Texas-Arkansas rivalry once the nation's best

Updated: September 10, 2003, 7:14 PM ET

AUSTIN -- In its heyday, no rivalry was better than Texas vs. Arkansas.

It was a regular showdown on the third Saturday in October, one week after UT played Oklahoma.

It was about the grudge between border states, with Southwest Conference supremacy usually at stake. It took on national significance from 1960-70 as eight games featured at least one team ranked in the Top 10.

It was Ken Hatfield's punt return for a touchdown that sent Arkansas to an undefeated season and a claim for a national title in 1964, one year after Texas won its first championship.

It was "The Big Shootout" of '69, when President Nixon watched the No. 1 Longhorns beat the No. 2 Razorbacks 15-14 and declared them national champions.

It was the sideline battle of wits between coaches Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles, close friends who announced after the '76 game that they were both retiring.

And then it came to and end.

Arkansas bolted the old Southwest Conference for the SEC after the 1991 season and the Hogs and Horns haven't met during the regular season since.

Until now, when Arkansas (1-0) travels to Austin on Saturday to face No. 6 Texas (1-0).

"It's good for these two programs," said James Street, the UT quarterback in 1968 and '69. "It's good for football."

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Taken as a whole, the rivalry is lopsided. The Longhorns won the first meeting in 1894, Arkansas won the last in the 2000 Cotton Bowl, and the Longhorns hold the all-time lead of 54-20.

But what makes it so special is the handful of memorable plays, the overlapping excellence in the era of Royal and Broyles and the rivalry that's typical between bordering states.

For Arkansas, the only SWC school not in Texas, there was always the feeling of wanting to take down its big, cocky neighbor -- even though its roster was peppered with natives of the Lone Star State.

"Arkansas pride and insecurity both played a role," said Terry Frei, author of the book "Horns, Hogs, & Nixon Coming -- Texas vs. Arkansas in Dixie's Last Stand" about the 1969 season and "The Big Shootout."

"Here we were, this outpost in northwest Arkansas," said Bill Montgomery, a Dallas-area native who was the Razorbacks' quarterback 1968-70. "It was a great source of pride for the state."

In 1961, No. 3 Texas rolled to a 33-7 victory over No. 10 Arkansas. The Longhorns were No. 1 when they beat the seventh-ranked Razorbacks 7-3 a year later, spurred by a goal-line stand in the third quarter.

Arkansas won 14-13 in '64 behind Hatfield's electrifying punt return. The play is still diagramed in detail in the school's media guide.

It was Texas' only loss that year and Royal went into the Arkansas locker room to warn the Razorbacks that if they lost later in the season, the Longhorns would be waiting.

Arkansas didn't give up another point in the next five games and finished the regular season 10-0, but was ranked second to Alabama in the final wire-service polls, which did not include bowl games. The Football Writers Association did, however, and they crowned the Razorbacks as national champions after they beat Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl and Texas knocked off 'Bama in the Orange Bowl.

When they met again in '65, third-ranked Arkansas beat top-ranked Texas 27-24 with Razorbacks quarterback Jon Brittenum scoring the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Those back-to-back losses still stand out to Royal as much as his 167 wins and two undisputed national titles.

"I always think about the ones that got away," he said.

THE game was played in Fayetteville in 1969 amid swirling changes on the field and throughout society.

The Longhorns, about to become the last all-white national champions, had perfected their run-based Wishbone offense. The military had started a new lottery system in which low numbers meant get ready for the unpopular war in Vietnam, a conflict that drew protesters everywhere, including a small demonstration within view of the stadium on game day.

Anticipating a blockbuster end to college football's centennial celebration, the game was moved from its usual midseason matchup to Dec. 6, making it the only game in the country that day. It was the perfect move as Texas came in ranked No. 1 and Arkansas was No. 2.

President Nixon, an avid football fan, flew in via helicopter to watch. The Rev. Billy Graham gave the invocation.

"That same Watergate crowd, we had them all there," Royal said. "How much bigger can it get?"

Arkansas led 7-0 at halftime, then stretched it to 14-0 in the third quarter. Street made it 14-8 with a 42-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion

Then came the play Texas fans remember as fondly as Arkansas fans recall Hatfield's weaving run. On a fourth-and-3, Royal stunned even Street by calling for "53 veer pass," a play that had rarely worked all season.

Street told tight end Randy Peschel to get enough yards for a first down. "But if you can get behind him, run like hell," he said. They connected for 44 yards to set up Jim Bertlesen's winning touchdown.

Afterward, Nixon greeted Royal in the locker room with a plaque proclaiming Texas the national champion.

"He was going around shaking everybody's hand and somebody yells `Thank you Mr. President!" Street said. "He says, `No, you boys deserve it.' The guy shouts back `I'm thanking you for my high lottery number!"'

Nixon also visited the subdued Arkansas locker room.

"The president reminded us he knew all too well the taste of defeat," said Bill Montgomery, the Arkansas quarterback that day. "He could identify with what we were feeling. It was quite touching."

The rivalry remained intense, then turned bittersweet once Arkansas bolted the dying SWC four years before it collapsed. In their finale meeting as conference foes, the Hogs won 14-13.

Nostalgic feelings were stirred before the 2000 Cotton Bowl meeting. Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt added an edge to it by flashing an upside down Hook 'em Horns hand gesture following his team's 27-6 romp.

As for the in-season renewal of the rivalry, Texas coach Mack Brown began lobbying for it soon after arriving in Austin before the 1998 season.

He thought it would be good for season-ticket sales, a nice excuse to celebrate Royal and Broyles, "and it would honor the history of college football,"Brown said.

Broyles said Arkansas wanted four games. Texas would give them only two.

The second comes next year in Fayetteville, 35 years after "The Big Shootout."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index