1. Right 53 Veer Pass
University of Texas at Austin v. University of Arkansas
December 6, 1969 | Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas
Sometimes the game rises to the occasion. In 1969 college football was celebrating its centennial, and the de facto national championship was no mere sporting event. The Reverend Billy Graham gave the invocation, and Tricky Dick Nixon was on hand to present a plaque to the winners of the “game of the century” (a brash claim with thirty years still to go, but no matter; the Texanist is all for brash claims). The undefeated number one Texas Longhorns were facing off against the undefeated number two Arkansas Razorbacks on a nice frosty December afternoon. After three quarters of play, the score stood 14—0 in favor of the Razorbacks, but the Horns arose in the fourth, when quarterback James Street ran 42 yards for a touchdown. After a two-point conversion, the score was 14—8. With 4:47 left to play and the Longhorns facing a fourth-and-three from their own 43-yard line, Coach Darrell Royal, who had made his name with the hard-driving wishbone offense, called Right 53 Veer Pass. The game hung in the balance. Texas sent just one receiver deep: senior tight end Randy Peschel. Nada or the whole enchilada (the Texanist recommends the enchilada). The seconds between the snap and Peschel’s being tackled at the Arkansas 13 may be the goose-bumpiest in Longhorns history. Two plays later Texas scored on a run, and kicker Happy Feller sealed it, 15—14 Texas.
(Skip to the 2:15 mark to see the play.)
2. The $85,000 Pass
Southern Methodist University v. Texas Christian University
November 30, 1935 | Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth
On a bright fall day in 1935, Goliath made the acquaintance of Goliath, as the top two teams in the land, both unbeaten, met on the greensward of football history in a pre—face mask clash. Betwixt the Texas Christians of Cowtown and Big D’s Southern Methodists there were few friendly feelings. At stake: the Southwest Conference title and a Rose Bowl bid. A six-year-old Dan Jenkins was in attendance and would later claim that nothing surpassed the thrill of this effortful contest until his first car date. Going into the fourth quarter, with the score tied and a little more than eight minutes left to play, on fourth down and four at TCU’s 39, play-caller Jack Rabbit Smith arranged for some well-timed subterfuge. Bob Finley, who was both the quarterback and the punter, faked a punt and then hefted a pass more than 45 yards in the air to a double-covered Bobby Wilson, who scored with a miraculous reception. The completion came to be known as the $85,000 Pass, since it sent the Mustangs to the Rose Bowl, where, though they fell to Stanford, they took home a nice little loser’s purse of 85 grand.
(Skip to the 1:40 mark to see the play.)
3. Lateral to Kimbrough
Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (Texas A&M University) v. Tulane University
January 1, 1940 | Sugar Bowl (Tulane Stadium), New Orleans
“Jarrin’ ” John Kimbrough finished his time on the striped collegiate sod in spectacular fashion. The 1939 Aggies had gone undefeated in the regular season, and they entered the 1940 Sugar Bowl as the best team in the country. The Tulane Green Wave, who were ranked fifth, enjoyed home field advantage, but any field containing the six-two, 210-pound Kimbrough had a way of tilting in his favor. Like the Texanist upon exiting a French Quarter daiquiri emporium, the game went back and forth. In the first quarter, Jarrin’ John scored from the 1; the Green Wave returned the favor in the third, with two touchdowns, but a blocked extra point left the boys from the Big Easy feeling uneasy at 13—7. In the fourth came the play: From the Tulane 26, Aggies quarterback Charles “Cotton” Price connected with Herbert Smith, who made it to the 15 before lateraling to Jarrin’ John, who brushed off two defenders like gnats (burly gnats, mind you) on his way to the end zone and the Aggies’ one and only national championship, 14—13 Aggies. Kimbrough went on to star in two westerns, serve in the Texas Legislature, and find his due in the lofty annals of the Texanist’s top ten list.
(Skip to the 2:15 mark to see the play.)
University of Texas at Austin v. University of Southern California
January 4, 2006 | Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
The fact that this one looked so easy should not detract from its greatness. Mozart had a pretty smooth time of it with his sonatas; Da Vinci allegedly freehanded perfect geometric circles for fun; the Texanist, as anyone who has ever crossed his path at an all-you-can-eat catfish parlor will confirm, can put away nine filets without popping a sweat (or a button). Coming into the 2005 national title game, the peerless Vince Young had amassed a 29-2 record as a starter and already gained fame for his breathtaking athleticism. His opponents, however, had played 34 games (2 for national championships) without defeat, boasted two Heisman winners, and were ranked number one across the boards. With USC up 38—33 and just 2:09 left on the game clock, Young marched the Longhorns 48 yards, down to the Trojans’ 8-yard line, only to stall out and face a fourth-and-five with 26 seconds left. Thirty-five years since UT’s last national championship, here it was: show time. Young took the snap from the shotgun, saw no target, and—heck, what’s the big deal?—just waltzed into the end zone like Fred Astaire.
5. The Crabtree Catch
Texas Tech University v.University of Texas at Austin
November 1, 2008 | Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock
Greatness can sometimes be a fleeting thing. A great football play need not always lead to a national or conference championship. Sometimes it is enough to achieve the most thrilling upset in school history and bring unimaginable joy to 56,333 fans, as did sticky-handed sophomore sensation Michael Crabtree and senior quarterback Graham Harrell when, with eight seconds left on the clock, they connected at the intersection