It was gray and misty in Austin, Texas last week as once-defeated Baylor took after undefeated Texas, but the differences in the football philosophies of the two teams were as distinct as one could wish. All week long Texas newspapers had written with more enthusiasm than accuracy that this would be the first time that two such opposites met "at the summit." Defense-minded Texas was trying to win its first national championship and attack-minded Baylor, with the country's top passer, Don Trull, and leading receiver, Larry Elkins, was struggling for its first Southwest Conference title in 40 years. Neither team planned to forsake its style for the game, although each coach gushed praise for the other.
Shortly before the kickoff, Texas' conservative Darrell Royal and Baylor's venturous John Bridgers met on the field. "John," said Royal, "a lot has been printed in the papers this week and I'm not sure the quotation marks were always in the right places, but I want you to know that if we have to stub our toe this year, I hope it's against you. I think you people do a tremendous job, and I want you to know there's no hard feelings on our part."
"You know I feel the same," said Bridgers. "The kids decide the games, anyhow, don't they?"
The "kids" certainly did. Don Trull completed 19 passes for 204 yards and Elkins caught 12 of them for 125 yards, but the difference between the two teams was Texas' unrelenting defense which, with hard tackling on the receivers and a furious rush on Trull, made each completion more difficult than the last one. From the end of the first until early in the fourth quarter, Baylor made only one first down. Quarterback Duke Carlisle then came on to play defense in the closing minutes and protect Texas' 7-0 lead, gained on a third-period touchdown. Carlisle's last contribution was a brilliant interception in the end zone. He dove in front of Elkins to take a Trull pass from the Texas 19-yard line, with just 22 seconds left.
In the SWC, where defense-oriented field position football has been dominant ever since Royal started winning with the method in 1957, there will be many saying that they knew all along what the outcome would be. Among them will be Baylor alumni, a large number of whom have become desperate over their school's inability ever to win an SWC title. "They are suffering," said one local businessman not long ago, "from an alarming and deepening neurosis." Another Waco man asked plaintively, "Is it too much to ask for one conference championship in a lifetime?"
The old grads cost Bridgers' predecessors—George Sauer and Sam Boyd—their jobs, although in six years (1950-1955) Sauer's teams had a fine 38-21-3 record and in 1956 Boyd's 8-2 team went to the Sugar Bowl where it beat Tennessee. Last year, Bridgers' fourth at Baylor, they threatened to take his job when his team started in a slump and lost five of its first six games.
The main charges against Bridgers were that he was soft on his players, he kept players of proven inability on his teams, he passed too much and failed to emphasize the defensive game, and he lacked the "killer instinct" when he had a rival team beaten badly. To all, Bridgers gladly pleaded guilty, which was something like a Puritan telling the witch-hunters that he did not believe in God. But did the alumni get Bridgers' scalp? They did not. Just as the campaign to oust Bridgers got really hot, President Abner McCall of Baylor announced that he had signed Bridgers to an unexpected five-year contract. Explained the President: "We had a group that was all set for a new coach. I thought it was time to put that idea to rest." McCall went on to say: "He had proven himself to be a man of principle, unshakable principle. I didn't want to take a chance on losing John."
In an era when coaches think football is war, and war is hell, John Dixon Bridgers is a refreshing iconoclast who not only believes that football is a game but thinks it should be played for fun. Consider, for instance, these heretical practices which, should they become accepted, might unravel the woof and warp of heavy-pressure college football:
?Nobody has ever been cut from a Bridgers' squad just because he cannot play good football.
?Nobody has ever been eased out of college in order to save a scholarship for a more deserving player.