For any Arkansas Razorback football fan who’s around 42 or older, the 1969 loss to Texas 15-14 in the “Game of the Century” left a scar on the psyche. Forget that Arkansas claimed a share of the 1964 national championship, beat Texas in Austin 14-13 and went undefeated, and forget that unbelievable wipeout of Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl, where Arkansas finished 11-1, No. 3 in the nation, and worthy of claiming No. 1 as much as Notre Dame or Alabama could.
While much younger Hog fans scratch their heads over why the 1969 game still haunts their older brethren, the Arkansas fans who saw that game, including those who remember every little thing they did that day while they watched it at home, have found it as hard or even harder to shake than it has been for the Hog players. It should have never been that overwhelmingly important to Arkansans, but it was.
But the healing process seemed to begin two years ago, when Terry Frey came out with the great book “Horns, Hogs and Nixon Coming,” which revealed interesting facts surrounding the game that many had forgotten or had never known. Sure, we new it was the last game of the 100th year of college football, and ABC had moved the game to the end of the season, and No. 1 Texas played No. 2 Arkansas, and President Nixon showed up, along with Billy Graham. But Vietnam was on every college boy’s mind, and “Dixie” was bothersome to the growing number of black students on campus, and Texas and Arkansas both happened to be lily white teams, the last two completely all-white teams to fend for the national championship. Rather than rekindling some of the bad memories of the game, Frey’s fair and balanced account seemed to ease some of the pain and answer some questions.
Then, though UA athletic director Frank Broyles went against his original OK to the 1969 players and decided the school wouldn’t have anything to do with a 35-year reunion in 2004 at the UA-Texas game in Fayetteville, many of the players from both squads met for a banquet, some reminiscing and some catching up.
Then, Monday, the Little Rock Touchdown Club members got to sample some of that healing among the players when Texas stars Bob McKay and James Street joined former Hog All-America defensive end Bruce James in a “Big Shootout” forum. McKay was hilarious — “I’ve watched the film and sometimes I’m not sure how it’s going to come out … Street has even lost money on it twice.”
Both men were good ol’ boys with not a bit of animosity toward Arkansas, but instead a huge respect for the way the Hogs played that day. James, who arranged for the two Longhorn greats to come to Little Rock, invited a group of media people out to dinner at Corky’s in North Little Rock on Sunday night before the three appeared on KATV’s “SportsWeek” with Steve Sullivan. The Texas players then appeared Monday morning on Tommy Smith’s radio show at KABZ. Then, after the Touchdown Club visit it was back to Texas, but with assurances from McKay to James that they’d be back very soon.
I got to be a part of all of it, and whatever pain and disappointment had lingered for 36 years was finally erased.