"Hold on, it's coming."
Opening day generates its own excitement and anticipation. Of course, in this era of the eternal hype and enough reverberating repetitions to make an echo blush, we can look into the mirrored image and see what the past is serving up this Saturday. For without the past and the resplendent history it carries, Saturday might just be another damn hot summer day.
The Texas Longhorns blasted through their opening days in the first 60 years or so of opening football games with a powerful record. Not only could you seldom ever beat them, just scoring on the Horns was a major accomplishment. From 1893 through 1953, Texas held opponents scoreless 37 times. The Horns had two five-game streaks from 1894 through 1898 and from 1903 through 1907. But they outdid themselves in the period from 1914 through 1933 when they shutout 19 of 20 opponents. However, in the last 60 years, that scorecard has been marred by some ugly losses. The blunt and risky nature of playing equally powerful teams right off the bat would take its toll.
Texas' opening record stands at 101-17-3 from 1893 through 2013. They haven't lost an opening day this century, if that is any consolation, but considering the caliber of the competition perhaps that is no surprise. If history has taught us anything, it's don't open with USC or Stanford or BYU. Perhaps those loses weren't the hope-crushing affairs that some opening losses were but they hurt nonetheless.
The very last opening loss -- and the only one by Mack Brown -- was in '99 in DKR-Memorial Stadium to North Carolina State, 23-20. Blocked punts and lackluster play would leave the crowd sputtering and moaning and questioning the evil of it all. The Horns would rebound from that unexpected setback but that has not been the case in so many seasons.
Opening day for Texas football actually began on a Thanksgiving and that 18-16 victory would galvanize the local consciousness -- that is, at least in Austin -- which had some compared to the generally sweltering, hard-working rural composition of the rest of the state in 1893. Texas' football success in the early years, with no losing seasons until 1933, set a standard for the University, its students and its fans.
Now football and its opening day has worked its way up to become the major distraction of our times, overshadowing the national pastime, baseball, and pushing away the real blood and guts and vast amount of hard work that keeps this nation functioning in the face of wars, rumors of wars, surrogate wars, political wars, climate wars on our peaceful bliss in the face of the future and the ever present media wars on our attention every nanosecond of the day...what we really have left is to pleasantly invite our neighbors over and whip their ever loving asses on the football field just to maintain our kindred relationship to the nature of the world in general, which seems to be violent and predatory.
The Longhorns went 45 years without losing an opening day game. There were two ties before that loss, one to the Farmers up in Dallas, 0-0, in 1907, and to #13 LSU in Austin in 1936. That was the last year for Coach Jack Chevigny, the Notre Dame halfback who scored the winning TD against Army in 1928 following the famous "Win one for the Gipper" speech by Knute Rockne. Texans at the time were so impressed they named a town for the coach (Rockne), down there between Bastrop and Austin. Texas hired Chevigny to beat Notre Dame at a time when the Horns and the Southwest Conference were aspiring to break into the East/Midwest stranglehold on elite football status.
Chevigny fulfilled that mission. In 1934 Texas went up to South Bend and defeated the Irish, 7-6, their first opening day loss since 1896. But over the next three years, Chevigny wasn't quite as good in defeating Texas' regular opening and the opening tie in '36 marked the end of his reign following a 2-6-1 season.
The University decided it wanted a top-flight coach to resurrect its program. The powers that led the Athletic Council wanted Dana X. Bible, who was then coaching at Nebraska after leaving Texas A&M in 1928. Bible was highly respected as a person and had a hell of a winning record. Nebraska, of course, was extremely unhappy and rallied to keep him, but the money talked loudest and Texas hired him for $15,000 plus an extra $5,000 for the anticipated loss on the sale of his house. He was named both the football coach and the athletic director. Politicians and professors complained that the salary was twice as much as the University's president, H. Y. Benedict, and three times that of top professors. The Texas Lege would raise Benedict's salary to $17,500 before the brouhaha would simmer down. The same sort of conflict would arise over future coaches.
Bible would inherit a team at low ebb on talent and virtually no freshmen recruits. He would institute the Bible Plan to organize Texas alumni throughout the state (which was legal then) and by his second year, he had a whopping 125 freshman recruits waiting in the wings (yes, 125, also legal then). He hired a great coaching staff, which would have two future Texas coaches (Blair Cherry and Ed Price) and one former coach (Clyde Littlefield). However, his first two teams had miserable records due to the lack of developed talent and depth. In 1937 Texas beat only Texas Tech and Baylor. In 1938 they lost the first opening game in Texas history, to Kansas no less, 19-18. They beat A&M 7-6 in the final game to salvage a 1-8 record, the worst Longhorn until 1956, when Coach Ed Price's team went 1-9 to usher in the Darryl Royal era.
Price would lost three opening games, in 1953 (at LSU, 20-7), in 1955 (Texas Tech, 20-14) and 1956 (to #15 USC, 44-20).
Strangely enough, the most opening day losses came under Darryl Royal, whose five losses and one tie came against mostly strong teams and all were relatively close games. Those included Nebraska (1960, 14-13); two against ranked USC in '66 and '67 (10-6 and 17-13 at Los Angeles); the first wishbone game against #11 Houston that was a 20-20 tie; in '73 at Miami (20-15) as the Hurricanes began their ascendancy into elite status; and finally, the only real stinker of the bunch in DKR's last season, the 14-13 loss to Boston College in Boston, a prelude his worst season at 5-5-1. Afterward, fans were walking around for days going ‘what the hell was that' after the #7 Horns fell to the unranked team. It was the beginning of the end but no one could see that at the time.
Probably the most horrid and aggravating stretch of opening losses occurred from 1986, Fred Akers' last year, through the David McWilliams' era and into the first two years of John Mackovic in 1993. Texas lost seven of eight opening games and they really got their butts busted on some of those, and they were all preludes to poor seasons. The Horns' opening victory over Penn State in 1990 was the only bright light, and that season would end up with a massacre at the hands of Miami.
In '86 Akers' team lost to Stanford, 31-20; McWilliams' team lost in '87 at #5 Auburn, 31-3, in '88 to BYU, 47-6, in a truly stunning loss, at #14 Colorado in '89, 27-6, and in '91 at Mississippi St, 13-6, to Jackie Sherrill and one of the most butt ugly losses I've ever seen (albeit on TV). McWilliams was a goner the second the game was over despite us having to endure a 5-6 season. In '92 Mackovic opened with Mississippi State and got creamed, 28-10, and once again many of us wondered about the evil of it all. Mackovic's opening 6-5 opening season was followed by the '93 loss at #11 Colorado, 36-14, and a 5-5-1 season.
Except for Mack Brown's 1999 opening loss, the Horns have taken care of business, although less than dominate performances against the likes of North Texas and Wyoming, et. al., have made the fans restless, knowing that if the game had been against prime time opponents, the results could easily have been losses.
For those in school during this period, I feel for you. A&M was up, OU was down and the Horns were spread thin. There were some great game victories in that period but great seasons were few and far between. A t-shirt from the last SWC game where the Longhorns beat the Aggies in College Station 16-6 stated in big letters DOMINATION and below that said "Only the Strong Survive." They got the aspiration correct, for it is the same today. But we want more than a game or two...we want an era.