequence of events spirited description and commentary that earned them an ESPY.

With the recent closing of Texas Stadium, the game has been recalled as the most memorable of the 555 high school games played there.

"The game that haunts me," said former Plano East coach Scott Phillips.

"Even though we won state that year," said Mickey Jones, a sophomore on the '94 John Tyler team, "people always talk about that game."

And Dunn's most vivid memory from the game? Not what you might think.

"The fumbles," he said from his home in Oklahoma City. "Without the fumbles, we're not having this conversation."

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John Tyler and Plano East, the latter located in a Dallas suburb, both came into the game with 12-0 records. Through three quarters, this last of three games played at Texas Stadium that Saturday after Thanksgiving was relatively routine.

John Tyler built a 27-17 lead on its first possession of the fourth quarter, culminating in Nico Hernandez's second field goal of the game.

The Lions' offense didn't take the field again.

John Tyler scored its next two touchdowns on fumbles by Plano East quarterback Jeff Whitley. That gave the Lions a 41-17 lead with 3:03 to play.

Over the next 2:39, the Panthers scored four touchdowns, incredibly recovering three onside kicks along the way, to take a 44-41 lead.

"After we scored after the second kick," Whitley said, "I thought, 'If we get this third one, we're going to win.' "

John Tyler sophomore Mickey Jones recovered the first onside kick and, forgetting coach Allen Wilson's orders to simply fall on the ball, tried to run and fumbled.

"Being young, you want to get your name in the paper," Jones said. "I don't really think anybody got a clean … as I was wiggling through the crowd, somebody might have knocked it out."

"If he'd fallen on the ball," Wilson said, "no one would have ever heard of that game."

The last two onside kicks were handled by Dunn. Each time, he ran up to meet the ball before it covered 10 yards.

[+] EnlargeTexas Stadium
AP Photo/Bill WaughAfter playing host to hundreds of high school, college and pro football games, Texas Stadium closed its doors in 2008.

Dunn had returned to the football team as a senior for the first time since playing as a freshman. He played basketball all four years and said he returned to football to win the championship that he and his football teammates had talked about three years earlier.

Some Lions football players weren't sure Dunn was fully committed to the team. Said Brown: "After [football] practice, he would go to basketball practice to see what was going on. We were like, 'This dude, why's he around the gym? We're in the playoffs!' "

Dunn said he was simply trying to show his commitment to his other team. "I had to show my basketball players 'I have your back.' "

Morris Anderson, John Tyler's quarterback and safety, said, "It was like we stopped playing. We were in slow motion."

As Plano East's assault continued, Jones said his mind wandered to what such a collapse would mean to him with two more years of football ahead of him.

"I told Darwin, 'Man, I think I'm going to have to transfer.' "

When Plano East's Kenny Reed kicked the PAT to give the Panthers the 44-41 lead, only 24 seconds remained.

"That was the loudest I'd ever heard a crowd," Whitley said. "That was the most excited I've ever seen a sideline."

Phillips said he wanted kickoff man Terence Green to pooch the next kick, but two of his assistants urged him to kick deep since John Tyler was again lined up for an onside kick with nine players up close. The Lions' two deep men -- Jones on the left, Dunn on the right -- were at the 20. "It was my call," Phillips said.

Said Whitley: "I've thought a hundred times since that we left too much time."

Anderson, who also played on John Tyler's hands team, turned to Wilson before going back out onto the field and said, "Coach, we've got this game."

Jones held no such confidence, at least in himself. "I mentioned to [Dunn], 'If they kick it deep, I don't even want to touch it. I'm going to let you have it.' "

"Mickey had good return skills," Dunn said. "He was just letting me redeem myself."

Green boomed the kick nearly down the middle of the field. Jones remained near the 20, the ball almost going over his head. Dunn scurried back and to his left, caught it at the 3 and immediately saw a wall of Lions forming to the left.

"With that kind of blocking, I had no choice but to run that back," he said.

[+] EnlargeTexas Stadium
AP PhotoThousands turned out to watch the Dallas Cowboys play the final game in Texas Stadium on Dec. 14.

Wilson said there actually was little blocking required: "[Plano East coaches] must have said, 'Stay in your lanes.' He ran right past them 'cause they stayed in their lanes."

Jones said, "I made one little block and threw my hand up, like 'Hope I didn't clip anybody.'"

Dunn was barely touched. By the time he reached the Lions' 30, it appeared no Plano East defender would catch him.

Dunn's escort included linebacker David Warren, who was looking to his right while Dunn ran to his left. "I was thinking, 'David's going to knock him out of bounds,' " Wilson said.

Anderson saw a touchdown in the making while running down the opposite side of the field, in front of the Plano East bench.

"I just ran down in front of them and threw my hands up the whole way," he said.

Brown did pretty much the same thing as part of Dunn's convoy.

"Once I knew nobody was around, you started high-stepping," he said.

Dunn scored with 11 seconds to play. He slowed to a jog after reaching the end zone and then to a walk as he took off his helmet near the southeast tunnel. Brown picked him up and carried him into the tunnel. Much of the John Tyler team followed them in, until jolted by a coach who reminded them there was a PAT to kick. Hernandez made the score John Tyler 48, Plano East 44.

"All the air went out of everything," Phillips said.

Whitley said, "Looking across at their sideline, it looked like ours had."

After John Tyler's kickoff, the game ended when a desperation pass by Whitley was intercepted by Anderson.

Brown said the winners' locker room and ride home were surprisingly quiet: "It was like we lost. We were so emotionally drained."

"I got on 'em real hard after the game," Wilson said. "I believe we won the game the next week because of the way that one ended. Like I told the kids, the only way that game is going to mean something is if you win the state championship."

Phillips said he told his team what he often said after significant losses: "If it didn't hurt to lose, it wouldn't be worth winning."

The Lions went to defeat Lake Highlands 27-7, then Arlington 45-20 and finally Austin Westlake 35-24 in the Division II championship game. Wilson added that title to the 4A crown that he'd won at Paris in 1988. He coached at John Tyler for 12 seasons before moving in 2002 to Dallas Carter, where he coaches today. Brown and Jones are on his staff.

Had Plano East gone on to win the '94 state championship, Phillips would have become the first Texas coach with titles in three classifications. In 2002, he left Plano East for Odessa High. He retired after the 2005 season and lives in Junction, Texas.

"After 30 good years," he said.

Many of the players in the game went on to play college football: Anderson at Baylor, Brown at Texas Tech, John Tyler's Marc Broyles at Texas A&M, Warren at Florida State, Whitley at Hardin-Simmons in Abilene, Texas. Green played baseball at Fort Worth's Texas Wesleyan, then played across town for the minor league Fort Worth Cats and was named captain.

Whitley, a custom home builder based near Fort Worth, said he usually hears about the game once a month.

"We were just kids playing football," he said, "but it became such a big deal to other people."

Dunn played basketball at Southwestern Oklahoma State in NCAA Division II and has remained north of the Red River. He said he works in child development.

And only a few of his friends and acquaintances these days even know about the game, he said. When told the video clip of the game's final minutes was televised frequently on ESPN and various Texas stations in conjunction with the closing of Texas Stadium, he said, "Yeah, somebody mentioned that.

"I'll have to look for it."

Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at miller.jeff55@gmail.com.