It has always been the kind of game where, as Darrell Royal says, you are asked to screw your navel to the ground and scratch, bite and spit at the other guys. And this time would certainly be no different. It would be a rowdy amplification of all that had come before it. It would be, said Royal, the usual old-fashioned, country, jaw-to-jaw, "knucks-down gut check." Knucks down? Yeah, like when you shot marbles as a kid and then you started playing "keeps," and everybody got knucks down, and you hoped the other guy's hand would quiver, and if it didn't you knew you were "all covered up with trouble."
This is what the Texas-Oklahoma football game has always been, said Royal, who dresses Madison Avenue but talks Okie to get laughs. Royal knows all about Texas-Oklahoma warfare. He played in the game four times as a Sooner, and after last week's gut check he had coached Texas in it 13 times. Most of the time Royal has won the game. He was 2-2 as a player under Bud Wilkinson, and now he's 11-2 as a coach. Now his resourceful Longhorns have done it to Oklahoma again in what surely must be college football's grandest, throatiest, most frenzied pageant.
There were nothing but heroes down there in the Cotton Bowl last Saturday in gusty, hot Dallas as the two powerful, undefeated teams came together for the 64th time, nothing but guys willing to have their tummies checked by the tormenting pressure of the day, by the fretful necessity of winning an annual war between two football-crazy states in the middle of all the confusion, noise and merrymaking of a state fair. "These are the two best Texas and Oklahoma teams since about 1963," Royal said. "If we are what we're supposed to be—a contender for that No. 1 thing—then we have to win this one."
It took awhile. Chuck Fairbanks' remarkably poised and disrespectful Sooners tore into the burnt-orange jerseys of the favored Longhorns for a totally stunning 14-point lead in the game's first 11 minutes. Not only that, the Sooners, with Steve Owens churning over everything in his path and young Jack Mildren looking as cool as if he had been born in the Cotton Bowl, suggested that they might be capable of doing it all afternoon. Texas is, however, what Royal says it is—perhaps his best-equipped team since the national champions of 1963. No less of a team could have fought back against this excellent Oklahoma outfit and pulled it out 27-17.
What must be concluded, therefore, is this: if somewhere in the Western Hemisphere there is a squad with the muscle, zip, imagination, depth, character and leadership to challenge Ohio State as the best team in the land, it is, at the moment, Texas. Ohio State and Texas are as good as, or even better than, last year when it seemed obvious after the bowls that they were the two best teams in the country, and if they survive their remaining games, it will then be the grandest of injustices that they cannot meet each other in some sort of playoff game on the moon. There is no guarantee, of course, that the Longhorns and Buckeyes will continue undefeated. Texas still must play unbeaten Arkansas, which has national aspirations of its own as Oklahoma did, and Ohio State has Purdue and Michigan ahead. But let's assume they do win them all. The national champion will then be settled again by the polls, where the voters will be asked to examine winning margin, quality of opposition and other vague statistics, and that is a shame.
Fairbanks would be happy to testify for Texas—although he might be prejudiced. "We played our hearts out," he said. "We have nothing to be ashamed of. Our defense played better than it has ever played for me from end to end. So what I have to say is that Texas just has one fine football team."
What usually happens in a Texas-OU game is that the teams get so ready for each other that the defenses on both sides play about a foot off the ground and run around making goofy things occur. Such was the case last week. Oklahoma, in the early going, with both bands blaring out their fight songs for the 10,000th time and long before the 72,000 maniacs were willing to sit down, swarmed over Texas. The Sooners forced a poor punt, got good position at the Texas 41 and rammed it in for seven points. A few minutes later they got an interception at the Texas 17 and rammed that one in, too—and one had to suppose you could hear "Boomer Sooner" as far away as Royal's old home town of Hollis.
What brought Texas back was the forward pass, a weapon Royal hauls out every now and then, like in times of frantic desperation. In three easy romps over California, Texas Tech and Navy, the Longhorns had not found it necessary to throw, except to see if the ball could still float. They won by fiendish scores, despite the fact that the first team hardly got to play much. But they knew they would have to throw against Oklahoma. The quick and vicious Sooners would be determined to take away the rushing game first if they could.
So James Street, the Texas quarterback who has not lost a game since he became the pilot in last year's Oklahoma State contest, got ready to pass. Behind by those two touchdowns, Street said to his best receiver, Cotton Speyrer, "Get ready to start catchin' the ball."
Very quickly Street zoomed one down the middle for 35 yards, Speyrer making a diving catch. And just as quickly he lobbed one 24 more yards into Oklahoma's end zone that Speyrer looked around for—back, up and over his headgear—and managed to gather in. It was 14-7.