Columns » John Brummett

'Great Shootout' combatants share the love

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FAYETTEVILLE - Everywhere else, the spirit of competition was ugly. The presidential campaign's rhetoric resonated with bitterness. In the modern world known as online, Internet message boards screamed with vulgar name-calling by Razorback and Longhorn fans worked into a subhuman frenzy about a forthcoming football contest between 20-year-olds representing state universities from Arkansas and Texas. But here in a banquet room of the Fayetteville Town Center for three hours on Friday evening, men in their mid-50s who had been there and done all that, and much more, gathered with their wives and a few specially invited guests to sip drinks, sign footballs, bunch together for a group photograph and share a casual dinner. Then they passed around a microphone to reminisce, lending three decades of perspective and maturity to the unyielding competition and mutual respect they displayed amid such wild and unprecedented hype in early December 1969. Frank Broyles had canceled their on-field halftime commemoration of the "Great Shootout," a game moved to season's end 35 years ago in ABC's savvy anticipation that both teams would otherwise go undefeated. Texas beat Arkansas, 15-14. Actually, let us say that Texas outscored Arkansas. Broyles, who coached the game and has said he can't get over it, yielded to those of almost subhuman frenzy - those whose glories are pursued vicariously, whose athletic exploits are limited to posting Internet messages and phoning radio talk shows to express outrage at the very idea that Hogs would ever honor Longhorns, especially Longhorns who beat them and more especially Longhorns who beat them that day and that way. Bill Montgomery, the Arkansas quarterback who had this idea a year ago, told me that old college football players tend to remain so acquiescent to their coaches that when Broyles canceled everything, he figured that was that. But then Dewitt Smith, a second-string offensive lineman for Arkansas in '69 who now runs Cooper Realty Investments, called Montgomery with an innovative idea: "We're 56-year-old men. I think we can have dinner with whoever we want to." So, they did. Nearly 50 of the '69 Razorbacks showed up, and 22 of the Longhorns came as well. That included most of the high-profile Texans, meaning quarterback James Street and three All-Americans - offensive tackle Bob McKay, who would steal the show; offensive tackle Bobby Wuensch; and bullish fullback Steve Worster, looking so much smaller and gentler this night in jeans and boots than he appeared plowing through hapless defenders from 1968 to 1970. Bruce James, the Hogs' All-American defensive end, wanted most to talk to Worster. "I'm an old Gulf Coast boy from Moss Point, Miss., and he's an old boy from near the Gulf in Texas," James said. "And here's what I remember about Steve Worster. He'd lower his head and shoulder and drive you back three or four yards, then he'd get up, blood and snot coming out of his nose, and pat you on the butt and say 'good lick.' Texas was the cleanest team we played. No trashy talk, no cheap shots. I hope and think they say the same about us." They do. On the field after the storied game, McKay had sought out James to say he wanted to shake his hand because in trying to block him he hadn't touched him all afternoon. McKay said much more when someone handed him a microphone, which he proceeded to hold around his knee as he paced his 6-foot-5 frame and rambled, injecting a little locker-room authenticity to the public dialogue. "Y'all lost and it was a bad deal," he said. "Y'all played a helluva game and deserved to win. Anybody tells you different is full of ...'' Then he talked about the old days and how teams could give so many more scholarships and how practice sessions were brutal as coaches tried to weed out those who weren't tough enough. After three or four years of that, McKay said, playing on one historic Saturday afternoon against an equally worthy team was all the reward any of them needed. McKay, who played eight years of pro ball and now travels Texas selling tires, said this in closing: "I'd appreciate it if y'all'd tell Frank Broyles to kiss my ..." The audience of 150 roared, and the roar was bipartisan. For the record: Broyles was not there. He was not invited. Dewitt Smith announced that Broyles' successor as athletic director had been chosen, "and I'm here to tell you he's a good athlete in his own right. Last night at T-ball he got three hits." The featured speaker was Terry Frei, the Denver sportswriter who wrote a book, "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming," about the game and the seminal circumstances surrounding it. It was the last major college championship contest played by all-white teams. It was the first game attended by a sitting president of the United States who would award a national championship trophy afterward. It was a game that took place within yards of a Vietnam War protest. "This game and these two teams personified a time when class reigned in sports," Frei said. Later one of the Longhorns stood in his burnt orange golf shirt and said simply, "Hook 'em Hogs."

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