Dec. 31, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
(Editor’s Note: Texas first played Alabama in 1902, and thus this pairing ranks as one of the oldest on record for the Longhorns. Texas holds a 7-0-1 lead. The first three games – in 1902, 1915 and 1922 – all ended with the Longhorns’ shutting out Alabama. The teams didn’t play again until the 1948 Sugar Bowl following the 1947 season. That began a series of five bowl games that featured some of the best match-ups in college football, as well as a couple of individual efforts where one player, and one play, made all the difference. Here is a look at those bowl games.)
1982 Cotton Bowl – The Tide Parts for Robert Brewer
The 1982 Cotton Bowl Classic produced a meeting of two of the nation’s historically great football programs, and it turned out to be an unusual game in a setting of unusual circumstances. First, Texas came into the game as the official representative of the Southwest Conference, but the Longhorns were not crowned as SWC champions.
The Longhorns had been ranked No. 1 in the country when they were ambushed in Fayetteville, Ark., by the Razorbacks, 42-11. They bounced back the next week with a 9-7 victory over SMU, which was powerful, but in the beginnings of the probation-laden era that would eventually cause the NCAA to eliminate its program.
In later years, the SWC ruled that a team on probation could not be declared the conference winner, but that rule was not in effect in 1981. The Mustangs, however, were prevented by the NCAA from playing in a bowl game. So when Texas rallied from a 14-0 halftime deficit to net a 14-14 tie with third place Houston in the Astrodome, the Longhorns were on a path that would find them a half game behind the Mustangs (6-1-1 to 7-1-0) at the end of the regular season.
That earned UT, which had remained in the top 10 all season and was No. 6 in the AP poll at the end, the right to represent the league in the Cotton Bowl, where the invited opponent was the SEC Champion and the nation’s No. 3 team, Alabama.
The story lines were many, but primary among them was the final return to Texas and the Cotton Bowl of the legendary Alabama coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, who that season had become the winningest coach in the history of college football. Bryant, who would die of a heart attack a little more than a year later, was coaching his next to last season. On the flip side, Texas was riding a newfound success under Fred Akers, whose team was making its second Cotton Bowl appearance in five seasons after he had replaced Bryant’s longtime friend Darrell Royal as the Longhorns head coach.
Alabama had the best record in the country over the five seasons coming into the game, and Texas, save for an unfortunate 7-5 record in 1980, wasn’t far behind. The Tide, which had gone 116-14-1 under Bryant over the previous 11 seasons, still held out hope of winning the National Championship, but needed a win by Jackie Sherrill’s Pitt team over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and a Nebraska victory over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. That season, Alabama had lost the second game of the year to Georgia Tech, 24-21, and had been tied by Southern Mississippi, 13-13.
Statistically, Alabama had established a new NCAA record in relatively new category of “passing efficiency,” and had averaged 385.3 yards in total offense, with 280.2 of that coming on the ground. The Tide defense had intercepted 21 passes. Texas had produced 346.3 yards per game, with 224.5 of that rushing and 121.8 passing. The combination of Robert Brewer and Rick McIvor (the starter who was injured and out for the season in the Houston game) had accounted for 92-of-207 passes for 1,340 yards and eight touchdowns. But the Texas defense had been stellar, ranking second in the nation, yielding 234.9 yards per game.
Everything pointed to a low-scoring game. Texas had scored 22.5 points per game and had given up 13.3. Alabama had scored 25.8 and given up 12.4.
So when the first quarter ended 0-0 and Alabama held a 7-0 halftime lead, no one was surprised. Texas, despite playing without injured Lombardi winner Kenneth Sims, was loaded with talent under defensive coordinator Leon Fuller – a former player for Bryant at Alabama. At the half, Brewer had completed 6-of-10 passes for 91 yards, and Alabama had mustered 201 yards to 162 for the Longhorns. The third quarter statistics were much the same, and it was still 7-0 going into the fourth quarter.
That, for Texas, was a good omen. The Horns had scored more points in the fourth quarter than in any other period all season, and their defense had held ‘Bama to just 42 yards in the third stanza. But just before the period ended, Alabama had won a battle of field position, and had begun a drive at their own 48. Alabama drove to a first down at the Texas 15, but the Longhorn defense held. Most folks had predicted that the kicking games – with Texas’ Raul Allegre and Alabama’s Peter Kim matched against each other – would be a deciding factor. That seemed true when Kim booted a 24-yard field goal to put Alabama ahead, 10-0, with 12-and-a-half minutes left in the game.
Jitter Fields helped the Longhorn cause with a 22-yard kickoff return that started the Horns at their own 40, and Brewer hit end Herkie Walls for 26 yards on a third-and-17 that put the ball at the Alabama 30-yard line with about 10-and-a-half minutes remaining. Two straight incompletions brought up third-and-10, and as Brewer came to the line of scrimmage, he called time out.
“Robert was alert and saw that our third-down play was not as good as their third-down defense,” Akers said after the game. “So he called time out.”
When play resumed, Brewer took a three-step drop, and watched as the Alabama linebackers flushed toward the sidelines to cover receivers, leaving the middle of the field heading to the north end zone wide open. Brewer ran 30 yards – the longest rushing play of his career – to the end zone for the touchdown that cut the lead to 10-7.
One more time, however, the defense had to make a stop, and it did after Alabama ate up almost five minutes on the clock with a drive from their own 20 to the Texas 45. The final Longhorn drive began from their own 20, with 5:59 remaining in the game. It was a drive that would earn Brewer the award as the offensive player of the game. He completed two passes to future NFL tight end Lawrence Sampleton of 37 and 19 yards, one to running back Rodney Tate for 10 and a final one to wide receiver Donnie Little for 10 that moved the ball to the Alabama eight. From there, with just over two minutes left in the game, fullback Terry Orr scored and Allegre kicked Texas to a 14-10 lead.
The game, however, was far from over. Alabama’s Joey Jones returned Allegre’s kickoff a Cotton Bowl record 61 yards before Mike Luck’s saving tackle stopped him at the Texas 38. On the next play, Bryant went for the throat, but William Graham intercepted Lewis’ pass at the UT 1-yard line with 1:47 remaining. It still wasn’t over, as Alabama used defense and three time outs to stymie the Longhorns at their own 2-yard line. Then, with 56 seconds remaining and a four-point lead, Akers decided to put the game back in the hands of his defense one last time. He elected to have punter John Goodson step out of the end zone for a safety that cut the margin to 14-12.
Goodson’s free kick after the safety was a punt, and Kiki DeAyala sacked Lewis one last time at the Alabama 41 as time expired.
Both Akers and Bryant were gracious at the end.
“I think this game shows why you play four quarters of football,” said Akers. “In the last quarter we got better field position and our defense wasn’t allowing the big play. I think Brewer showed what a great competitor and operator he really is. We played a good football team with a good defensive unit. On the quarterback keeper, we were just trying to mix up their defense. I think this was the greatest game of my coaching career. You will not find a classier man or program than Bear Bryant and Alabama. Bear Bryant has just been great for the game of college football.”
Bryant was equally complimentary. “First of all, I would like to congratulate Coach Akers, his staff and players on a great job they did in winning the game. They dominated the fourth quarter and did everything they needed to do to win the game in the final minutes.”
Over next four years, 35 players on the 1981 Texas roster would be drafted by the NFL, including 11 who were seniors in the 1982 Cotton Bowl. Bryant would coach one more season at Alabama before retiring after the 1982 season. He died on January 26, 1983. Robert Brewer would captain the 1982 Longhorns and lead them successfully until a freak thumb injury just days before the 1982 Sun Bowl ended his career. He worked briefly as an Assistant Athletics Director at Texas before entering a career as an investment broker. Fred Akers would coach at Texas for five more seasons, but post-season fate would not be kind to him. The Cotton Bowl win in 1982 was one of only two bowl wins against seven losses in his career.
As far the Texas and Alabama series, Bryant summed it up this way:
“I don’t think there is a ‘Texas whammy’ on Alabama. Their players and coaches beat us – not a ‘whammy.’”