The announcement by the National Football Foundation that former Longhorns offensive tackle Jerry Sisemore will be inducted in to the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday was welcome but not surprising news to Coach Darrell Royal. Each year, Royal gives his input to the honors committee considering the greats of the game and Sisemore was at the top of his list.
In the greats of the Royal era, most folks would reel off the names of Earl Campbell and Tommy Nobis as Royal's two premier players, but when it came to offensive tackle — and this is where it gets tough — Sisemore would likely get the nod. The reason it is a hard call is multiple. Beginning with Don Talbert in 1961 and carrying through Bob McKay (1969), Bobby Wuensch (1969-70), Sisemore (1971-72) and Bob Simmons (1974-75), Royal and his offensive line gurus Willie Zapalac and Leon Manley produced five players who earned All-America honors eight times. And that doesn't even include a two-way tackle like Scott Appleton. It is not hard to see the legacy that Leonard Davis and Mike Williams, the most recent Longhorns All-Americans, are joining.
Before there was extensive weight training and recruiting services went bonkers over every high school star, Sisemore came quietly out of Plainview, Texas, to be one of the greatest offensive linemen the college game has ever seen. He was a rarity in the days when recruits were courted for months. Sisemore didn't visit another school. He made his choice in the fall and, thus, became a Longhorn. Freshmen weren't eligible in those days, but Sisemore became a starter as a sophomore in 1970 and earned consensus All-America honors as a junior and senior.
He was the third selection in the 1973 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles and stayed there his entire 12-year NFL career. Sisemore also earned a trip to the Pro Bowl three times from 1980-82.
In an era when some of his teammates started in the offensive line weighing 205 pounds, Sisemore was a mobile monster, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing more than 250 pounds. He set new standards in the powerful wishbone offense. Once, in a game against SMU, the press box spotter John Sobieski casually commented after a significant Longhorns running play, "Sisemore knocked down five guys on that play."
At his postgame press conference, one of the writers asked Royal about the note, which was included in the official play-by-play.
"He's really good, but I doubt if he did that," Royal said. "We'll have to look at the films."
Sure enough, the film (they didn't have video tape back then) verified Sobieski's observation. In fact, Sisemore had knocked one SMU defender down twice on the play.
There were many other important moments in Sisemore's Longhorns career, but perhaps the most memorable came in Waco in a key Southwest Conference game with Baylor during his senior season of 1972. There was a chill in the air and a chill in the hearts of Texas fans 30 years ago during that contest.
Grant Teaff's first Baylor team had played mighty Texas on even terms — the score was tied at three. In fact, the Texas offense had gained only 128 yards through the first three quarters of the game. The run-oriented offense had been stymied, and as the fourth quarter neared, the Longhorns were about to have to drive the final period into a stiff southerly wind.
On the sidelines, Sisemore knew the problem. The powerful offensive tackle had sprained an ankle covering a quick kick in the first half and was out of the game. As the tension mounted and Baylor hopes began to soar with the thought of the aiding wind, Sisemore went to trainer Frank Medina, pointed to his ankle and said, "tape it."
One roll of tape and Sisemore tried to run. "More tape," he said. Finally after several sessions of wrapping, he went to the coaches and said, "I think I can go."
As the fourth quarter began, UT started on its own 30-yard line, and as the Longhorns took the field, there was Sisemore, half limping, half stalking his way onto the field. In his white uniform and the heavy tape, he looked something like the abominable snowman cast against the gray November sky.
As Texas broke the huddle and headed into the wind, it was as if he said, "come on, boys, we're going this way."
Behind quarterback Alan Lowry was Roosevelt Leaks. In front of him was Sisemore.
With Sisemore leading the blocking and Leaks leading the running game, the Longhorns drove 70 yards in 10 plays, taking almost five minutes off the clock, to score a touchdown that gave UT a 10-3 lead.
However, Baylor still was within range.
With six minutes and 14 seconds left in the game and a full stadium cheering on the Bears, UT got the ball way back at its own 15-yard line. Sisemore lifted his big frame off the bench and headed back on to the field.
With Leaks and Lowry as the only ball carriers, the Longhorns began pounding south. Finally at the Baylor two, Leaks followed Sisemore into the end zone for the touchdown that sealed the game. It was the 17th play of a drive that had taken more than six minutes. Only 10 seconds remained in the game.
In the fourth quarter, Texas never threw a pass. Baylor, with a strong wind to its back, ran only eight plays the entire period. The Longhorns gained 168 yards in the final period, with Leaks carrying the ball an incredible 22 times for 110 yards.
Some call it courage. Some call it intestinal fortitude. Some call it guts. Those of us who were there probably would prefer to call it will. As Sisemore came back on the field that day, that was what we saw.
That is why in December, right there in the ballroom of the storied Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, Jerry Sisemore of Plainview, Texas, and The University of Texas Longhorns, will enter the College Football Hall of Fame.