At some point on Friday I’ll turn on the television, go to the YouTube channel, and find the 1969 Texas-Arkansas football game.
Once I do, I’ll make myself comfortable and watch all two hours, 53 minutes and 39 seconds of the broadcast, coming to me live from chilly, wet Razorback Stadium.
OK, it’s not live anymore, but half a century later it’s still a major reference point of my life as a sports fan.
Football historians remember it as the final “Game of the Century” of the 1960s, a de facto national championship contest between the No. 1 Longhorns and No. 2 Razorbacks played on December 6, 1969.
Texas won, 15-14, in a thrilling comeback that remains a source of pride for “Boomers” who bleed burnt orange and an important football history lesson for younger fans.
So why do I – who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and has no ties to either school – feel such a strong connection to it?
It’s the first college football game I ever remember watching.
Now to be clear, 50 years was a long time ago and I don’t claim to have total recall of my childhood sports memories. I know that by 1967 I was already big into pro football, cheering on the New York Jets in the American Football League and Los Angeles Rams in the NFL.
And growing up in the “Football Capital of the South” it would stand to reason that at some point I’d seen Alabama and Auburn while perched in front of the Curtis Mathes color TV console.
And I’m almost sure I did but – if so – I can’t recall.
That Texas-Arkansas clash played 50 years ago today, however, is unforgettable.
It was the only major college football game played that day, and the fact that it featured the two top ranked teams in the country made it seem more special – something like a college football Super Bowl.
Mom made a rare appearance in the den to watch (she didn’t care much for sports) and decided she’d pull for Arkansas.
Pop also went with the Hogs because they were the underdogs.
I had no string feelings one way or another; the Jets were playing the Houston Oilers at 1 p.m. and I was gonna try to talk my folks into changing channels once that game kicked off.
As it turned out, I got so engrossed in the college clash I forgot to ask.
While I’ve always been dazzled by high-powered offenses (that’s one of the reasons I loved the AFL), there was something about this sloppy game played in sloppy weather that was mesmerizing.
Aesthetically it wasn’t much to look at – Texas had four fumbles and two interceptions working out of the wishbone while Arkansas threw two picks from its pro-style attack. Still, the hard hits and emotion resonated with me.
Frank Broyles’ charges led 14-0 heading into the fourth quarter and looked to be well on their way to victory.
But Texas coach Darrell Royal pulled out all the stops over the final 15 minutes.
A 42-yard touchdown run by quarterback James Street and 2-point conversion cut the Razorbacks lead to 14-8 early in the fourth quarter, making things interesting.
Then facing a fourth-and-3 at his own 43 later in the frame, Street dropped back and hit Randy Peschel on a 44-yard bomb that gave the Longhorns a first down at the enemy 13.
Jim Bertelsen scored the tying TD from the 2 a couple of snaps later, and Happy Feller kicked the extra point to make it 15-14.
Although I hadn’t cheered for either team up to that point, I was happy when Texas snagged an interception with under a minute to go to clinch the victory. The guts and the drama turned me into a college football fan for life – so much so that I didn’t even mind missing a good chunk of the Jets game.
Several years ago I found a shortened version of this 1969 classic on YouTube, and back in 2017 the complete ABC telecast was posted.
Listening to Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson call the game is like travelling through time.
And watching it in its entirety makes it worth the journey.