National Championship moments: 1963 Football
After a handful of near misses in the pursuit of a national title, the Longhorns finally claimed their first football crown in 1963.
Following two seasons that saw Texas flirt with its first National Championship, the Longhorns opened the 1963 campaign as the No. 1 team in the nation according to Sports Illustrated and Street & Smith's Football Yearbook. The Associated Press did not agree and forced UT to work its way up the ladder with a preseason No. 5 ranking.
After a pair of decisive season-opening wins at Tulane (21-10) and against Texas Tech (49-7), UT rapidly climbed to No. 2 in the AP Poll's. Texas held that position after a 34-7 win against Oklahoma State, setting the stage for a battle for the nation's top spot in the annual Red River Rivalry with No. 1 Oklahoma.
No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Texas met in what at the time was called the "Game of the Century." The Texas ground game, with Tommy Ford carrying the ball, led the Longhorns to a 14-0 halftime lead. UT picked up where it left off in the second half and cruised to a 28-7 win. A large crowd of fans greeted the Longhorns in Austin following the win. Darrell Royal was named UPI "Coach of the Week" and Scott Appleton earned The AP "Lineman of the Week" honors for his 18-tackle performance against the Sooners.
The win against the Sooners rocketed the Longhorns to No. 1, and they maintained their ranking through the remainder of the regular season. It wasn't all easy, though. In their first week at No. 1, UT nearly blew a 17-0 halftime lead in a 17-13 win at Arkansas and received another scare in a 7-0 win against Baylor three weeks later in Austin.
In the biggest play of the season, Duke Carlisle made a sensational leaping interception of what looked like a sure last-minute, game-tying Baylor touchdown pass. With 29 seconds remaining in the game and Baylor at the Texas 19-yard line, Bears quarterback Don Trull dropped back looking for his favorite target, Lawrence Elkins. Running a post pattern, Elkins eluded UT's Joe Dixon and looked to be wide open as he approached the goal line. It was then that Carlisle, who had covered nearly 15 yards since the ball left Trull's hand, closed on Elkins to make the miraculous interception. "Thank you, Duke. You saved my life," Dixon said to Carlisle after the game.
The Longhorns avoided another upset attempt in a 15-13 victory at Texas A&M, scoring the winning touchdown on a Carlisle 1-yard plunge with 1:19 remaining in the game. UT entered the fourth quarter trailing 13-3, but recovered in time for the late game heroics.
Since there was no Associated Press postseason poll, Texas went into its Cotton Bowl matchup against No. 2 Navy with the AP national title already secured, but the Football Writers Association and the Helms Foundation withheld naming a National Champion until after the game. The Midshipmen were expected to provide a formidable test behind the multi-talented skills of junior quarterback Roger Staubach, the season's Heisman Trophy winner.
Texas jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead, and behind standout defenders Tommy Nobis and Scott Appleton, frustrated the scrambling Staubach. The Longhorns flourished behind a memorable performance by Carlisle, who was voted the outstanding back of the game. He connected with Phil Harris on 58-yard and 63-yard scoring tosses while rolling up 213 passing yards and 267 total yards on the day. UT secured a consensus National Championship with a decisive 28-6 win.
"I've never seen a team which deserved to be No. 1 more than Texas," Navy head coach Wayne Hardin said after the game. "Texas was just the best we've played. That's all. Staubach didn't play as well as usual, but I imagine Texas had a lot to do with that."
Appleton earned consensus All-America and All-Southwest Conference honors, Ford rushed for 738 yards and earned All-America and All-SWC recognition. Nobis was a consensus All-SWC pick and the American Football Coaches Association tabbed Royal as its Coach of the Year. Appleton, Ford and center David McWilliams served as captains for the Longhorns, who finished with a perfect 11-0 record and 7-0 mark in SWC play.