SI Vault
 
0:00 To Go
Gary Cartwright
October 30, 1995
Time has run out on the Southwest Conference, but what a time it was
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 30, 1995

0:00 To Go

Time has run out on the Southwest Conference, but what a time it was

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

Navy never had a chance. The Longhorns not only contained Staubach, but their journeyman quarterback Duke Carlisle also outgained him as Texas won 28-6. A few weeks later the American Football Coaches Association named Royal its Coach of the Year. In the winter of 1964, when he was in Dallas, Royal would hide out at our apartment. "I need to get away from the media," he told us with a wink. I also remember him telling us, "Great players make great coaches, but great coaches make champions."

In 1968 Royal and his offensive coordinator, Emory Bellard, introduced the wishbone offense and transformed college football. With James Street at quarterback, the Longhorns built a 30-game winning streak, the most memorable game of which was the Big Shoot-out—a.k.a. the Game of the Century—a heart-stopping 15-14 victory over Arkansas in December 1969. Played in an icy fog at Fayetteville, this game had everything: It was the climactic game of college football's 100th year, No. 1 Texas versus No. 2 Arkansas, with war protesters outside the stadium and President Richard Nixon, accompanied by the Reverend Billy Graham, inside to bestow on the winner a national championship plaque. With 6:10 remaining, Texas trailed by six points and faced fourth-and-three from its own 43. Royal told Street to call "right 53 veer pass" to tight end Randy Peschel, a play that hadn't worked all year. Street asked Royal if he was sure, and Royal said he was: He'd noticed that the Razorback secondary was crowding the line to stop the triple option and ignoring the tight end. Street heaved the ball, and Peschel ran under it and was tackled at the Arkansas 13. Two plays later the Longhorns scored, then kicked the winning point after. A few weeks later Texas beat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl to finish Royal's second perfect season. Great coaches make champions.

After Broyles and Royal quit, the University of Houston under Bill Yeoman emerged as a power for a time, then sank out of sight under the stigma of recruiting violations. Starting in the mid-1980s, SMU, TCU, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas and Houston were found to have committed violations and were placed on probation. The Mustangs suffered the ultimate punishment when the only "death penalty" ever assessed by the NCAA, in 1986, shut down their program for two years. The conference crimes and misdemeanors covered a wide and imaginative range—paying players, fixing test results and even, in one case, editing clips from porn movies into game film for the edification of student athletes.

How they handled problems with the NCAA said a lot about the schools and the coaches. TCU coach Jim Wacker blew the whistle on himself when he learned in 1985 that some of his players, including Heisman candidate Kenneth Davis, were taking money from a group of oilmen. Most Frog followers believed this was the honorable thing to do; others felt Wacker was a fool. A&M's Jackie Sherrill, on the other hand, stonewalled the NCAA in '88, in effect telling investigators, "I don't understand the question," and escaped unscathed.

SMU produced the most egregious display of mendacity the conference ever witnessed. An NCAA investigation turned up evidence that a group of Mustang alumni had set out to buy a national title or the players to provide one. By the time SMU began serving its sentence in 1987, the former head of SMU's board of governors, Bill Clements, was the governor of Texas. Initially he denied approving payments, but later he admitted his part in the scheme. Asked why he lied, Clements replied, "Well, there wasn't a Bible in the room...."

In the 1990s the only nationally recognized conference team has been the Aggies, who won 29 consecutive SWC games before Texas Tech upset them on Oct. 7. The league's dismal level of competition has assured the Cotton Bowl of consistently mediocre host teams: With A&M on probation in '94, five SWC teams finished as runners-up, at 4-3. Texas Tech went to the Cotton Bowl and was routed 55-14 by Southern Cal.

A lot of factors contributed to the demise of the conference: Arkansas's pulling out to join the Southeastern Conference; the rising cost of tuition, which made it difficult for the private schools (Baylor, Rice, SMU and TCU) to compete with schools subsidized by the state; having eight schools in one state competing for fans and media with eight major pro teams; the saturation of sports on TV. Like a senile old man, the conference seemed only dimly aware of its own history. There was no sadder illustration of this than at the SWC's Hall of Honor ceremony last summer. Among the 12 former players and coaches inducted was Yeoman, on whose watch Houston began to drag the conference to the bottom. Worse, whoever selected the honorees forgot Broyles. Maybe he'll be named posthumously.

Oh, one other thing. The late Bobby Layne was also inducted. As a gesture to the University of Texas, a replica of his trophy was cast for display at the Longhorns' Memorial Stadium. It's a fine replica, except for this: Somebody misspelled the name of Texas's greatest quarterback, engraving it as BOBBY LANE.

1 2 3