March, 20 2023
Roone Arledge had a great idea. The talented mind behind the innovative sports broadcasts Monday Night Football and Wide World of Sports requested Hall of Fame Arkansas head coach Frank Broyles move the Razorbacks annual Southwest Conference grudge match with Texas from October 18 to December 6. Arledge wanted a signature game to cap off college football’s centennial season with a nationally televised bonanza.
Arledge and ABC publicist Beano Cook felt there was a very good chance Arkansas and Texas would finish high enough in the rankings to validate making the game the sole attraction of the weekend. Arledge was even proposing inviting President Richard Nixon to the game as an added reason for Americans to tune in. It was rare for a sitting president to attend a regular season college game outside of Army-Navy, particularly in the remoteness of Northwest Arkansas.
Broyles and Texas coach Darrell Royal, also a College Football Hall of Famer, agreed to the switch. The Longhorns and Razorbacks proceeded to go far beyond the call of being highly ranked. They came into December undefeated with Texas ranked first and Arkansas second. Texas boasted a high-powered offense featuring a triple-option wishbone that averaged 44 points per game. Arkansas countered with the nation’s top defense giving up less than a touchdown per game.
Arkansas’ defense proved up to the task of stopping the Longhorn wishbone in front of Nixon and 47,000 fans at Razorback Stadium. The Razorbacks forced six turnovers and got out to a 14-0 lead in the third quarter. One of the touchdowns was a 29-yard touchdown pass from Bill Montgomery to Hall of Fame WR Chuck Dicus.
Time was rapidly becoming a factor for the Longhorns. Their run-oriented attack was time consuming and would struggle to overcome a two-touchdown deficit with only fifteen minutes of game time left. A ponderous ground-based drive by Texas got them to the Arkansas 42-yard line but had taken up the remainder of the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Texas QB James Street weaved his way through the Razorbacks following key blocks by and Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bob McKay and others for a dazzling touchdown that cut the lead to 14-6. More importantly, the rapid score kept Texas comeback hopes alive.
Darrell Royal then made a bold call. Royal vowed he would not settle for a tie against Arkansas and ordered his offense back on the field for a two-point conversion. The gamble paid off as Street got into the end zone again to make the score 14-8.
An exchange of turnovers and a forced punt later, Texas took over on its 36-yard line with six minutes to play. Knowing his offense was plodding, Royal elected to go for it on fourth-and-three from his own 43.
Everyone in the stadium expected a run.
Darrell Royal told his QB to throw deep.
When James Street got the call, he double-checked with his coach. “You want me to throw deep?” Street asked. “Damn right!” was Royal’s reply.
Tight end Randy Peschel took off downfield on “Right 53 Veer Pass.” He realized he had not fooled anyone and that two Razorback defenders were running with him stride-for-stride. It would require a perfect pass from an option quarterback to a blocking tight end.
That is exactly what happened. Street launched a high-arching pass down the left sideline and Peschel caught it over his shoulder in full stride with the two defenders pulling him down almost immediately. The play was good for 44 yards and seemed to deflate all the Arkansas partisans in the crowd. Jim Bertelsen scored the tying touchdown two plays later and the extra point by Happy Feller put the Longhorns up 15-14 with four minutes to play. The Texas defense intercepted Montgomery as the Razorbacks got near field goal range to end the game.
President Nixon told the Longhorns in the post-game locker room that their victory cemented their status as national champions. “For a team to be behind 14-0, and then not lose its cool and go on to win, that proves you deserve to be No. 1, and that’s what you are!”
It also proves that Roone Arledge and Beano Cook were quite prescient about Texas and Arkansas going beyond the call to set up a season finale for the ages.