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 of far sideline and destiny to defeat the hated (and number-one-ranked) Longhorns. It was the culmination of a brilliant, hard-fought game. With less than a minute and a half to play, Texas had managed to wrest a one-point lead from the pass-happy Red Raiders, who shrugged, marched back down the field, and shocked the world. Harrell’s perfect throw and Crabtree’s improbable escape from two defenders triggered a euphoric mayhem not seen on the South Plains since Buddy Holly and the Crickets rocked the Hi-D-Ho Drive-In. It also catapulted the Red Raiders to a highest-ever-in-school-history number two ranking and, finally, into the national spotlight.
6. Sirr Parker in double overtime
Texas A&M University v. Kansas State University
December 5, 1998 | Trans World Dome, St. Louis
The Texanist loves few things as he loves a good barn burner. Early in this Big 12 Championship it became known that UCLA had been defeated and was pretty much out of national title contention. All the number-one-ranked Wildcats of Kansas State had to do was win this here football game and the invitation was theirs. No problem: After three quarters of play, the Cats were up 27—12. But hold the presses, the Aggies had other ideas, and at the end of regulation the score stood at 27—27. One overtime did nothing but add 3 points to each team’s total. The matter was unresolved. But in the second OT, down 33—30 and faced with a knee-weakening third-and-seventeen, the Aggies caused the Sunflower State to wither with a pretty little slant play. Backup quarterback Branndon Stewart hit white-hot tailback Sirr Parker, who streaked through the Wildcats secondary for a dramatic 32-yard touchdown, a Big 12 title, a Sugar Bowl bid, and the tangy sweetness of playing the upsetter.
7. Texas Special
Texas A&M University v. University of Texas at Austin
November 25, 1965 | Kyle Field, College Station
As anyone who has ever enjoyed a little pre-turkey pigskin with him can attest, the Texanist is a devoted practitioner of gridiron guile. The trickier the play the better. And nothing surpasses this bit of Aggie tomfoolery. The Farmers were outgunned that Thanksgiving Day, but underdogdom can make for an inventive mother. Early in the second quarter Aggies quarterback Harry Ledbetter bounced a pass to wingback Jim Kauffman, who was standing out in the flats, just slightly behind the line of scrimmage. The perfectly executed wounded duck appeared as an incompletion, when in fact it was a lateral. Oscar nominee Kauffman (and the award goes to . . . Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou) caught the one-hopper and proceeded to put on a foot-stomping, head-shaking performance that lasted just long enough for the Horns to go momentarily slack and receiver Ken “Dude” McLean to clear the nearest defender by 15 yards. Kauffman suddenly turned and chunked the ball to a wide-open McLean, who streaked to the end zone for one hell of a touchdown. Ninety-one yards, the longest in Southwest Conference history at that point. In the mind of the Texanist, no Statue of Liberty, flea-flicker, or fumblerooski has since matched the audacious derring-do of the 1965 Aggies and their Texas Special.
8. Steelers Roll Left
University of Texas at Austin v. University of Nebraska
December 7, 1996 | Trans World Dome, St. Louis
Texas quarterback James Brown showed some mighty big pecans on his way to leading the Longhorns to an upset victory over the two-time defending national champion Cornhuskers in the first Big 12 Conference Championship. The dispensers of conventional wisdom had the Longhorns, 7-4 on the season, losing the game by three touchdowns. But before the game, Brown boldly ventured a 21-point victory for his team. The Texanist is loath to put it this way, but it was game on. Jump to late in the fourth quarter, Longhorns barely clinging to a 3-point lead, stalled on their own 28-yard line with a fourth down and inches. Steelers Roll Left, a pass-run option, was the stomach-churning genius from Coach John Mackovic, who had favored the run over the pass. Brown took the snap, turned to his right and then on around, rolling left. The Huskers came, and Longhorns tight end Derek Lewis went. Brown planted and threw. Lewis was brought down 61 yards later on the Huskers’ 10, and great joy was felt all over the Forty Acres. Final score: Texas 37, Nebraska 27.
9. Miracle in Mississippi
Trinity University v. Millsaps College
October 27, 2007 | Harper Davis Field, Jackson, Mississippi
Picture it: The Trinity Tigers are down by two on their own 39-yard line with a shot at the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference title at stake. Two seconds are left on the clock. The Texanist, hungry and assuming the Tigers are toast, goes to the kitchen to roust some grub. Set, hike! Tigers quarterback Blake Barmore connects with Shawn Thompson; Thompson laterals it to Riley Curry; Curry laterals to Josh Hooten; Hooten goes to Michael Tomlin; the Texanist ladles some lukewarm halftime chili over a bed of Fritos; Tomlin finds Stephen Arnold; Arnold back to Thompson; Thompson to Brandon Maddux; the Texanist scrapes some dregs from the grated-cheese bowl; Maddux back to Curry; Curry back to Maddux; Maddux back to Barmore; the Texanist sprinkles chopped onion over the top; Barmore back to Thompson; Thompson back to Curry; the Texanist garnishes with jalapeño; Curry back to Tomlin; Tomlin back to Hooten; Hooten back to Maddux; the Texanist pops the top off a cold libation; oh, no, Maddux fumbles! Wait, Curry recovers it at the Millsaps 34. Curry has it. He picks up a block, he’s running it in! Touchdown Trinity! The Texanist returns to the couch, having completely missed the most amazing 62 seconds in Division III history. Tigers win 28—24!
10. Bench Tackle
Rice University v. University of Alabama
January 1, 1954 | Cotton Bowl, Dallas
The Texanist thought that Kyle Field, in College Station, had claim to the Twelfth Man, but it’s the Cotton Bowl, in Dallas, that is his actual home. At least it was in the second quarter of the 1954 Cotton Bowl, which had the Rice Owls facing Alabama’s Crimson Tide. Rice’s star running back, Dickey Moegle (now spelled Maegle), had hung a 79-yard touchdown on the Tide six minutes earlier, and after breaking loose on a nifty little sweep, he was hotfooting it down the sideline on his way to a 95-yarder when college football history was made. As Moegle blew past midfield, fullback Tommy Lewis, who had been seated on the Alabama bench, suddenly found that his enthusiasm had become unbridled and, without bothering to don his headgear (or review a copy of the American football book of rules), charged onto the field and brought Moegle down with a ferocious block. Moegle was awarded the touchdown; Rice won the game handily, 28—6; and Moegle and Lewis made an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show a few days later. Though Lewis’s malpractice can hardly be called great, 55 years after the fact it is still one of college football’s most unforgettably bizarre moments.