1965 Orange Bowl, Texas vs. Alabama: College Football Goes Primetime
The combination of the unscheduled off-week, along with Taylor TRoom’s outstanding look at the incomparble Bobby Layne brought out a note of nostalgia for me as well. Tommy Nobis will have his jersey retired along with Layne’s at the Arkansas game. Among all his other accolades, Nobis was a star in two out of the three most important post-season games in Longhorn history.
Nobis was just a sophomore when Texas won its first National Championship in the 1964 Cotton Bowl. The next year, Texas played Alabama in the Orange Bowl, in what up to that time had to be one of the most glamorous Bowl games ever played.
In 1964 Darrell Royal led Texas to a 9-1 regular season record, just a failed two-point conversion away from a second straight National Championship.
The Orange Bowl made a dramatic choice in 1964 when they accepted an invitation from NBC-TV to move the kickoff to 7:00 pm, thus becoming the first bowl game to be played at night. Of course the fact the NBC also paid $600,000 for the move made the decision a lot easier.
Orange Bowl officials then invited Texas right after the TCU game, gambling that the Horns would beat Texas A&M for the eighth straight time. Alabama defeated Auburn on Thanksgiving, and when USC upset Notre Dame 20-17, ‘Bama was crowned National Champs by both polls.
The weekend was the “Perfect Storm” of factors to give the Orange Bowl all it wanted.
* The first primetime College Bowl Game.
* The 1964 National Champion vs. the 1963 National Champion
* Two of the most recognizable coaches in the game.
* The All American Linebacker, Tommy Nobis vs. the most exciting player in the college game, Joe Willie Namath.
The game also showcased the two best programs of the 1960?s. Coming into the Orange Bowl, ‘Bama was 48-4-2 (an astonishing 91% winning percentage) over the previous five years. They won the National Championship in 1961 a well as ’64.
Texas came into the game 46-6-2 (87% winning percentage) for the half decade with of course one national title and a near miss.
The week before the game, it was an open secret that Namath was going to sign with the AFL New York Jets for the then-unheard of sum of $400,000. But a few days before the contest it looked as if ‘Bama had lost Namath. After making a routine handoff in practice, Namath suddenly clutched his knee, and fell down. He had reinjured his right knee. Steve Sloan, born in Austin, Tennessee, would start. Sloan was a favorite of Bryant’s — talented and a “coach on the field.” While Sloan was a very good collge quarterback,he wasn’t Joe Namath.
During the regular season, Texas longest touchdown run from scrimmage was 21 yards. But late in the first quarter, Alabama had a stunt on, and Texas had a power sweep called with Ernie Koy. With the end crashing inside, Texas sealed off the corner, and Koy romped 79 yards for an Orange Bowl record touchdown.
Ernie Koy finished the Orange Bowl with 133 yards and 2 touchdowns on 24 carries.
Early in the 2nd quarter Texas took advantage of an Alabama mistake — as the Tide was trying to take advantage of the new substitution rule. In 1964 there still wasn’t unlimited substitution, but teams could substitute as many players as they wanted when the clock was stopped for any reason. There was a timeout right before a Texas punt, and Alabama put in its entire offense. One of the offensive linemen lined up offsides, and given new life, the Horns struck quickly.
On the very next play, Royal had Jim Hudson in at QB for Marvin Kristynik. Hudson was the early season starter, but had been injured. He had the much stronger arm and on the first play, George Sauer ran a fly pattern, split the corner and safety and caught a 69-yard touchdown pass to give Texas a 14-0 lead.
That was enough for Bryant. Joe Namath went into the game.
Namath quickly took Alabama 87 yards, 83 of them through the air to make it 14-7.
Texas coaches and players said after the game that they had never seen the combination of quick release and powerful arm that Namath displayed in the Orange Bowl.
Again, another Alabama miscue led to a Texas score. Late in the 2nd quarter, Texas lined up for a David Conway field goal. ‘Bama blocked it, but the Crimson Tide defender fumbled it right back trying to advance it. Koy punched it in with just 23 seconds left to make it Texas 21-7 at the half.
The 2nd half was a matter of survival for Texas. The Horns never snapped the ball on the Alabama side of the field, and had only 4 first downs for the entire half.
Meanwhile Namath was showing that on one leg he was still better than any other collegiate passer on two. He directed two scoring drives, for a touchdown and a field goal. Afterward Royal admitted that Namath forced a mid-game change of defensive philosophy.
Texas preferred a soft cover 2 defense, keeping receivers in front of the defensive backs, and then punishing them after the catch. But Namath’s release was so quick it negated any kind of rush, and he riddled the Texas defense with mid-range completions, so that it was just as effective as the Texas ground game. That meant that in the 4th quarter, Texas would play tighter on receivers and try to force the issue.
Late in the game, Alabama had a 1st and goal at the 6. Fullback Steve Bowman hit the middle for a quick 4 yards.
After three straight plunges by FB Steve Bowman failed to score from inside the 6, Texas made a final goal line stand.
Two more Bowman tries got the ball inside the 1-yard line. On 4th down, Namath thought he saw a crease off right guard. Tackle Fred Bedrick penetrated low from the side and Nobis came in high to wrap him up. Nobis said they heard the whistle blow the play dead, let up and that’s when Namath fell into the endzone. Of course to this day Namath claims he scored.
Years later, Bear Bryant had this to say about the 4th down play.
“Tommy Nobis met him head on. Our guys thought he scored. Afterward, one of the writers asked me who called the play. I said I had (I always call the ones that don’t work.) He said, ‘How can a $12,000-a-year coach call the plays for a $400,000 quarterback?’ I admitted he had a point.”
Alabama had a couple more tries to move on offense, but Pete Lammons stopped one drive with an interception, and Texas pressured Namath into four straight incompletions to end the game. Namath finished the game 18-37 for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
After the game, Namath was inconsolable. However, the next morning he did salve his wounds with a $400,000 pro contract.
The game had more than lived up to its billing, and actually it was just the first act for several players in terms of making history in the Orange Bowl.
The 1964 Texas squad had more NFL talent than any other DKR team up to that time. Ten players off of that team would be drafted, and eight would have productive careers in the NFL.
In 1964 Tommy Nobis was All-SWC as a linebacker and as an offensive guard.
Tommy Nobis went on to win the Outland Trophy and the Maxwell Award as a senior. He was at the center of one of the NFL-AFL bonus baby fights, as the Houston Oilers and the NFL expansion Atlanta Falcons fought over his services. Nobis turned down more money from the Oilers to play in the more established NFL in 1966.
Of course four Longhorns — Jim Hudson, John Elliott, Pete Lammons and George Sauer — would become teammates of Namath’s with the Jets, and return to the Orange Bowl four years later to make pro football history. All four played key roles in the Jets stunning 16-7 upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Namath completed 17-28 for 206 yards, with Sauer catching 8 balls, and Tight End Pete Lammons catching two more. Jim Hudson had an interception at Safety for the Jets.
George Sauer was Namath’s favorite receiver in Super Bowl III, catching 8 passes for 133 yards.
This was the game where Namath made his famous guarantee of victory during the buildup. Joe Willie credits Lammons with giving him the idea. Namath says that while coach Weeb Ewbank was going over Baltimore scouting report during the week, Lammons piped up and and said, “If we watch any more of these Colts game films, we’re going to get overconfident.”
Joining the four Longhorns on the Jets squad was Don Maynard, the wide receiver from Texas Western (they changed to UT El Paso in 1967). The presence of so many Texans got one reporter to dub the Jets, “The University of Texas at New York.”
The Texas-Alabama battle in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1965 was the midway point of the 1960?s, and was a meeting between the two best college football programs in the Nation. They remained at the top of College Football for the rest of the decade.
From 1960-69, Alabama was 90-16-4 for a winning percentage of 84%. They won three National Championship during the decade.
After the 1965 Orange Bowl, Texas would suffer three straight 4-loss seasons, but of course Royal would rebound with a new offense and another National Title at the end of the decade, to end up the ten-year period with a 86-19-3 record good for a 81% winning percentage.
Oh and I almost forgot. The Arkansas Razorbacks defeated Nebraska 10-7 in the Cotton Bowl earlier in the day to finish unbeaten. The Texas win gave the Razorbacks the Football Writers Association version of the National Championship. So Arkansas had to rely on Texas to get a share of their lone title, yet another reason for the Hogs to resent the Horns.
Today many Texas fans take for granted the Horns place on the list of elite college programs. It wasn’t always the case, and that January night in Miami was a major factor establishing the Longhorns as a legitimate national power year-in-year-out.
Everything looks bigger and brighter under the lights in primetime.