Bill Little commentary: Remembering the past, celebrating the present
They are all gone now, with their tattered jerseys and distant memories.
Heroes of the game, legends of the fall -- all tucked away in record books and faded picture books.
The Texas-TCU series, until the Longhorns put together a string of 27 victories in the last 28 games, was the most competitive for Texas in the history of the Southwest Conference. In the window of time from 1929 through 1967, Texas had won 20 and TCU had won 19 games.
By comparison, Texas had dominated its archrival, Texas A&M. In 27 games from 1940 through 1966, Texas won 24 times, the Aggies only twice, and there was one tie.
The Texas-TCU series showcased some of the greatest players in the Southwest Conference history. Quarterbacks? The Frogs had Sammy Baugh and Davey O'Brien. Texas had Bobby Layne. The Frogs had running backs in Jim Swink and Jack Spikes. Texas had Jimmy Saxton, Pete Layden and Jack Crain. Those were the names of their day.
Dutch Meyer and Abe Martin were the Frog coaches against the likes of Bible, Cherry, Price and Royal for Texas.
All of that we can read, if we dust off the record books.
There were the heartbreaks -- when TCU ended Texas' chance for an unbeaten season and knocked the Horns out of contention for a possible National Championship in 1941, 1959, and 1961.
But perhaps the best memory, from the Texas point of view, concerns a Longhorn legend who will never make the Hall of Fame, unless they start one for wonderful people.
Rooster Andrews came to Texas as a manager in 1941, and when many of his classmates left after that season when World War II started, Rooster became known as the "All-American water boy." He was the team manager for D.X. Bible's teams from 1942 through 1944, and during practice, he developed a skill of drop kicking a football.
The drop kick, where a player would drop the ball and then kick it after it bounced, was a weapon in the game years before, but by the 1940s, most folks kicked the ball out of a holder's assist. In 1942 TCU had handed the Longhorns one of their two defeats in a 9-2 season, a 13-7 upset in Fort Worth.
It was "payback" time when the Frogs visited Austin in 1943. The Longhorns were on their way to a 7-1-1 and a No. 14 final AP ranking when TCU rolled into Memorial Stadium in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
Revenge is a strong emotion, and Bible, who was famous for tapping emotion, had his team primed for the contest. Late in the game, as the Longhorns were on their way to a 46-7 shellacking of the hapless Frogs, Texas had put yet another touchdown on the board.
"Who wants to join the contest?" asked Bible as he was emptying his bench.
"I do!" said the excited Andrews, the team manager.
Bible looked at Rooster's diminutive barely five-foot frame and said, "You might win it! You might win it!"
And so it was that Rooster Andrews, who would go on to become one of the most beloved figures in Texas athletics history, ran onto the field and dropped kicked an extra point through the goal posts against the Frogs.
The Texas crowd went wild.
"Everybody was happy," Rooster recalled in the new book "What It Means To Be A Longhorn." "Except for Dutch Meyer, the TCU coach. He was insulted that Mr. Bible put the water boy in the game. Boy, was he upset."
Meyer, who would later become a good friend of Rooster's, even wrote Andrews a letter chastising him for kicking the extra point.
Meyer's Frogs, which had won the National Championship behind O'Brien in 1938, went on to win the Southwest Conference the next season in 1944.
After the Frogs were dominant with Swink in the mid 1950s and had several notable upsets of good Darrell Royal teams in the late 1950s and 1960s, the tide turned in 1968. Riding the Wishbone to a 30-game winning streak, Texas beat the Frogs, 47-21 in 1968, 69-7 in 1969 and 58-0 in 1970.
Perhaps the most poignant time in the series came the next year. After struggling through four seasons following Martin's retirement after the 1966 season, the Horned Frogs hired Jim Pittman, who had been a popular assistant to Royal both before and after his arrival at Texas.
Pittman, who had left an assistant coaching position at Texas to become head coach at Tulane took the TCU job in 1971, and his return to Austin with his Horned Frogs team was looked to as a chance for respect for the people of the Purple. But it was not to be. On October 30, during a game against Baylor in Waco, in the seventh game of his TCU career, Jim Pittman died on the sidelines. Two weeks before that meeting with Texas would have occurred, Pittman's TCU career ended with a 3-3-1 record. His assistant, Billy Tohill, coached TCU as the Longhorns fought off an emotional effort to prevail, 17-6.
As Jim Wacker tried to get things going at TCU in the mid-1980s, Texas won the only showdown of the era, defeating the Frogs, 44-23 in 1984 in Fort Worth in a game where the Longhorns were ranked No. 10 nationally and TCU was ranked No. 12.
TCU finally broke the long Texas domination of the later era with a 23-14 victory in 1992, but the long winning streak put the record of the two with Texas holding a decidedly lopsided edge at 60-20-1.
It is a series that dates back 110 years, to the time in 1897 when the Longhorns beat a small school in Waco named Add-Ran College, 18-10. Add-Ran would eventually move to Fort Worth, and change its name to Texas Christian University.
More than a century later, this year's game almost completes a Longhorn memory tour through the mine fields of old Southwest Conference foes. Since the league split after the 1995 season, Texas has played Arkansas, Houston, Rice, and now TCU. Only the SMU Ponies, who have been courted as an opponent but the schedules haven't meshed, remains part of a series dormant since the end of the Southwest Conference.
This will be the first time the two teams have entered a game both ranked among college football's elite in 27 years, since that showdown in Fort Worth in 1984. The Frogs bring a powerhouse to Austin, a collection of talent befitting a school that has a rich history against the Longhorns. And with this brief revival of the rivalry, it is a good time to celebrate the present for both schools, and it gives us a chance to remember those who made it famous a very long time ago.