Tech History Lesson: Red Raiders in Tornadoes

A look back at one of the most unusual Texas Tech football games in program history.

The game of college football has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, and perhaps no area demonstrates the changes more clearly than attitudes to weather.

During the last several years college football fans have accustomed themselves—rather begrudgingly one suspects—to prolonged lightning delays. The NCAA commands a public announcement recommending fans evacuate the stadium if lightning strikes within 10 miles of the stadium. If a strike occurs within six miles, the field is cleared and play delayed 30 minutes. Further strikes create further half-hour delays from the moment of the strikes.

As a result, games have been delayed into the small hours of the morn, and a game between Florida and Idaho was actually cancelled. This is football in a nation where parents can be interrogated by police for allowing their children to play unsupervised in parks, and kids’ lemonade stands can be shuttered for lacking a health permit.

It was not always so.

On Sept. 18, 1965, Texas Tech played a night game against the Kansas Jayhawks in the season-opener for both teams. Rain began early in the game, and conditions grew stormier as the contest progressed. By the third quarter a Biblical deluge was in full swing and the weather was truly ominous.

But both teams soldiered on as lightning strafed the city and the fans could barely discern the players on the field. Earlier in the evening a tornado had been reported in the vicinity of Ropesville, and late in the third quarter tornado sirens were shrieking their warnings to the murky heavens as further cyclones were detected.

But most of the 35,000-plus fans remained in the stands and the game continued until the beginning of the fourth quarter when Tech head coach J.T. King conferred with his opposite number Jack Mitchell and both coaches agreed to call the game, which Tech led 26-7.

Although multiple tornadoes were reported in the Lubbock area, there were no injuries, nor loss of property.

This game was also noteworthy for being the debut of instant replay in college football. Texas Tech graduate Robert Walker used Ampex technology to allow J.T. King to review plays the moment they concluded. The NCAA banned this application of instant replay in 1967 because not all schools could afford the technology.

Texas Tech, led by All American running back Donny Anderson and quarterback Tom Wilson (later a head coach at Texas A&M), went 8-3 in 1965, losing only to Texas, Arkansas and Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl. Four of Tech’s wins—over Texas A&M, SMU, TCU and Oklahoma State—came by four points or less.

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