Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 4, 2013

Are We There Yet?

Darrell Royal, cast not thy steers before swine.” – A sign in front of a Fayetteville, Ark. church in December 1969

The Tuesday morning paper had downloaded to my iPad, and after the usual check of the obit pages I flipped over to sports, where I was met by more news of death.

It was 1968 when I first heard of a quarterback in Texas by the name of James Street. And on Pearl Harbor Day in 1969, there he was again on the front page of the sports section of the Arkansas Gazette – the nightmare from the day before confirmed by the press. I think there were four framed photos of the crucial play as it unfolded - Street in the pocket to pass, then Street running, and running, and running some more. That play would transfer to the cover of Sports Illustrated a few days later.

I was 12 in December of ’69. My parents had somehow scored two tickets to what was being called “The Big Shootout” between the second-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks and their forever nemesis, the number one-ranked University of Texas Longhorns. Today, the moniker for that contest is “Game of the Century.”

ABC had gotten what it hoped for – a season-ending matchup between two undefeated teams.

Texas rode into the hills as an impressive favorite, having blown through the Southwest Conference, really only being tested to that point by Oklahoma in the “Red River Shootout,” winning 27-17. 

My friend Fred, who lives in Fayetteville now, was a junior at Arkansas in 1969. He told me that they cancelled classes on Tuesday for the rest of the week. “No one had showed up on Monday,” he said.

Friday night, it was standing room only for the pep rally at the Greek Theater. “When Frank took the microphone in front of us that night,” Fred remembers, “and told us that after tomorrow, we would be the number one team in the land, the place went absolutely crazy.”

That same frenzy exploded the next day, shortly after high noon, when on the game’s second play, a Texas fumble was recovered by the Hogs. 

Arkansas took a seven-point lead into the half, and it was 14-0 entering the final quarter. But, well, I’d just like to leave it at that. 

Afterward, to the chagrin of conservative Republican Penn State Coach Joe Paterno, President Richard (BCS) Nixon proclaimed Texas as National Champions. In an interview many years later, Joe Pa said, “How could Nixon know so much about football in 1969, and so little about Watergate in 1973?”

James Street would finish his career as leader of the Longhorns with a 20-0 record. In January of 1970 he had gone to Las Vegas, a short time after showing he had more luck than the Irish. 

He was escorted back stage of the Vegas Hilton by Col. Tom Parker, and when he got there, he found an argument in process. 

Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers was trying to convince Elvis that Arkansas should have won the game. But Presley did not agree, saying that Texas was the better team. In those days, roughly 58 million U.S. households had TV sets. On December 6, 1969, one of every four of them, including the King of Rock and Roll, watched ABC’s telecast.

Darrell Royal should have probably been in Vegas himself in those days. He had gambled twice in The Big Shootout and won both times.

But the chance he took near the beginning of the previous season, when he gave the team over to a young, unproven, 2nd string quarterback, may have been his best call ever. 

Rest in peace, Mr. Street.