This weekend will see the renewal of a heated college football rivalry dating back to 1894. The Texas Longhorns travel to Fayetteville to face the Arkansas Razorbacks. I will be traveling with a group of Texas fans to see the game in person this year. During my childhood I was witness to many epic games between the two at Memorial Stadium here in Austin, including the last game coached by two legendary coaches Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles in 1976.
Royal and Broyles were on the sidelines during the epic game in December 1969, known also as the ‘Game of the Century,’ which matched no. 1 ranked Texas against no. 2 ranked Arkansas. The intriguing back stories of this monumental match-up are the subject of the fine book Horns, Hogs, & Nixon Coming by veteran sportswriter Terry Frei (see my review of Frei’s Third Down and a War to Go).
Frei's book explores the game in the context of the political undercurrents of the day, i.e., Vietnam and race relations. Draft protests during the fall of 1969 were a daily occurrence and when President Nixon decided to attend the game, a large protest was planned for the day of the game. In addition, both teams were still all-white in the segregated South. The courageous battle of Texas player Freddie Steinmark against an ultimately fatal case of cancer adds to the emotional background of the book. Frei explores all of these issues, and even manages to include snippets of Arkansas native Bill Clinton’s attempts to evade the draft that year (he evidently listened to the game on a radio whilst studying at Oxford University).
The game itself met all of the great expectations and the national build-up. It took place during the 100th Anniversary of college football. The president of the United States attended, along with Congressmen, Senators, and governors (and the evangelist Billy Graham). At a time when the U.S. population was two hundred million, fifty million Americans tuned into the game. Nixon declared he would visit the winners’ locker room after the game and crown them national champions. Every decade or so during the 20th Century a game would be declared the ‘game of the century,’ but as far as athletics, politics, and society, this game checked all the boxes.
Texas won the game in dramatic fashion, coming from behind in the closing minutes. They were declared national champs, and they would be the last all-white national champion in college football. The next year both teams integrated, and college football has never looked back. In the near future the two rivals will be joined together again in the SEC, so we can anticipate many more great matchups.