The ball was on the 50 and the big scoreboard at the south end of Memorial Stadium in Austin showed a little more than nine minutes remaining in the second quarter when Texas Christian went into its huddle. The quarterback, a young man named Sonny Gibbs who looks a bit like the state capitol dressed in shoulder pads, called a pass.
"Go out like you were going to block," Gibbs told Buddy Iles, the right end. "Then blow down that field. I'll try to get the ball to you."
Gibbs faked his halfback into the line, then faded back as Iles fled. The orange jerseys of the University of Texas poured in. Gibbs drew back his arm and threw. He is 6 feet 7 inches tall and it has been said that he does not really pass the football, he hands it downfield to his receivers. He didn't hand this one. The ball went 50 yards through the air and when it came down, Iles met it on the eight, behind Texas Halfback Jerry Cook, behind every Texas defender. He was tackled on the goal line but bounced across, and the official threw up his hands. TCU 6, Texas 0. That was the only touchdown of the day.
It was enough to score the major upset of the 1961 college football season, and knock the No. 1 team in the land flat on its illustrious pants. Texas had been a tornado in eight previous games—undefeated, untied and unmolested. The Longhorns had scored 266 points and led the nation in rushing with 316 yards per game. Never had they been held to less than four touchdowns, never had they won by less than three. They called their offense A-B-C because it was so simple: 50 yards and a cloud of dust. The defense was frightening. "Making a mistake against Texas," wrote Mickey Herskowitz of the
Houston Post, "is like bleeding in front of a shark." Yet when TCU won, hardly anyone was surprised. Texas fans cried a little maybe, but that was all.
The Southwest Conference is an organization dedicated to fratricide. Not since 1938-39, when TCU and A&M went undefeated, back to back, has the league produced a national champion, and the reason is simple enough: regardless of intersectional success—and Texas, for example, had splattered California 28-3, Washington State 41-8 and Oklahoma 28-7 this year—it is almost impossible for anyone to survive the murderous eight-team round-robin conference schedule without defeat, often by an opponent voted least likely to succeed. "They aren't much impressed by press clippings down here," says Jess Neely of Rice. TCU was a 23-point underdog on Saturday, but TCU long ago passed its apprenticeship in confusing the odds. Texas was temporarily No. 1 in the nation in 1941 until Baylor tied the Longhorns and TCU came along to administer the only defeat. In 1959 Texas won eight straight—then lost to TCU. The 1961 Horned Frogs had lost four games before Saturday but they had also tied Ohio State, the only blot on the Buckeye record, and handed Kansas one of its two defeats. Before the game Coach Darrell Royal of Texas shook his head. "I'm as nervous as a pig in a packing plant," he said.
The TCU victory on Saturday was not so much due to the pass—although this is all that will remain in the record books 50 years from now—as to the furious defense that the Horned Frog line, led by Iles, threw against Texas' racehorse attack. Texas was stopped one yard from the TCU goal in the first quarter, on the seven in the second quarter, on the eight in the fourth quarter. TCU was able to do this because it found a defense against James Saxton. TCU didn't stop Saxton; nobody stops Saxton. He gained 85 of Texas' 138 yards rushing and caught a pass for 45 yards. But TCU did the next best thing. The Horned Frogs hit Saxton so hard he was knocked out. Twice. That must have slowed him down.
The first accident occurred early in the first quarter. Saxton took a short pass from Mike Cotten and wiggled 45 yards down the right sideline. He was finally tackled on the 10 by Donnie Smith, and then, as he rolled over on the ground, in came Bobby Plummer, a 220-pound tackle. "I was trying to miss him," Plummer said later. He failed. His knee hit Saxton in the head and Jimmy was knocked unconscious.
Five minutes deep in the third quarter, after Saxton had broken loose for 22 yards on one of his marvelous jittery runs, he was flattened again. This time he went into the middle of the line, and when all the big bodies had been removed one small one remained on the ground. In all, Saxton missed almost 40 minutes of the ball game. After it was over, both Plummer and Gibbs apologized. "There was nothing dirty about it," Saxton said, grinning, "but you guys sure do hit hard."
The defeat shattered Texas' hopes for a national championship, but it did not altogether ruin the season. A victory over Texas A&M this week, on Thanksgiving Day, will guarantee the Longhorns at least a share of the conference championship with Arkansas, which must still beat Texas Tech. Since Texas has already humiliated Arkansas 33-7, the Longhorns would go to the Cotton Bowl. "It's no disgrace to get knocked down," said Darrell Royal, "so long as you get back up. We've had some happy dressing rooms this year. Maybe we can have one more."
They will—unless Texas A&M, too, manages to find a solution to James Saxton. Saxton looks less like a football player than a walking endorsement for Blue Cross. He weighs a scrawny 165 pounds and talks with a squeaky drawl. Sometimes he squeaks when he walks, too. He has a bad shoulder, a trick back and an allergy to grass and dust that causes his sinuses to run like the University of Texas fountain every time he gets within sight of a football field. He is so nervous that he can't sleep the night before a game. It is all a disguise. James Saxton is actually some sort of small nuclear device. Hand him a football and you may not see him again for a week.