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Climbing the Mountain

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Texas and West Virginia's brief history and the implications for this game in the past and present.

Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Texas has only played West Virginia once before and lost that one, 7-6, in a game that signaled the end of an era.

Modern Texas football really begins in 1957 when Darrell K Royal was hired to take the reins of the Texas football program. Even the youngest of fans know his name, at least some of his exploits and certainly recognize the now ordained Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium.

There had been great Texas coaches and celebratory heydays before DKR but no national championships. The cupboard was bare except for Southwest Conference championships and bowl game victories. The sweet, sweet taste of the intoxicating wine of national success was more a dream than a part of any serious plan. It was the 1950s, the time of Eisenhower and relative sanity (except the Texas Lege, of course, see Billy Lee Brammer's book), television was sweeping the land as was mass marketing of cars and hoola hoops, the middle class was becoming robust and the beer flowed freely at Scholtz Garten...the future seemed great, except for optimism about Texas football and Head Coach Ed Price...that was a damn scarce commodity in old Austin in 1956.

Over across the Brazos, ‘Bear' Bryant had the Aggies all charged up and lathered in lanolin to take a real shot at a national championship, with running back John David Crow. Up above the Red River, Oklahoma and Bud Wilkinson had been laying waste to every team in their path as they won national championships and ran off 30-game and 47-game winning streaks in the post-WWII era. Texas had success with the Bobby Layne era (getting up to #3), but after Dana X. Bible retired, Texas did have a few good teams with Blair Cherry and Price, but not anything to dent the national scene for long. The last time the Longhorns had been #1 was November, 1941.

The Longhorns started off the 1956 season against #15 USC and were stomped, 44-20. Then they managed a door scraping 7-6 win over Tulane as the Green Wave missed their PAT attempt.

The next week West Virginia came to town and some 30,000 saw a scoreless first half as neither team could generate much offense. Late in the third quarter the Mountaineers sustained a 64-yard drive capped by a 15-yard TD run. With the kick, they led, 7-0. Texas came back with a 13-play, 65-yard thrust and finally scored at the 13:00 mark in the fourth on a five-yard pass from Joe Clements to Walt Fondren. However, the kick failed and Texas was down, 7-6. The Horns would get into position for a final field goal attempt with five seconds remaining but Johnny Elam's 45-yard attempt missed and Texas lost. (This is sorta spooky, considering the present situation.)

The West Virginia game was the start of an eight-game losing streak and eventually a 1-9 record, the worst in Texas history. DX Bible had gone 1-8 in his inaugural season in 1938...the one win came with a 7-6 defeat of a sturdy A&M team that would win their lone national championship the next year. (Secured from actual anti-revisionist records.)

The '56 Horns would score only 101 points all season and would be shutout by #1 OU, 45-0, and at TCU, 46-0. Texas showed a lot of heart and scored their highest season total in the finale, a 34-21 home loss to #5 A&M. Your team always has to have heart but having players and sustained plans of action and operation for offense, defense and special teams are necessary in this age of highly specialized collegiate football. In the single platoon era of the West Virginia game of 1956, Texas played only 14 players. Saturday night will see nearly three times as many hit the field.

The Mountaineers return to Austin at a time when the Longhorns are actively implementing their dreams of climbing the mountain of national prominence in what promises to be a toe-to-toe slugfest from the onset. Will defense make a difference? Will the Longhorns need 50 points to win this game? Will the contest come down to extra points and field goals? Certainly the 2012 edition of the Horns are better equipped to deal with West Virginia than the '56 squad. I would like to think that 0-1 goose egg in the overall standings will be evened up and, in the future, will assume the proper proportions. But the future is long and the Horns chances of pulling ahead are strong in the long run.

While talented and motivated, with heart and outstanding coaching, this Longhorn squad is in the process of maturing, but still feels the sting of inexperience and confusion at times on critical plays. In a big game like this, the ability to cover their mistakes, to avoid big scores and momentum swings, will be sorely tested. On the other hand, big-time games usually bring out the best in a team and make them much better in the long run whether they win or lose. So, we, the fans, need to take a little heart in this situation as well.

Hook ‘em