Bill Little commentary: Spirit makes you play better than you can
It was arguably the biggest game in Baylor history, and in a Longhorns-Bears series that had been sprinkled with wounded hearts, this was one of the unkindest cuts of all.
The season of 1953 brought great hope for Baylor, and it was also an important time for Texas coach Ed Price. The Bears hadn't won a Southwest Conference title since 1924.
Twelve years before, in 1941, Baylor had delivered a death blow to Texas' National Championship hopes when they stunned the Longhorns in a 7-7 tie. The Bears had given up football during the World War II years of 1943 and 1944, but by the end of that decade, the Wacoans had returned some respect and a couple of national rankings for the Green and Gold.
But still, for almost 30 years, they had come up empty in a quest for a Southwest Conference title.
Texas was young in 1953, but Price had some excellent sophomores. The Longhorns had finished the 1952 season with a league championship and a 16-0 victory over Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl. By November 7, 1953, however, Texas had losses to LSU, Oklahoma and Rice. Baylor, on the other hand, had skyrocketed to No. 3 in the nation in both The Associated Press and the UPI Coaches' polls.
The Bears, coached for the fourth year of the six-year reign of George Sauer, were 6-0, with two home games -- a non-conference match-up with Houston, an SWC game with SMU, and a season finale road game with Rice.
Oddsmakers were a bit more clandestine than today where local papers dutifully run the gambling odds each day, but those who knew a bookie were aware that the Bears were expected to win by anywhere from one to two touchdowns.
Texas fans even turned to the greatest whammy in school lore by bringing back the "Red Candles" to glow spirit. The candles had first appeared in 1941. After the Longhorns had been tied by Baylor and beaten the next week by TCU, Texas had to face the challenge of playing arch rival Texas A&M in College Station's Kyle Field, where the Longhorns had never won.
A group of students sought the counsel of a local fortuneteller, Mrs. Augusta Hipple, who told them to "burn red candles." The idea caught on, the candles burned, and Texas won in College Station.
The hex was retired until 1950, when SMU came into Austin ranked No. 1 in the country. The student body rallied again, burned the candles again, and UT beat SMU, 23-20.
So now, here they were, three years later, facing another highly-ranked foe.
It is important to understand the times. Texas had achieved national attention in the late 1940s under D. X. Bible, and Blair Cherry and Price had been good, if not great. In Waco, the city was recovering from one of the state's greatest tragedies, a tornado which struck in the spring and left the city on the brink of collapse.
Baylor Lariat sports editor, Don Aly, likened the year to that 1941 season, when Texas hopes had been dashed.
"Will they (the Bears) defeat the Horns and keep the record intact, or will Texas hit the gridiron with blood in their eyes and say, `No go?' Which team will have that determination that the Baylor team possessed back in 1941?"
Tuesday morning, November third, the student newspaper The Daily Texan broke out a call for the burning of the almost forgotten Red Candles.
Bill McReynolds, managing editor of The Daily Texan, told of the prediction, about the candles, and how Texas beat A&M ... and then how a No. 1 SMU team with Kyle Rote fell.
But the candles were not the only thing going for UT.
Pep rallies were scheduled, but Wednesday night, Austin exploded. The Texan's front page was remade at 1 a.m. and carried banners of "Campus Goes Wild With Frenzied Rallies," and "Red-Hot Rallies to Climax `Bring Us a Bear Skin Spirit.'"
Midnight conga lines down Congress Avenue, and a march on the Governor's Mansion started the downtown action, while the UT area saw visits to dorms in mass charges.
Jack Holland, dean of student life, appeared to halt a rally in what was then the "tri-dorm" area just north of the main campus, and was greeted with, "to the fountain with Dean Holland."
Friday rallies even broke into downtown theaters where yells were led from the stages. Texas' greatest football effort was being called for by its fans.
Jinx Tucker, sports editor of the Waco News-Tribune, ridiculed McReynolds' call for candles.
"We make mention of the silly superstition because it is the first time in my knowledge that The Daily Texan and Longhorn followers have ever done anything to try to get Baylor over the hill against Texas."
But Tucker's bitterness could not prevail.
Time magazine said it best: "The Red Candles are the most potent whammy in Texas tradition, and nothing to be lightly invoked." The magazine mentioned a move at Baylor to try to find green candles.
All of this leads us to the game itself.
All-American end Carlton Massey, quarterback Charley Brewer and the kicks of Phil Branch combined for the big plays of the day and a 21-20 Texas victory. Brewer's passes helped produce all three touchdowns, but it took a great tumbling catch by Gilmer Spring to send Texas in with a halftime lead. Spring grabbed a 21-yard pass before falling out of bounds at the two, and sophomore Delano Womack punched in for the touchdown.
Massey had made the play of the day in the first quarter, when he blocked future College Football Hall of Famer Jim Ray Smith's extra point attempt. Some of the greatest players in Baylor history, Cotton Davidson, L.G. Dupre, Jerry Coody and Allen Jones were on the team, but Texas held on during the final 10:40 of the game to win.
They say that during a game-ending, five-minute drive, Texas called time out and a sudden silence fell over the stands as the UT players huddled to ask for divine help. And it is a fact that Jinx Tucker, Baylor's greatest advocate, died a few weeks after the game.
Folks said he died of a broken heart.
Baylor lost to both Houston and Rice and finished 7-3 on the season and 4-2 in the SWC. Texas finished 7-3 as well, but was 5-1 and tied for first in the Southwest Conference.
The captains of the Texas team wrote a letter to McReynolds after the game.
"The student body and faculty did so much last week in contributing to our success over Baylor...we would like to express appreciation to them through The Texan. At the same time, we, the co-captains of the team, would like to tell you how thoroughly and genuinely we appreciated the efforts made by your publication in getting us mentally set to defeat one of the nation's finest football teams.
"The victory over Baylor will always hold special significance for us. For it was more than just a team victory. It was a school victory, achieved through the combined efforts of the players, coaches, students, faculty, and everyone associated with The University of Texas football team."
Baylor would not win the Southwest Conference until 21 years later, making it a half-century between league titles for the Bears.
Tomorrow, the Bears are the decided underdog, but both teams enter the contest with a 2-0 Big 12 record, and in this day of parity in college football, nothing is ever certain.
But long ago, Texas beat Baylor here with a blocked extra point and an amazing collection of support, from Red Candles to rallies.
"Spirit," said 1953 fullback Dougal Cameron, "makes you play better than you can."