Jan. 4, 2006
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - President Nixon was there. Billy Graham gave the pregame invocation.
It was the "Game of the Century" or "The Big Shootout," depending on who's telling the story.
On that 1969 day down in Fayetteville, after No. 1 Texas defeated No. 2 Arkansas 15-14, Nixon went to the Longhorns' locker room and declared them national champions.
"If you can't be impressed with that hoss," then-Texas coach Darrell Royal recalled this week, "you just can't be impressed."
In Texas lore, it ranks as the greatest game ever played. And it was the last time Texas won an undisputed national title.
When No. 2 Texas (12-0) met top-ranked USC (12-0) on Wednesday night in the Rose Bowl, the Longhorns were trying to shake off 36 years of championship frustration.
"It's time for them to win it," said James Street, the Texas quarterback in 1969. "We've been the measuring stick because we're the last consensus national champions here. It's time."
Like Longhorns quarterback Vince Young now, Street ran an offense that was nearly unstoppable. Back then, it was the Longhorns' wishbone attack that crushed defenses.
Texas had finished the '68 season on a nine-game winning streak and started '69 ranked No. 4, cruising through their first nine games by an average score of 44-10.
Anticipating a blockbuster end to college football's centennial celebration, the Arkansas game had been moved from its usual midseason matchup to Dec. 6, making it the only game in the country that day.
And when Michigan bumped off top-ranked Ohio State, it set up a championship game between fierce border rivals.
Nixon, an avid football fan, flew in by helicopter to watch.
The game was played amid swirling changes on the field and throughout society.
Despite years of civil rights conflicts and achievements around the country, Texas still had no blacks on its roster. The military had started a new draft lottery system - low numbers meant get ready for Vietnam - and the war drew protesters everywhere, including a small demonstration within view of the stadium on game day.
Arkansas led 7-0 at halftime, then stretched it to 14-0 in the third quarter. Street made it 14-8 with a 42-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion
Then came the play Texas fans will remember forever, whether they actually saw it or not.
On a fourth-and-3, Royal stunned even Street by calling for "53 veer pass," a play that had rarely worked all season.
Street told tight end Randy Peschel to get just enough yards for a first down. "But if you can get behind him, run like hell," he said.
The 44-yard completion set up Jim Bertelsen's winning touchdown. Afterward, Nixon greeted Royal with a plaque proclaiming Texas the national champion - its first title since Royal won in 1963.
Nixon and his entourage worked their way around the small, musty locker room to shake hands with the players, although some didn't realize he was still there, Street said.
"He was walking around like one of the guys. You're a kid, you've just beaten Arkansas, somebody says, `Congratulations' and you say, `Thanks, buddy!' and start slapping backs, not realizing it's the president of the United States," Street said.
"One guy yells out, `Thank you, Mr. President!" Street said. "He says we deserve it and the guy says, `I'm thanking you for my high lottery number!"
At the time, the national champion was picked before the bowl games. But the Longhorns still had to play Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.
"If we don't win that game, we're not talking right now," Street said. "The '69 team is just another real good team."
That game whipped up a frenzy on its own.
Notre Dame was ending its self-imposed 44-year ban on bowl games to play the Longhorns. Street, who said he was raised Catholic, called his mother to tell her who Texas was going to play.
"When I said Notre Dame, there was complete silence," Street said. "I said, `Mom, this is your son. You're pulling for us."'
Texas trailed by three points late in the fourth quarter when Street led the winning drive that converted two fourth downs before Billy Dale's final touchdown won it 21-17.
Texas has come close to national titles since then, but has fallen short each time.
Street's career ended with the win over Notre Dame. The Longhorns were nearly as dominant in 1970, winning their first 10 games before losing in a rematch with the Fighting Irish in the Cotton Bowl.
In 1977, Earl Campbell won the Heisman Trophy and led Texas to an 11-0 record and No. 1 ranking. But Notre Dame again beat the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl.
There was one more undefeated season in 1983. The Longhorns went into the Cotton Bowl ranked No. 2 and likely would have won another title had they not lost to No. 7 Georgia 10-9. A few hours later, Miami upset top-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
That leaves 1969 and the Arkansas game as the high-water mark for Texas football for more than 30 years.
"That's the game everybody still talks about. Even after all this time," Royal said. "It would be nice to win one again."