Bill Little commentary: The quarterback's tale
STILLWATER, Okla. -- The scene was a function which included the coaching staffs of Texas and USC just prior to the Rose Bowl, and Sally Brown was part of a conversation involving several people -- a conversation that had focused on the many great attributes of Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart.
Realizing that the conversation had been dominated by the Californians, a well-meaning observer turned to Sally and said, "Yes, and I understand that you have a pretty good little quarterback, too...."
Sally's quarterback -- and the quarterback for all of Texas, of course -- was Vince Young.
It was not the first time, nor will it be the last time, that significant quarterbacks have been underestimated. In fact, it happened once in game involving Texas and Oklahoma A&M, back before the college in Stillwater had become a university known as Oklahoma State.
The season was 1946, and the Cowboys -- they were known as the Aggies then -- had not lost a game to a college team in two years. Bob Fenimore was the star of the team from Oklahoma, and he was a two time all-American. He had led the folks from Stillwater to an 8-1 record in 1944 and a 9-0 record in 1945.
During that unbeaten season of 1945, he had led the nation in total offense and rushing, ranked seventh in punting and 13th in scoring. His career passing total of 2,315 yards still ranks in the top 10 of the best ever for Oklahoma State, and so does his rushing total of 2,299. He was the consummate player in the traditional single wing offense.
It had been two years since the Longhorns had played Oklahoma A&M, and UT's answer to Fenimore was still seething over a 13-8 loss.
Those who were there tell the story of a barber shop on The Drag in the latter days of World War II, where an unsuspecting Longhorns fan was -- I know this will surprise you -- second guessing an ill-advised interception that helped Oklahoma A&M erase an 8-0 Texas lead.
Picture, if you will, the old-timey barber chair, with the individual reclining and the old barber shaving his face, moving a damp wet towel just enough to perform his handiwork.
"He just shouldn't have thrown the ball," said the frustrated fan again.
From the barber chair, a neatly trimmed blonde haired young man, pulled off the towel and stared straight at the critic.
"Listen, pal," he said emphatically. "You've had a whole weekend to think about this. If I had had that much time, I wouldn't have thrown the ball, either."
His name was Bobby Layne.
Two years later, Layne was back from a stint in the Merchant Marines. Like Vince Young, he had emerged on the national college football scene in a bowl game. In the 1945 Cotton Bowl, Layne had accounted for every point in the Longhorns' 40-27 victory over Missouri.
In the Texas version of the single wing, Layne was listed as a fullback on a veteran team that had just beaten Missouri, 42-0, and Colorado, 76-0. This, of course, was long before the days of the Big 12, so the upcoming game with Oklahoma A&M was touted as a real non-conference showdown in the Southwest that could have national implications.
Fenimore was the star of an Oklahoma A&M team that had emerged as a power during the war. Under the tutelage of their coach Jim Lookabaugh, the Oklahomans had a string of victories over college teams that extended back into the final games of the 1943 season. The only blemish on the streak had been a 21-21 tie with Arkansas the week before the Texas game in 1946.
Fenimore had injured a leg in that Arkansas game, but even so, the Texas-Oklahoma A&M contest was billed as the nation's "game of the week" and the national magazine, Collier's, had a story on Lookabaugh and the Oklahomans that made them sound as formidable as ever.
Just as he had in 1944, Fenimore appeared to take command of the game at the beginning. He intercepted a pass and directed a short touchdown drive, and Oklahoma A&M was ahead, 6-0.
That was when the 1940s version of Texas' "pretty good little quarterback" took over. Layne scored on runs of 8, 28 and 2 in the second quarter while Fenimore had to leave the game because of his injury. At the start of the second half, Layne had a 74-yard touchdown run, and from there, Texas coach Dana X. Bible sent in the reserves in a 54-6 romp.
The comparison between the two stars really wasn't fair because of Fenimore's injury, but that didn't stop a Fort Worth sports writer from saying, "If Fenimore is All-American, Layne is All-Universe."
So impressive was the victory, the nation's writers ranked Texas No. 1 in the first Associated Press poll of the season. That lofty tribute was short-lived, however, in a media world dominated at the time by Eastern sports writers. The next week, Texas managed only a 20-13 victory over Oklahoma in front of a record crowd, and tumbled to third behind Army and Notre Dame in the next poll.
The Longhorns went on to finish the season 8-2, and Oklahoma A&M never recovered, falling to a 3-7-1 record -- thus ending the greatest era in school history.
It's been 60 years since that time, and this weekend's battle will feature another couple of quarterbacks who are making a statement for their school. Fenimore and Layne have the advantage of history, but today, Colt McCoy of Texas and Zac Robinson of Oklahoma State will lead their respective teams into the arena in a game that will likely eliminate the hopes of one of the two in the Big 12 South Division race.
Bob Fenimore and Bobby Layne have the advantage of the perspective of time as two of the greatest players ever in the game, and their story is told only in the history books and by the few remaining who saw them. As for Colt McCoy and Zac Robinson, they are in the midst of building their own legacies, in their own time. And one day, history will tell their story.