This column seeks to look back on memorable moments in college football and offer commentary on what makes them unique.
There is a graph that often makes rounds on various social media platforms that illustrates scientific progress over time with no real defined benchmarks for what constitutes progress. The most recent one charts International Business Machines Corporation’s projections for the length of time it takes for “knowledge” to double, saying that knowledge doubled every century in 1900 and that it will double every 11-12 hours this year. This week’s column will be looking back to about the midpoint of that shift, covering a game from the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 1964 National Championship winning season.
Back in those days, advanced analytics were not a thing. Journalists and coaches could not consult spreadsheets dutifully compiled on the internet documenting the performances of teams across the country to inform their voting decisions in the poll. It was highly unscientific by modern standards. The Coaches Poll ranked the top 20 teams in the country, while the Associated Press (AP) Poll only listed a measly 10. However, the most foreign feature of both polls to a casual audience would be that their final rankings were announced at the end of Nov., before the post-season. In the era of the College Football Playoff, declaring a champion that early would be tantamount to walking out of a plane as it is landing.
The internal going-ons of teams also reflected the times. Nebraska had yet to establish the weight room as a must-have amenity of a winning football program. That would have to wait until 1969. The idea of coaches being able to give out scholarships to athletes was relatively new, having only been implemented in 1951 after a lot of resistance from the NCAA. If you were to describe the sorts of recruiting databases that populate the internet these days to a coach back then, he would probably assume you had indulged in psychedelics.
Audiences also consumed sports differently. Color TV was a luxury in 1964. While stations did broadcast games in color, there were not helpful graphics popping up on the screen to tell you which down it was and how many yards the offense needed to gain to get a new set of downs. Sports bars with TVs broadcasting the game were another pipe dream. A consumer of sports was left with four options as to how to follow their teams: word of mouth, watching the locally broadcasted games, catching up on results in the newspaper or going to a game live.
As a result, sports fandom was much more localized by virtue of what was accessible. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) was much more southeastern than its modern incarnation. There was a Southwestern Conference (SWC). The Big 10 consisted of midwestern schools and did not feature interlopers like Maryland and Rutgers. The Pacific-8 consisted of eight teams on the West Coast. The world was much larger back then.
Google Maps says it is an eight-hour drive from Fayetteville, Ark. to Austin, Texas, so it probably took the 1964 Razorbacks the better part of a day to get to their destination for their Saturday night game. The Hogs came into the game undefeated, but so did the Texas Longhorns. The press was more impressed with Texas, as they came into the game ranked first in the nation with Arkansas only coming in eighth. They had every reason to expect Texas to win the game.
The Longhorns were the reigning national champions, having gone undefeated throughout the entirety of the previous season and beating Navy in that year’s edition of the Cotton Bowl Classic, eliminating any doubts of their superiority. The Hogs had managed a mediocre 5-5 record that year, but they stood to equal the last season’s winning tally with an upset in Austin on Saturday the 17th.
But these Longhorns were scary. They had torn through their first four games without giving up more than a touchdown to opposing teams. Their defense was stout, featuring All-American Tommy Nobis at linebacker. Their wins were convincing, and they were in with a shout to win back-to-back Nattys.
The Hogs, on the other hand, were the Hogs. While they had a stretch of three consecutive SWC titles from 1959-1961, they had a habit of losing to Texas. The SWC championships that bookended their three-year run were shared with Texas. They only lost two games in conference over that three-year run, both to Texas. Texas was their boogeyman. Although cows tend to be herbivores, the Longhorns looked forward to their annual pork feast at Arkansas’ expense.
Going into the game, Texas was ready for the Hogs to serve themselves on a platter again. While both teams were undefeated, the Hogs were not all that convincing. Oklahoma State would have beaten them in week one if the Cowboys’ kicker had not missed two makeable field goals. The Hogs had to come from behind to beat Tulsa at home.
In the next game, a 29-6 win over Texas Christian University, Arkansas managed to nab six interceptions but had only scored seven points going into the fourth quarter where they allowed the Horned Frogs to score their first touchdown of the season. Going into the game against Texas, the Hogs were coming off their most convincing win of the season in a 17-6 drubbing of the Baylor Bears, but they just were not dominating like the Longhorns.
The 65,700-person crowd exceeded Memorial Stadium’s 60,916 limit. The majority were probably Longhorns fans, expecting to receive their annual win at Arkansas’ expense. That did not happen. They were treated to a spectacle that must have been excruciating. Despite gaining more than 100 more net yards on offense than the Hogs, they lost. Despite gaining twice as many first downs than the Hogs did, the Longhorns lost.
In the second quarter, Texas gave up a punt return touchdown to give Arkansas the lead going into halftime. Going into the fourth quarter, Arkansas maintained a 7-0 lead. But these were the Longhorns, not the Horned Frogs. They should have been losing by a lot, but Texas had not been threatening to score that frequently. Their only opportunities had resulted in a missed field goal attempt in the first quarter.
Texas managed to tie things up early in the fourth quarter, but Arkansas’ offense finally woke up and went on a 75-yard drive that would account for more than half of their total yards on the day to score on a 34-yard pass. This angered the Longhorns. These cows had grown accustomed to their annual pork feasts. They managed to score a touchdown on their next drive, but they were not going to settle for a tie. They wanted to win. They went for the two-point conversion. They did not score the two-point conversion. They lost at home. If they had scored the field goal in the first quarter, they would have won.
Arkansas would go on to be robbed of a consensus National Championship by virtue of the AP Polls and Coaches Polls not waiting until the end of Bowl Season to make their decisions. Both decided that Alabama had been the more impressive undefeated conference champions, even though ‘Bama’s most highly ranked opposition on their way to the SEC title had been an eighth-ranked Louisiana State University.
The Crimson Tide would go on to lose that season’s Orange Bowl to the Texas Longhorns, giving the Hogs a transitive victory over the other national champions. Seven selectors declared Arkansas national champions, but they are yet to top a year-end Coaches Poll or AP Poll. The Hogs continue to deal with similar struggles to this day, illustrated by their loss to Auburn a few weeks back due to Bo Nix’s blown spike and the incompetence of referees.