October 1970

One evening early in September, 1970, I was in our den watching television with my father when he announced that we were going on a trip in October to visit my recently married, older brother, Clayton in Austin. The amazingly cool thing about this was that we were going to incorporate into the visit an excursion to Houston to attend the Texas – Rice game. Not only that. While we were in Austin I was going to stay with my other brother David, a sophomore at U.T., in his west campus apartment.  The announcement was an incredible surprise to me. A family trip during the school year was way out of normal operating procedure for our family and indeed for just about any regular middle class American family in 1970.  The stated practical reason for the trip was for my father and Clayton to swap cars.  A few months earlier my father had given Clayton a new 1970 Pontiac Firebird as combination graduation present and wedding gift.  My father had partially facilitated the gift by trading in his Pontiac Lemans when be purchased the Firebird.  He ended up with Clayton’s Corvair Monza.  My father was a helluva guy and they were swapping cars not because he had decided he didn’t like the deal anymore but because the Firebird didn’t have air-conditioning—go figure—which wasn’t so great if you lived in Austin.  The way my father told me we were taking the trip let on to me that there was more to this trip than the car swap.  He said, “We’re going to go see your brother Clayton next month.”  Then he started crying and added, “I’ve screwed up his life so.”  I knew this was not quite accurate but it was the beginning of my understanding that being a parent was not as easy as it looked.

When my mother, father and I set out early on a Wednesday morning, in the Corvair Monza, on the 1,800 mile drive from Vestal to Austin, the Longhorns were the defending National champions riding a 24 game win streak and ranked # 2.  I was to miss six days of school but my parents considered the trip to Texas to visit my older brothers and attend the Texas-Rice game in Houston worthy of my lengthy absence from school on educational and cultural grounds. They really did. As Chris Farley would say, “That was awesome.”

We arrived in Austin about noon on Friday. My parents dropped me off outside Memorial Stadium, where I was meeting David.  We were meeting there to watch the freshmen game between Rice and Texas. Those were the days when freshman weren’t eligible for varsity competition.  At age 15, being dropped off alone on a huge college campus, 1,800 miles from home, and walking into a big-time college football stadium, I realized how extremely cool my parents were.  There couldn’t have been more than 200 spectators but walking into the stadium that Friday afternoon was just as exhilarating for me as walking into the Cotton Bowl would be four years later for my first Texas-OU game. This was the home of the defending National Champions, where James Street had performed and where Steve Wooster, Cotton Speyer, and Jim Bertlesen still did. Just a few weeks earlier, in this stadium, Speyer had caught a 50-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left in the game to beat U.C.L. A.  The game hadn’t been televised in Vestal but I had seen the play on a Sunday college football highlight show. As I sat in the stadium I tried to determine in which end-zone Speyer had scored.  That Friday afternoon in October, 1970, watching the Shorthorns warming up, I was anxious to see David but I was content to be there alone and independent for a little while. I remember I was wearing jeans, an orange UT t-shirt and low cut black Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars. It was the first time that I smelled that distinctive odor under the stadium that I later learned was bat dung. I took seat on the 50 yard line about 20 rows up on the west side. There was bright sunshine and it was about 80 degrees. And the most unforgettable moment that afternoon was when I spotted David about 100 feet away striding purposely towards me with the biggest grin on his face I’d ever seen.  We watched the first half and we were especially interested in seeing our old friend and neighbor Dan Adams, from our Wycliffe Drive days in Houston, playing linebacker for the Shorthorns.

We then left the stadium and walked to David’s English class in Parlin. Coming and going I saw “The Tower” up close for the first time. I spotted the flagpole and its concrete base barely large enough for that college girl to crouch behind in hiding from Whitman’s gunfire. I was captivated

I spent Friday night with the college boys, David and his roommates. Lots of laughing, belching, farting and college guy repartee. In other words, I was in heaven. A belated thanks to my bother Clayton, who entertained my parents that night.

Saturday morning David and I got in his 67 Mustang and headed to Houston for the game. The drive from South First St. and Riverside to the Memorial drive area in Houston took about an hour and 45 minutes. I’ll let you do the math. Our first stop in Houston was the Adam’s house on Wycliffe where we visited with Dan Adams Sr. and where I got a wistful look at our old house across the street.

At about 6 o’clock we picked up David’s date and headed to Rice Stadium. Traffic was heavy. This was the first time I witnessed the uniquely Texas tradition of impatient drivers cutting across the grassy areas between the freeway and the service roads creating their own exits.  It was a bit shocking to me. We were a little late for the game and we heard a large roar from the crowd inside the stadium as we hurried in from the parking lot. Rice had returned the opening kick-off for a touchdown. We hurried through the turnstiles and up the ramp to the top of end zone section in Rice Stadium.

I had to have been the most ardent Longhorn fan residing outside the state of Texas. I had been to just one Texas game prior to that night, in 1965 when the Horns were down and before I much cared. I was able to see Texas play on television maybe 3 times a year. There were no Longhorn highlights shown on television in Vestal, and no ESPN.  So on that spectacular October Texas evening in a sold out Rice stadium when I first laid my eyes on the field and the game in progress and saw Texas in their gleaming white uniforms my senses were over whelmed. I had to blink away tears because I didn’t want David and his date to notice. The offense was on the field and at the line of scrimmage. There was the wishbone with Wooster, Bertlesen and Terry Collins lined up behind the quarterback Eddie Phillips. From the end zone and behind the action it looked like the straight t-formation my little league team the Rummel Creek Raiders had used.

We watched the first half from our end zone seats. At half time we rendezvoused with my parents who were sitting on the 50 yard line about 40 rows up. David had scored these choice seats from Mike Janda a reserve split end for the Longhorns whom he knew through his girlfriend Annette. My mother and I swapped seats and I sat down on the 50 with my father. He was in high spirits and had bonded with man next to him whose son was on the team. When Wooster carried the ball my father’s new friend didn’t shout but implored in a classic Texas drawl, “go big Woo.” It was delightful.

About midway through the third quarter there was a buzz in the  crowd behind us. Lyndon Johnson, twenty-one months out of office, had arrived and was now sitting about ten rows behind us. I don’t think he had had a haircut since he left office and his hair fell and curled up over his collar. My father bounded up the steps and got in a short line to greet the president. I had followed my father and though I was too shy to shake the president’s hand I heard my father speak to Johnson as he shook his hand.  “I still believe in you.”

“Thank you,” replied the president.

Texas over came the early 7-0 deficit to win 42-14.

 

On Sunday back in Austin my brother Clayton took me to Memorial Stadium to throw the football. It was my first time on Astroturf.  Pretty special.

Tuesday morning my father picked up a newspaper in the lobby of the Holiday Day in Nashville on our way back to Vestal. According to the UPI and AP College football polls Texas was #1 again.

 

Mission accomplished.

 

Thanks David. Thanks Clayton.

 

Especially thanks Mom and Dad wherever you are.

 

Beat those “Pesky Owls”

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