During the centennial of college football, the Razorbacks and Texas Longhorns competed for the national title in what many still regard as ‘The Game of the Century’ on Dec. 6, 1969.
Nearly 50,000 fans, including President Richard Nixon, were in attendance to behold the contest between two southern football juggernauts, in what would later be known as ‘The Big Shootout.’
Arkansas and Texas were both undefeated entering the game, and the matchup quickly cultivated regional and national attention. The game was slated to be broadcast nationally on ABC, and Nixon, a noted college football buff, was rumored to be in attendance according to Arkansas sports media.
“Fan in Chief: Richard Nixon and American Sports, 1969-1974,” a book written by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, explains the buildup, the event and the aftermath of the Fayetteville showdown.
Austin displayed a heightened energy prior to the matchup, as the mayor of Texas declared Dec. 6 ‘Texas Longhorn Day in Austin and Fayetteville.’ A pep rally at Memorial Stadium in Austin drew a crowd of 25,000, an impressive mark for a school that had 35,000 students enrolled at the time.
When it was confirmed that the president would attend, the elation in Arkansas rose as high as the helicopter Nixon arrived in at Razorback Stadium.
“We flew over the airport and I saw the cars parked for, well, actually not just feet nor yards, but miles down the road,” Nixon said in the book.
Nixon and his entourage were seated at the 35-yard line among the fans.
“I must say I have never seen a football game where there is more excitement in the air than there is today,” Nixon said in the book.
Texas started the game with the ball, but fumbled it on the second play of the game, which Arkansas recovered at the 22-yard line. The Razorbacks reached the end zone shortly after, when running back Bill Burnett dove over a pile of burnt orange and cardinal red jerseys for the first touchdown just a little over a minute and a half into the game.
The teams went scoreless for the next 34 minutes until Arkansas wide receiver Chuck Dicus broke the dry spell, catching a pass from quarterback Bill Montgomery over the middle for a 29-yard touchdown, as Arkansas doubled its lead to 14-0.
Arkansas shut out the visiting Longhorns for the first 45 minutes and forced the Longhorns to turn the ball over in five of their first eight possessions. But the momentum turned just 13 seconds into the fourth quarter when Texas quarterback James Street broke off a 42-yard touchdown run to turn the tide for Texas. Street also carried in the two-point conversion, as the Arkansas lead shrunk to 14-8.
The Razorbacks responded with a 73-yard drive, which ended when the Longhorns intercepted a pass in the endzone. Texas’ subsequent drive seemed to be null, as they were pinned at its own 43-yard line on fourth down.
Street dropped back and heaved a 44-yard prayer that bypassed two Arkansas defenders on its way to Texas tight end Randy Peschel’s hands.
Professor Gerald Jordan, who was covering the game for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said the big gain put a muzzle on the Razorback faithful.
“The whole stadium, which had just been rocking all day, that play just sucked the life out of them,” Jordan said.
The Longhorns scored two plays later on a 2-yard rush from running back Jim Bertelsen and took their first lead of the game, 15-14, with just under four minutes left.
In its next possession, Arkansas made its way to the Texas 39-yard line as rain began to patter on player’s helmets. Trying to get within field goal range, Montgomery rolled right and threw to the 20-yard line, where the ball was intercepted by a Longhorn, sealing the Hogs’ defeat.
Texas won the heavyweight bout and was awarded the national championship plaque by Nixon, who congratulated both teams after the game.
“Your frame of mind is that the whole world is watching and cares about football and nothing else exists. You’re king of the heap,” Texas guard Bobby Mitchell said in the book. “So why wouldn’t the president be here?”
On the 50th anniversary of this monumental competition, both programs find themselves in a completely different state than they were in 1969, but that coveted matchup half a century ago will always remain a staple in each team’s history.