Longhorns History: Bowling With The Horns

With no bowl game on tap this year, Longhorns History looks back over a lifetime of Horn bowl memories, good and bad.

Bowl season started over the weekend with several games featuring several teams who weren’t very good, but were somehow better than Texas this year.  If you had ever told me that Texas would go 5-7 and miss out on a bowl game while San Jose State went bowling with the same record…

Bowl season used to be my favorite time of the year.  In my youth it was a point of pride to watch at least a little of every game.  Adulthood and the desire to not waste my time have made that a thing of the past, yet I still found myself checking in on the action Saturday.

With no Longhorn bowl game to look forward to this year, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and review some of my memories of the Longhorns in bowl games.

The First: 1985 Bluebonnet Bowl  Air Force 24  Texas 16

So my first Texas bowl memory is a loss, go figure.  This was the fourth consecutive bowl loss for Texas, but the first of those games that I can remember watching.  The Longhorns jumped to an early lead before Air Force went on a 21-3 run that put an offensively challenged Texas team in a hole.  They closed to 21-16 before a late Falcons field goal put the game out of reach.  This was Fred Aker’s last bowl game on the Texas sidelines.  I was so upset that I maintained a nasty dislike of Air Force for years afterwards.  I was ten, cut me some slack.

The First Win: 1987 Bluebonnet Bowl  Texas 32 Pittsburgh 27

After a bowl-less 1986, the first time in ten years Texas failed to make a postseason game, excitement was high for this one.  David McWilliams’ first team included three of my all-time favorite Horns: QB Brett Stafford, RB Eric Metcalf and LB Britt Hager.  Hager took centerstage in this one as it was touted as the Texas Defense versus Pitt’s powerful running back, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward.

Texas scored on their first play, a 77 yard Stafford to Tony Jones bomb that set the tone for the night.  Later in the quarter, they hooked up again, this time from 40 and Texas led 17-7 at the half.  Texas put it away in the fourth quarter behind Stafford’s third TD pass of the night and a 24 yard run by Metcalf to make it 32-14.  Pitt made a late run but it was too late.

The Horns lit up the stat sheet in this one, with Jones gaining 242 yards receiving.  Metcalf gained 180 total yards while Stafford threw for 368 and three TDs, which was ridiculous for college football in the late 80s.  In the Hager versus Heyward battle, it was a draw.  Heyward got his yards and an early TD while Hager raked up 15 tackles, yet Heyward couldn’t do anything to save #19 Pitt’s defense from the three headed monster of Stafford-Metcalf-Jones.

Little did any of us know that it would be a long time before we could celebrate another Texas bowl victory.

The Let-Down:  1991 Cotton Bowl   Miami 46  Texas 3

As someone who became a Texas fan in the dying days of the Akers regime, I had no memories of Texas as a college football power.  1990 changed all of that.  Texas finished the year 10-1 and ranked third in the country.  In a year in which there were no dominant teams, there was outside chance Texas could win the National Championship with a bowl win.

Better than that, Texas got a real, honest-to-goodness villian to play against.  Miami was at their Bad Boys height at the time and you knew that Texas had millions of fans behind them in this one.  There was plenty of build up for the Longhorns first Cotton Bowl appearance since 1982 and plenty of trash talk before the game, most of it courtesy of OT Stan Thomas.

Then the game started.

My wife doesn’t believe me, but sometimes you can tell how a game will turn out on the opening kickoff.  This was one of those cases.  Texas KR Chris Samuels got knocked goofy, Miami players started dancing while Texas players dropped their heads.  It was over right then.  It never got better in a game that still ranks as the Longhorns’ worst bowl loss.

The Shootout: 1994 Sun Bowl  Texas 35 North Carolina 31

I was home from college and glued to the TV for this one.  Texas was in Year Three of the John Mackovic Era and hadn’t tasted a bowl game since the Miami beatdown four years earlier.  The opponent was an up-and-coming North Carolina team coached by Mack Brown, who was working something akin to a miracle in Chapel Hill.

Texas needed a priest to escape this one.  Priest Holmes.  Holmes was the man for Texas, scoring four touchdowns and racking up 166 yards on the ground.

It looked like a Texas blowout early.  Behind two one yard Holmes runs and a fumble return by Norman Watkins, Texas led 21-10 in late in the second quarter.  UNC scored just before the half to make it 21-17.

After a scoreless third, the Tar Heels exploded, scoring on an 82 yard punt return and a 50 yard pass to push their lead to 31-21.  Texas responded with two time consuming drives, each ending with Priest in the end zone as Texas pulled it out in the end.

It never gets old, does it? Courtesy of newspaper.il

Revenge:  1999 Cotton Bowl   Texas 38 Mississippi State 11

Still one of my favorite Texas bowl memories.  Texas had the Heisman Trophy winner in Ricky Williams.  Mississippi State had Jackie Sherrill, one of the most hated figures in Texas history.  Not only had Sherrill made Texas his personal whipping boy when he was at Texas A&M, but he’d also beaten the Longhorns in both previous meetings since his move to Starkville.

For those of you who have accused me of being an Aggie fan, let me assure you, no one took more pleasure in watching Sherrill finally get blasted.  Ricky had a pair of touchdowns and Major Applewhite hooked up with Wane McGarity for a long pass in the win.

The Goodbye:  2001 Holiday Bowl  Texas 47  Washington 43

Prior commitments forced me to miss this one live, so I had to record it.  While the rest of my family dozed quietly in their beds, I suffered multiple heart attacks in this one, as Texas seemed determined to find a way to lose this game.

But Major Applewhite wouldn’t let that happen.  You can count me as one of those who believes that Texas would have been in the Rose Bowl playing for the National Championship had Mack Brown pulled Chris Simms from the Big XII Championship one drive earlier.

Applewhite shattered the Texas bowl record for passing yards with 473 yards and added four touchdowns for good measure.  Texas erased deficits of 13 and 16 points and still had to drive the length of the field at the end of the game to pull this one out in a game that was wild fun, even on tape delay.

Cotton Bowl Farewell:  2003 Cotton Bowl  Texas 35   LSU 20

I am a traditionalist and I was raised with a definite appreciation for the past, so long after the Cotton Bowl ceased to be a major bowl, it was still a big deal to me.  We didn’t know it at the time, but this game would be the last Longhorn appearance in the real Cotton Bowl, before it moved to Arlington and became the Jerry Jones Ego Bowl.

I was so jacked up for this one that I woke up early to take down Christmas decorations and replace them with as much burnt orange as I could.  I knew that I’d have to take it all right back down when the game was over, but I felt that the moment deserved it.

The game didn’t disappoint.  Chris Simms was solid in his last game as a Longhorn but the real star was Roy Williams.  Williams was Beast Mode before it was Beast Mode.  He caught 4 passes for 142 yards, including a 51 yard score and a 75 yarder to set up another score.  He also ran once for another 39 yard score as Texas turned a 17-7 deficit into an easy victory.  So at least the last Longhorn trip to the Cotton Bowl Classic was a win.

The One I Almost Missed:  2005 Rose Bowl  Texas 38  Michigan 37

The Texas Longhorns + The Rose Bowl = A College Football Dream Come True

The excitement I felt for this game was unreal.  I’d seen Texas in the Cotton Bowl when it still mattered.  I’d seen them in the Sugar Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, but the Rose Bowl was an entirely different thing.  Not to mention that they were playing Michigan.  I couldn’t wait for this game.

Unfortunately, fate had other plans and I was forced to leave at the last minute.  I hurriedly set my VCR and planned on catching it later.  When I got home and checked the VCR I discovered, to my horror, that it hadn’t come on.  In my rush, I had made a mistake and missed it.  I was furious at myself for the error and turned on the game on to discover that Texas was down ten in the fourth quarter.

Oh well, I thought and turned it off.  I must not have missed anything.  My family instead went over to the in-laws house for New Year’s dinner.  We got there and I heard my father-in-law watching the game.  I peaked my head in to find Texas down two and driving.  I called my wife in and we watched as Vince Young drove Texas to victory.  My father-in-law scolded us for our overly loud celebration, but it was worth it.

It would be months before I actually saw the entire game, when I received the DVD as a birthday present.  In many ways, it is still my favorite Texas bowl game, and I missed almost all of it.

Texas won the 2011 Holiday Bowl, though the game was hardly a great one. Mandatory Credit: Jody Gomez-USA TODAY Sports

Finally:  2006 Rose Bowl  Texas 41  USC 38

All of you who question my Longhorn fan credentials just because I have been critical of this year’s team wasn’t there when I grabbed my Longhorn banner and darted out into a freezing cold night in a tank top and shorts and bare feet and ran up and down the street shouting seconds after the clock struck zero.  That night was as special for me as it was for all Longhorn fans and I treasure every moment of that night.  Even if the Longhorn Network insists on showing that game twice a week, it never gets old.

And Reggie Bush never should have won the Heisman.  Just sayin’.

The Writing On The Wall:  2009 Fiesta Bowl  Texas 24  Ohio State 21

The second half of this game was a heck of a ride and made up for a terribly frustrating first half.  I was giddy when Texas dominated OSU in the third quarter, stuffing the Buckeye offense while Colt McCoy put up a pair of TDs.  Then the fourth quarter started and it all started slipping away.

Yes, Colt made the plays at the end and the game winning TD to Quan Cosby is one of my favorite memories, but the main thing that I remember about this game is that I felt very uneasy when it was over.  It felt like Texas had gotten away with one.  Their play seemed unusually sluggish and sloppy for a Mack Brown team in a bowl game.  That feeling pervaded throughout the 2009 season. The near loss seemed like an omen of things to come.  Nailed that one.

End Of An Era:  2010 Rose Bowl  Alabama 37  Texas 21

I never had the supreme confidence in this Texas team the way I did for the 2005 model, but I did believe that if anyone could stop ‘Bama, it would be Colt McCoy.  Sadly we will never know if Texas would have won had Colt not gotten injured.  What I do know is this: up until the moment Colt left the game, Texas was dominating.  Would it have held?  Maybe, maybe not, but thinking it about even now makes me sick.

Texas has played in four more bowl games since that night, winning the first two and losing badly in the last two, but none of those games has held the emotional impact the games I mentioned above did.  Other than the fourth quarter comeback David Ash crafted against Oregon State in the 2012 Alamo Bowl, Texas’ post season experiences have been largely underwhelming.

Now, after just the third bowl-less season in the last twenty years, the frustration grows.  How long will it be before the next great Texas bowl moment?  The next comeback or monster performance?  We’ll have to wait at least a year, maybe longer, to answer those questions. Until then, at least we have these great games to look back on.

We all love the 2006 Rose Bowl, but other than that game, what are your favorite Texas bowl memories?  What games or performances stand out in your mind?