Coaches Corner — Texas memories

This week Coach Johnson talks about his greatest memories playing against Texas

This is the week the Sooners play the Texas Longhorns. Anyone out there not aware of that fact? At the risk of adding to the media overkill this week I'd like to share some of my more memorable brushes with the "Big Game".

There's one factor that might qualify me to make a few comments about Texas as an opponent. This is my 44th year to stand on the sidelines or sit in the press box as a coach or athletic administrator. During that 44-year stretch I've had the good-or-bad luck to have competed against Texas 39 times. It has always been a huge game where I've been, because they were Arkansas' big rival, too, and my one time at Notre Dame was for the National Championship in the Cotton Bowl.

My one recommendation if you plan to coach is to "Avoid the peaks and valleys" emotionally, or the game can really take it's toll. Competing with Texas will teach you that you must force yourself to remember that things are never good — or as bad — as they seem. In those encounters, I've experienced some of my best "highs" and my worst heartbreaking "lows". I'd like to share those memories with you. I'm sure there are several you'll remember quite vividly.

Usually when the favorite wins as expected or if your team experiences an "off" year you tend to not have much recall. It's surprising, too, that often the losing team really levels off the remainder of the year. But when there is an upset, or when both teams go in undefeated coming in "somebody's gonna get hurt."

Back in 1962 Arkansas was trying to finally get a win over Texas and many thought we could. Arkansas led 3-0 until Texas executed a 20-play drive the last eight minutes and scored to win in the last few seconds 7-3. Earlier in the game, David McWilliams made a key fourth-and-goal stop at the 1-yard line. Several years later he became the head football coach at Texas.

In 1964, Kenny Hatfield (current head football coach at Rice) executed a long, long punt return for a touchdown to beat Texas 14-13. But Texas drove and scored their second TD with a long fourth-quarter possession and Arkansas had to stop a 2-point attempt to preserve the win. Incidentally, the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson were seniors on that team and Barry Switzer was on the coaching staff. We were undefeated and awarded the post bowl National Championship when No. 1 Alabama was beaten in the Sugar Bowl by our good friends, the Texas Longhorns. The next year Arkansas and Texas were both undefeated when Arkansas jumped to a 20-0 lead. Texas went ahead 24-20 with three minutes remaining, then Arkansas completed five straight passes to the same receiver to win 27-24. The Razorbacks finished 10-0 for the regular season.

In 1969 Arkansas (#2) and Texas (#1) played in the Big December Shootout in Fayetteville for all the marbles. Arkansas led 14-0 and scored again but a wide receiver aligned illegally and nullified the TD. Texas pulled to 14-7 in the fourth, then with very little time made a long drive including a key fourth down ‘Hail Mary' completion, to score. Then made to two-point conversion and became National Champions.

I was at Notre Dame in 1977 when we played Texas in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1978. Texas was undefeated, ranked No. 1, and Earl Campbell was a "shoe-in" to be the Heisman Trophy winner. Notre Dame also was a very talented team that had lost one game early in the year and featured a QB named Joe Montana. Notre Dame won 38-10 in a real spanking, and ironically was awarded the National Championship when Oklahoma was upset that night by Arkansas.

I very much remember the Sooners game with Texas in 1982. We were big underdogs and Texas came in undefeated. Our two big guards "Dr. Death" Steve Williams and "Booger" Paul Parker, both heavyweight wrestler's, dominated their defensive tackles and paved the way for our fullbacks Stanley Wilson and Weldon Ledbetter to ravage their defense for a 28-22 win. Plus, a freshman back named Marcus Dupree had his own coming out party with a long TD. He then proceeded to have at least one 60-plus yard TD run in the next seven games.

In 1984 OU's offensive coordinator was Mack Brown, who of course is now Texas' head coach. We all remember the 15-15 tie when we thought we would win and the horrible calls by the officials and the rain, etc. The Sooners did however regroup for a Big Eight Championship and the Orange Bowl.

The 1990 game was again when the Sooner faithful expected a win. The Oklahoma defense dominated the game, holding a 13-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Then Texas put together an unexpectedly well-executed drive to go ahead 14-13. The Sooners drove frantically down the field — then missed a makeable field goal.

In 1991, Texas was down and Oklahoma dominated the game, but couldn't score. Oklahoma led very late when the OU fullback fumbled. Texas picked up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown to win the game 10-7.

The game in 1993 was one of my favorites because our offense executed so very well behind Cale Gundy's leadership. We had several long TD drives and won handily, 38-17.

Of course, we all remember the 1996 game under coach John Blake. We lost pitifully our first four games and Texas had a solid lead when Jarrail Jackson returned a punt for a TD. James Allen then "caught fire" at running back and had his finest game. They couldn't stop him. The Sooners won in overtime, 30-27, and made a whole lot of people feel a lot better.

Then, who will ever forget the 63-14 victory (an upset?) in 2000. The finest hour for a great team and a great group of coaches.

And I remember a lot of things about this contest too. The excitement when taking the field. Bevo always in the way with the smelly trailer he rides to the game. The fair and it's smells and sounds. The traffic — you can't get in or get out when it's over.

I remember our great tight end Forrest Valoura splitting his head open when he ran into a cameraman during pre-game warm-ups (he missed the game). And I'll never never forget those dressing rooms when we won. There is no experience in life that matches it.

The one thing I can predict for this Saturday's game: Come Saturday night somebody's going to feel real good and somebody will really be hurting.

Merv Johnson is currently the Director of Football Operations at Oklahoma and also serves as a color analyst on the Sooner Radio Network.

In his 19 years as an OU assistant coach, he helped the Sooners build a 150-67-5 record, win a national championship and five Big Eight Conference titles and post seven bowl game victories.

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