Memories of "The Big Shootout", 50 years ago (Dec 6, 1969)

The excitement had started in the spring of my sophomore year in High School. Oh, the third Saturday (almost every season) in October was always a big deal. Whether the game was in Fayetteville, Little Rock or Austin. The undisputed Kings of the SWC meeting in a game that routinely matched two top ten teams – if not top 5. And two of the top five coaches in the country. Yeah – Texas vs. Arkansas was THE game of my sports year, every year.

But this was a new twist. There it was, in the Sports section of the El Paso Times, my conduit to Regional and National sports growing up in “The Pass of the North” in the 1960’s: “Texas and Arkansas Move Game to Early December”. I didn’t need any qualification of whether it was a football or basketball game; in those days, football was the ONLY game anyone talked about. There were some quotes in the article from guys named Roone Arledge and Beano Cook about what a good game it promised to be. How they wanted a “Showcase Game” to be the grand finale of College Football’s 100th season.

I well remember the sting of that game the autumn before. The young Razorbacks and their new, high-octane passing attack went to Austin to play a Texas team that appeared to be vulnerable after starting the season with a tie, and then a loss before Darrell Royal performed radical surgery on them, replacing their All-Everything Quarterback (they called him “Super Bill” Bradley) and installing a new offense called the Wishbone. It had worked well enough for them to dump Oklahoma State and then edge Oklahoma (a good but not traditionally strong OU team) coming into the Arkansas game.

But there, Texas first really displayed the dominance that was to be their trademark the next several seasons. With James Street at QB, Steve Woster at Fullback lined up just behind Street, and then halfbacks Chris Gilbert and Ted Koy, the Horns moved the ball almost at will against the Hogs. It was 39-14 before Arkansas scored two late TD’s to make the score a more respectable 39-29 in what was the be Arkansas’ only loss of the season. Neither they, nor Texas lost another game, and both had impressive Bowl wins (Texas over Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl, Arkansas over Georgia in the Sugar). So, it was easy to see what ABC saw in the 1969 match-up. Both teams returned visually all of their play-makers on both sides of the ball.

Older folks (like me) know that in that era, there was ONE (if you were lucky, on rare occasions, TWO) games shown each Saturday. Normally, there were 3 or 4 games showed regionally – ABC decided what game your local affiliate got. A few times each season, the entire nation was treated to just one game across the whole country. And that was it. So, it was a BIG deal to have a game not only broadcast nationally, but to have it MOVED to the final game of the entire season.

My friends and I – an odd combination of Texas, Notre Dame and Air Force (yes, that’s right…Air Force. They actually had some pretty good teams back then) fans, talked and discussed endless narratives for the way that game might play out over the whole summer. There probably was – almost surely – but I don’t remember a day that we didn’t talk about it at least for a few moments. It seemed to be such an even game, on balance – Texas’ irresistible Wishbone against Arkansas’ tremendous defense; Arkansas’ multiple offense against Texas’ talented and big defenders. Good kicking games from both teams. Not good, but EXCELLENT coaching on either side.

Yes – we all knew that defending National Champion Ohio State might repeat. And Penn State was always a threat to go undefeated, playing (at that time) a schedule of almost all weak East Coast teams. But Texas and Arkansas, by that time, had finally received National recognition for what it was – THE best rivalry of the 1960’s. There had been some absolutely epic games played between the two in the early part of the 1960’s that inexplicably were not televised (kind of reminds mo of how long it took TV to catch on the concept that Arkansas and Kentucky MIGHT be a pretty good game to televise when we joined the SEC – but it wasn’t featured on major Network (CBS) until it’s 4th year!), but by the latter half of the 60’s Texas-Arkansas was MUST see TV. And it was clear that if both somehow managed to be undefeated going into the game, there was a chance it would be a game for the ages. You never know for sure, but all of the ingredients were there.

As the season progressed, it became more and more clear that neither team was going to lose before they met each other. Texas’ offense became nearly unstoppable, putting up 69 points on hapless TCU in an era when a 30 point game was considered “high scoring”. Meanwhile the Hogs were holding teams to less than a TD per game. We marked the weeks and days until the game.

I so clearly remember the game right before “The Big Shootout” – a National Broadcast of Arkansas hosting Texas Tech in Little Rock on Thanksgiving Day (only time I ever remember the Hogs playing on Turkey Day). We smothered Tech that day, 33-0 in the cold and rain. One play that sticks in my mind was in the second half, when backup John Eichler – a senior who had started in 1967 before Montgomery gained eligibility as a sophomore in 1968 – was getting some playing time. He dropped to pass and had – literally 8 to 10 seconds to get the ball off – which he did for a completion. Tech couldn’t get past our offensive line to touch him.

I won’t belabor or “replay” the game itself. If you saw it live, you’re all to familiar with the ebb/flow and drama of the game. If you didn’t, you’re probably sick of hearing about them. The only comment or memory of the game itself that I’ll make is a fleeting exchange between my dear, late father and I during the commercial break between the 3rd and 4th quarter. Dad and I always got along well, but we were especially close when it came to Arkansas sports, and Football was what started that, long before Eddie resurrected Basketball or Norm got Baseball going.

With Arkansas holding a 14-0 lead, and Texas having been frustrated by failure and turnovers all day long, Dad turned to me during that break and (famously, at least in our family) said to me “Son…I think we’ve got them!”. I looked at him and said something about hoping he hadn’t jinxed us. As we all know, James Street, facing a third and long from about midfield, dropped back to pass, then scrambled up the middle and broke it for a TD on the very first play of the 4th quarter (and, yes – I did see the uncalled clip in real time). Neither of us said a word – but we both know things had changed and not in a good way.

When the game was over, my Texas fan friend (who lived just around the corner) came over immediately and to his credit, he didn’t boast. He simply acknowledged what a fantastic, dramatic game it had been. And I looked at him and said “This is one game I’ll never forget. If I’m alive 50 years from now, the pain of this one will be as fresh as it is today.”

Sadly, that has turned out to be true.

And, it is particularly ironic and painful to me that as College Football celebrates it’s 150th season, Arkansas is SO irrelevant that we are scarcely ever mentioned in any of the TV broadcasts – and if we are, it’s in a derisive and condescending way. In a year when people should be talking about that game and the two programs involved in it, nary a word has been uttered. Heck, I’ve always assumed that when the day came, there would be a replay with a panel discussion by whoever was still alive that remembered the game first hand. But the game isn’t being replayed on the Longhorn Network, which shows the 2 hour (very poorly edited) version several times a year. Sad indeed.

One last thing. Yes, I know that especially younger fans don’t get why we “olders” hang onto and “glorify” a LOSS like this. I see where they are coming from, not having lived in the moment. But it was such an honor and a proud moment just to BE in the game. When the ENTIRE COUNTRY stopped and focused on (then) little old Fayetteville. The President of the United States came to the game (as did future President George Bush). Billy Graham game the invocation before the game. Heck – even Colonel Sanders was in the stands.

OU and Nebraska played one Hell of a game in 1971 – one of the very best I every watched. Many of the fans from those schools call that game the “Game of the Century”. But the Texas Arkansas “Big Shootout” rightfully claims that title. It was THE very last game of the 100th season of College Football. It was specially moved to that spot by the powers that be exactly because they strongly felt it should and would be the best game of the season. It was #1 vs. #2 for all the marble, with no more games to play.

OU and Nebraska both had games AFTER their epic game. They didn’t lose those games, but they might have. If OU – Nebraska 1971 is to be recognized as “The Game of the Century”, it will have to be in 2069 when the SECOND century of College football concludes. The first century ended in December of 1969, and Texas-Arkansas was THAT century’s “Game of the Century”.

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Good post. It was personal to all of us.

great post!i remember the heartbreak i felt that day and 50 years later…like Frank…i can’t watch an entire replay.i have lost almost all hope for football and really hope whoever the new coach is…will start the process(small steps) for us to once again be relevant on the national stage…and bring either ESPN’s Gameday or SEC Nation back to Fayetteville and ranked in the top 25

My Sr. yr. at UofA. Thank about that. To have that game your Sr. yr. The week became a blurr of everything. School continued on and I made my classes that week, but don’t remember. I remember getting in our cars and forming parades all around campus honking, calling the hogs, and having a great time. Part of that was to go down to the stadium where ABC had people all week and Call the Hogs every night at midnight. They filmed us and put clips of it on during the game.

Those days are what I measure Arkansas Football against and why I cannot even watch the pitiful excuse that is now put on the field wearing a Hog on the Hat. Makes me so sick.

Every Dec. 6, I relive it. I still see critical plays in my mind over and over.

I also hurt for the younger generation of fans who have no idea what it was like. I would go on campuses around the country and when they found out I was from The UofA, they were in awe of having such a program. Now Fayetteville HS could beat the Hogs. People who allowed this to happen should be linned up and shot.

Oh well, it was a great time to be a hog and to go to school in Fayetteville.


You all will want to check out this page, which is going to have several stories on the 50-year anniversary of the Big Shootout. There are already a few stories there and more will appear by tomorrow morning.

Aloha Matt,

I greatly enjoyed reading OH’s game story. I forgot that UT had SIX turnovers. I remember UA’s TD being called back and the interception in the end zone. I’m amazed how well OH’s article was so objective. And he called the Sugar Bowl correctly at the end of the story. Reading the article made me miss OH more than anything. His insight was priceless.

All those are worth the time. Arkansas Razorback football at its finest
in those golden years as Lim Lindsey had spoken. Like Bruce James
in one sense, I am grateful I got to experience it live.

The Shootout was my first live game to attend as an 11 year old & biggest heartbreak of my life. Despite growing up in Houston & surrounded by ut & aTm, 12/06/69 left me a lifelong die-hard Razorback fan.

Regret that my son, now a 3rd generation student at UofA, will never experience the anticipation & significance of the Razorbacks on that day.

Great Post and spot on.
The shoot out was my 1st game to watch on color TV at 10 years old. My dad bought it just for that game. The picture didn’t seem to be 100% clear except for One Play, that 4th down pass TX connected on. That’s when my dad, his coworkers my brother in laws all looked at each and said we are in serious trouble now. Yes the talk about the obvious Non called clipping penalty went on for the next month(s) seems like.
It’s been 50 years but seems like only 50 mins ago sometimes.

Great post, Wiz. I was a senior in HS. My parents were season ticket holders & I was at the game. However, I came up with a group of HS friends who had north EZ tickets. (Yes, there was north ez seating at the time, but that’s another story.)

No one who didn’t experience that season can truly appreciate just how big that game was. No game today can match it because games & seasons today are so different. Almost all games are on TV & there’s always an effort to put the top 2 teams together at the end of the season. What was unique then has become mundane today.

My recurring nightmare: Street to Peschel on fourth and three.

My memory is that my best friend got to go to the game because his dad had been a baseball letterman at UA and had access to tickets. I didn’t so I went to my friend Tony’s house because he had color TV and we didn’t. (If you’ve heard of the evangelist Beth Moore, Tony is her brother; they both grew up about a block from me in Arkadelphia). Couldn’t believe the non-clip, the interception, the pass to Peschel. Devastated when it was over.

My friend who got to go? That game ruined him as a Razorback fan. He said he couldn’t take being disappointed like that. Fifty years later, he’s still not a Hog fan.

Like Frank and others have said…I’ll never watch a replay of that game. I was a freshman in college home for the weekend checking groceries at Wiengartens in Pine Bluff. The store was basically empty during the game. There was a TV in the meat department and we took turns going back there to watch the game with everyone else.

It was devastating then and not much better now.

I highly, highly dislike (spit) EOE-A.

Livin in the past. A game we LOST…

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading every post relating a personal experience with this fabulous game. I was a student at Arkansas Tech and came up to Fayetteville to join my friend Jim, a student at the UofA at that time. He had two student tickets for us, but obviously I didn’t have a UofA student ID – and they were being checked that day.

Jim had played football at Forrest City for Harold Horton, and they had remained in contact. Jim actually called Harold and asked him if he could somehow get us into the game. Harold said, “Yes! Meet me at the south gate before game time and I will let you in.”

True to his word, Coach Horton met us at the appointed time and let us through the gate and into the stadium. I remember so vividly, Harold was very quiet, focused, and determined. I could see that he felt his linebackers were prepared for Texas and that he was confident in them and the team. I was inspired. I was also tremendously appreciative that as busy as he was, and as focused as he was on this important occasion, that he actually took the time to do a favor for one of his former high school players! This is the kind of person that Harold Horton has always been.

By the way, Harold has been the featured speaker at a couple of our Forrest City High School Class of 1968 reunions, and he was and is loved by all.

Jim and I sat near the top of the stadium, in full exposure to the wicked north wind that day. But the cold didn’t matter. We were high enough to watch Nixon’s helicopter land and take off.

It was a fabulous and entertaining game for all the reasons that everyone has already posted. But, my memory is enhanced and elevated by the kindness and loyalty that Harold Horton displayed that day, even as he and his players were about to participate in the Game of the Century. Those truly were the Glory Days of Arkansas Razorback Football.

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I know you don’t like us old dudes. You’ve made that perfect clear. As a matter of fact I’ve never seen one positive post that you have made. However I find you very entertaining. Keep it up. I (for whatever the reason) look forward to hearing from a young grumpy poster.

I was 13. All I remember is bitter, teary disappointment. It would have been less heartbreaking if Street had hit that pass on an earlier down.

I’m 48 and could not care less about a game we lost.

Like I said…a youngster.