When you have a busy weekend of Texas football, it is interesting to realize that as big as something is, a common thread can usually be found.
Nov. 4, 2011
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
Every now and then, when you have a busy weekend of Texas football, it is interesting to realize that as big as something is, a common thread can usually be found. For Saturday's events in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium surrounding the Longhorns' game with Texas Tech, Mike Cotten is that thread.
When this 2011 team was practicing in August to prepare for the season, I remember watching the new excitement in the innovative offense and attacking defense and commenting to former coach Darrell Royal, "This team will remind you of your 1961 team."
To which he replied, "Well, that's a good start."
Saturday, the 1961 Longhorn team will hold its 50th anniversary reunion. For those who saw it, and for those who coached it, many believe it was the best of all of Royal's great teams. It was his first to achieve a No. 1 national ranking, and only a stunning 6-0 upset by TCU here in Austin kept it from being the first National Championship team in Texas football history. In an era where players played both offense and defense, it scored 303 points (despite the shutout) and allowed only 66. In fact, only one team - Texas Tech in a 42-14 loss - scored more than one touchdown against the UT defense.
In an era where points were usually hard to come by, it hammered most of its opponents. Its 12-7 win over a highly regarded Ole Miss team in the Cotton Bowl produced Royal's first bowl win in his 20-year career.
Mike Cotten was the quarterback of that team.
Cotten had already had success against Texas Tech, throwing two 50-plus yard touchdown passes in 1960, when the Longhorns defeated the Raiders in Tech's first-ever Southwest Conference game. The 42 points against the Raiders were the most UT scored against any opponent in that banner year of 1961.
That win, incidentally, really launched the Royal era in the 1960s. Using an innovative winged-T offense which employed a line alignment called the "flip-flop," the offense not only baffled opponents, it captured the interest of the Texas fan base. It was a "score from anywhere" offense that was built on the concept of the strong running game to which Royal always adhered.
The difference, of course, in the 2011 team is that Royal's 1961 team was filled with veterans. So where this young team is 5-2 and getting better, that one came into the year with a solid base of experience. What we saw last weekend, when the Longhorns rushed for 441 yards, is a calling card of the fundamental base Mack Brown and his staff are seeking. They want to be balanced between the run and the pass, but they want to establish the power running game that has been missing in the UT attack for the last several years. But there is no question that the intriguing possibilities for this Texas team is akin to the excitement felt for Texas football in 1961.
Cotten links the final piece of Saturday's activities as well, and that is the observance of Veterans Recognition Day. When Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was built in 1924 it was a monument to Texans who had served in what was known as "The Great War" - which is what World War I was known as at the time. The legend of the fall of Texas football had, for years, gone on to serve their country honorably in the years that would follow.
But by the time Mike Cotten and those players on the 1961 team were leaving college, the conflict in Vietnam had begun. With a commitment to military service on his life plan, Mike had entered a Marine Corps program during his freshman year at Texas. When he graduated, he entered UT Law School, and in 1965 he went on active duty as an officer. He rose to the rank of captain in Vietnam, and returned to a law practice in Austin at the end of his service stint.
Cotten remembers the excitement around the 1961 team, and likes what he sees from the 2011 Longhorns. The ball control game fits the memories of the Longhorns which Cotten captained, but the depth is also similar. In an era where there were no recruiting numbers limitations, Texas had three full teams which alternated - a similar philosophy to offensive coordinator's reasoning for having packages which involved almost every player at some point in the game.
The 1961 team was the genesis of what would become the domination by Texas of the early 1960s. The sophomores (freshmen were not eligible then) on that team would finish their college careers with a National Championship in 1963, and would leave Texas with an amazing three-year record of 30-2-1.
When the Stadium Veterans Committee was formed in 1996, Cotten was one of the original members.
Saturday, he will gather with his former teammates at 9 a.m. in the "T" Room in the stadium, then hustle down to the field to be with the committee for pre-game ceremonies. That done, he will head to his seat to watch the modern era Longhorns.
For Cotten and his teammates, it seems hard to believe that it has been half a century since they carved their niche in the stadium. For the Longhorns of 2011, it is about seeking a sixth win, and continuing to rebuild their destiny, brick by brick.
But for the Wounded Warriors and other service personnel who are guests at the game, and for Mike Cotten and all of the Veterans Committee, this day is about memories far beyond the field. The meaning of the Memorial in the stadium stands sentinel for those who have fought and died so that freedom can live.
That is why, in tribute to them, the Longhorns will arrive at the stadium wearing camouflage T-shirts. In his years at Texas, Mack Brown has emphasized respect for the U.S. Military, and for the men and women who stand in harm's way.
It will be a bright morning Saturday. Full of memories for some, and hopes for others. It is a thread that exists, not only for them, but for us all.