Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Illustration for article titled Just A Hunch: To Win What Might Have Been His Biggest Game, Darrell Royal Had Texas Do The Very Thing He Hated

Former University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal despised the forward pass. "Three things can happen," he famously said of throwing the football, "and two of them are bad." In 1968, Royal rolled out a scheme that allowed Texas's offense to be effective with minimal passing. The wishbone, as it was called, was a variation of the veer, and it was mainly the brainchild of Emory Bellard, the Longhorns' offensive coordinator. But Royal's name will forever be the one most closely associated with it.


Royal's No. 1-ranked Longhorns played their 1969 regular-season finale at Arkansas, which was ranked No. 2. It was billed as The Game of the Century—at least for that year—and President Richard Nixon was in attendance. Nixon intended to present the winning team with a plaque proclaiming it as the national champion, never mind that there were still New Year's bowl games to be played, or that Penn State was also undefeated and untied. The BCS might be bullshit, but what we had before it wasn't much better.

Texas trailed 14-0 until quarterback James Street scored on the first play of the fourth quarter. Royal, who was known to take risks, went for two, not wanting to take a chance on the possibility of a tie. Street converted, slicing the deficit to six. An interception in their own end zone kept the Longhorns in the game. Here's how Dan Jenkins, who got many great column inches out of Darrell Royal over the years, captured what came next for Sports Illustrated:

It was fourth and three at Texas' own 43-with less than five minutes to play.

From the sidelines Royal gave Street the play, although he doesn't know why.

"In a case like that, you just suck it up and pick a number." he said. "There's no logic to it. Just a hunch."

It was a bomb, which Street isn't supposed to throw well or complete unless Cotton Speyrer outfights somebody for the ball. But it wasn't Speyrer, just as it wasn't Worster in the middle. No Worster-Speyrer sauce, in other words. It was a 44-yard spiral to the tight end. Randy Peschel, the only receiver Texas sent out, who had gone streaking down the sideline, right past the Texas bench and just a step ahead of his double coverage. Although the pass was perfect. Street said Peschel "only made the greatest catch in the history of football." Well, it was a good one, to say the least. The play put Texas on Arkansas' 13-yard line, and there could be little doubt then that the powerful rushing team would punch it in. Two plays did it.


Texas went on to win, 15-14, and to claim the national title after it defeated Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. The Longhorns would win a share of another championship—their third under Royal—the following year. Alabama under Bear Bryant and Oklahoma under Barry Switzer would later utilize the wishbone to win national titles of their own. Royal remains the winningest coach in UT history, and the Longhorns now play in a stadium that bears his name. Dead at 88. RIP.

Texas By An Eyelash [Sports Illustrated]
Darrell Royal, Texas Coach Who Pioneered Wishbone Offense, Dies at 88 [New York Times]

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