What Yeoman meant was that he had a potentially potent team last year. But after losing three of their first four games, the players, the too-serious players, got nervous and little mistakes were magnified. The kicking team alone gave up three touchdowns that were directly responsible for two losses. Arguments erupted in the huddle. A starting tackle quit. "We were probably the best two-win team in the country," Yeoman said. "This year I hoped we'd be competitive, but after shooting eight blanks, I didn't know what to expect."
The Cougars started off by upsetting Baylor. Although Florida crushed them 49-14, the following week they whipped favored Texas A&M 21-10, limiting Aggie Fullback George Woodard to 15 yards rushing, 129 below his average. The defense had arrived. The 14-7 loss at Arkansas was followed by a 28-point thrashing of TCU. By November, Houston was rolling and the campus came alive. Somebody started painting victory scores on the front doors of the administration building. The next score on the door was Houston 30, Texas 0—a game that ended a 42-game Longhorn home-win streak. The Houston alumni association tried to round up enough fans to fill a charter flight to Lubbock for the Texas Tech game, and came up with enough to fill five airplanes. The Cougars toppled unbeaten Texas Tech 27-19 to tie for the SWC lead. Then they polished off Rice 42-20 to secure it.
For 25 years Houston had politicked and upgraded entrance requirements and every year had its SWC membership application rejected. The school had good teams, all right, but the feeling was that few of the athletes could have hacked it academically at SWC institutions. In 1964 Houston became the first major football university in Texas to recruit blacks, a step many felt further damaged its chances for admittance to the SWC. The Cougar basketball team was a juggernaut from 1964 to 1968 with players like Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney, and many think Houston's requests for admission during that period were deftly pigeonholed. But back in 1963, pushed by rising costs, Houston had joined the Texas State System of Higher Education, thereby becoming a state school. This made it difficult for its fellow state schools—Texas, A&M, Tech—to exclude it from the SWC, and an invitation to join the league was extended in 1971. As is normal in such situations, one stipulation was that the Cougars couldn't compete for quite a while in football (five years) and basketball (four years).
" Cotton Bowl thoughts haven't hit me yet," Yeoman said in his office. "I'm relieved more than excited. Maybe in five years I'll feel the impact of what this team did. But right now I'm just thrilled we didn't have another loser."
One day last January Davis showed up at Camp Fun, the Cougar weight-training program, wearing a new gray T shirt with black lettering that read: 1976 SWC CHAMPS. The quarterback wore the shirt in every conference game. After the Miami win he was asked if he planned to wear it again next year. Davis thought a moment. "Nope," he finally answered, "I'm getting me a new one. It's going to say: 1977 NATIONAL CHAMPS."