Miracle on the Brazos

October 22, 2014

The Baylor Bears flew out of Texas that Friday afternoon just as an unseasonable cold front was flying in. The major headline on page one of the Waco Tribune-Herald the next day would read: “Cold front hits Texas, bringing rain, floods.”

A cold front in early September? Strange.

But looking back now, those were unusual times. The week before, improbable new U.S. President Gerald Ford, just one month on the job himself, had given predecessor Richard Nixon a pardon for his involvement in a disgraceful interlude known as Watergate. Evel Knievel was getting ready for an attempt to catapult the awesome Snake River Canyon on a special motorcycle. In Waco, W.T. Grants put tennis shoes on sale for $2.99 and Kmart offered “stylish corduroy jackets” for only $11. George Bush (the father, not the son) had just been named U.S. ambassador to China.

It was Sept. 14, 1974.

Cooler weather in Waco, but the immediate prospects for victory for Coach Grant Teaff’s Baylor Bears were icy. They were about to play the Oklahoma Sooners, just voted No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press football poll. The previous season, the Bears had finished last in the Southwest Conference race, winless in seven conference games. They also had opened their 1973 season against Oklahoma, but in that game Baylor had owned the home advantage and the Bears had been trounced, 42-14.

The oddsmakers said it would be worse this time. They favored Oklahoma by 42 points, or by whatever margin OU Coach Barry Switzer wanted to make it. The SWC preseason poll said Baylor either would finish last again, or next to last.

Not long ago, Aubrey Schulz looked back on how it was in the hours leading up to the Oklahoma game. “The night before the game, I went to the men’s room in the lobby of our motel. There were two Oklahoma fans in there, and I remember one of them saying, ‘Man, you going to that game? It’s going to be a killing.’ I don’t know how many points underdog we were, but it was a bunch,” he remembers.

At that time, Schulz was just another unknown Baylor Bear. When the season ended, he would be college football’s All-America center, the Bears would be Southwest Conference champions for the first time in half a century and Cotton Bowl bound for the first time in school history, and Barry Switzer would be among those singing their praises to the skies.

From last to first in the old SWC in just one season, from a member of college football’s “Bottom 10” to a place in the AP’s dozen best, from ridicule among this state’s frothy football fans (Texas Monthly magazine had just described the Bears as a hopeless case in its September issue in a story titled “Decline and Fall of the Southwest Conference,” written by Paul Burka; the next January, the magazine gave itself its own Bum Steer Award for that story) to enduring affection in the hearts of the Baylor faithful, from a nine-game losing streak on the football field to what now is lovingly and wondrously hailed as “The Miracle on the Brazos” — that is the story of the 1974 Bears.

They literally plucked Baylor football from the ashes to which it had been assigned by all but a precious few. In the seven years leading up to that star-spangled season, Baylor football was mostly darkness and despair. In 1974, hope was rekindled, respect restored and the crowds came back, so much so that exactly 20 years later, when the prestigious Big 12 Conference was formed (on Feb. 25, 1994), Baylor was among the four members of the SWC who made the cut. It can be strongly argued that without the 1974 epic turnaround, Baylor would not have been chosen for Big 12 membership.

That is their legacy.

Thirty years ago, this fall

It all happened 30 years ago, and now the time has come to examine that 1974 season, to see what made that team tick, the step-by-step course those players and coaches took to achieve what in Baylor minds and memories is something close to immortality.

The course ranged from a conversation-provoking but uplifting loss to Oklahoma to an unnecessary loss to Missouri and then momentum-generating victories over Oklahoma State, Florida State and Arkansas. The largest crowd in the history of Baylor Stadium (now Floyd Casey Stadium) was there to see the Bears lose to Texas A&M, but never mind. They did beat TCU the next week, and all that was but prelude for what happened next.

What happened next had not happened in Waco or anywhere else since Nov. 10, 1956. For the first time in 18 years, the Baylor Bears beat the Texas Longhorns. They beat them in a way that left bedazzled Baylor fans dancing in the streets, University administrators sleeping all night at the stadium with the scoreboard lights ablaze, national columnists writing about shock waves coming out of Waco, old BU grads calling college chums they had not talked to in years and asking that time-honored question: Do you believe in miracles?

Yes, the Bears beat Texas, 34-24. They trailed at halftime, 24-7, but in the game’s final 30 minutes they scored 27 unanswered points. They shook down thunder from the skies. They left their fans in a state of jubilation that lasted for the remainder of the season. “They announced the attendance for that game as 43,000, but I’ll guarantee you I’ve had at least 80,000 people tell me they were there to see every play in the second half,” says Grant Teaff with a smile as he looks back on that never-to-be-
forgotten afternoon.

Yes, people who were there for the game’s opening kickoff saw the Longhorns stampede to their 17-point halftime lead, remembered how the Bears never had beaten a Darrell Royal-coached Texas team in 17 tries and headed to the parking lot, eager to put the afternoon’s latest disappointment behind them.

“A friend of mine from Gatesville was halfway home, but he was listening to the radio and when he heard what was happening, he came back,” recalls one of Baylor’s standouts of that afternoon, wide receiver Ricky Thompson, a Waco banker now in his fifth season as a sideline reporter for Baylor football radio broadcasts.

Aubrey Schulz’s brother, Barney, lived in Austin and was a student at UT that year. Aubrey says his brother and friends left at halftime, wanting to beat the crowd. “They were almost to Temple when we really got our comeback going. They were listening to the game on the radio. They stopped and debated about coming back, but decided to go on. They wish now they’d come back,” Aubrey says of the game that will always burn in his memory.

Teaff recalls a message passed along to him near the end of the third quarter by assistant coach Cotton Davidson, who was in the Baylor scouting booth high atop the west side of the stadium that afternoon. “Grant, you can’t believe what I’m seeing from up here,” Davidson said. “I’m looking out at the parking lot and the cars are streaming back. They’re parking every which way out there. It’s a mess.”

But what a delicious mess. And out of that mess grew a new mountain of momentum that swept the Bears on to victories over Texas Tech, SMU and Rice and, on Jan. 1, 1975, to a Cotton Bowl game against coach Joe Paterno and his Penn State Nittany Lions. The 50-year title drought had been broken. For long-
suffering Baylor fans, the Bears had presented them a 20th century rewrite on that old Milton favorite, Paradise Regained.

Teaff, who now is executive director of the Waco-based American Football Coaches Association, was voted National Football Coach of the Year by his peers after that incredible season. Schulz and linebacker Derrel Luce were named to the All-America team, and those two, along with quarterback Neal Jeffrey, running back Steve Beaird and defensive back Ron Burns, were consensus all-conference selections. And several of the other Bears — wingback Phillip Kent, offensive linemen Mike Hughes, Gary Gregory and Rell Tipton, and defensive backs Ken Quesenberry and Tommy Turnipseede — were named to at least one all-conference team. Jeffrey also won the SWC Sportsmanship Award and Beaird, who that season became Baylor’s first 1,000-yard rusher (actually, 1,104 yards), was named the Southwest Conference Most Valuable Player by the Houston Post, and that was a major honor in those days. It truly was a season of superlatives for the Baylor Bears.

A visit from Switzer

It began with Oklahoma.

The game that was supposed to be no more than a warm-up romp for the Sooners turned into a suspense-crammed struggle. Oklahoma led by only a 7-2 margin at halftime, and as the game moved into the third quarter, a Lawton, Okla., sportswriter watching from the press box kept muttering, “This is a nightmare, this is a nightmare.”

A nightmare for the Sooners maybe, but a wonderful sight for Baylor fans who had seen Joe Washington and friends just wear out the Bears in their game in Waco the previous season. “They just blew us out in ’73, and after that we just lost it. We never recovered from it,” recalls Luce, who would play six years in the National Football League and now is a Waco attorney.

Luce got his revenge early in that game in Norman. “Joe Washington was so quick, just a fantastic athlete. I remember the year before, our guys were just grabbing at air trying to tackle him. But in our game up there (in Norman), Oklahoma got down on our goal line pretty early and Joe tried to jump over a pileup into the end zone. I hit him and the ball came loose and we recovered,” Luce remembers.

And then it became a dogfight, Oklahoma clinging to a 7-5 lead going into the fourth quarter. “What I remember most is just how well we were playing, driving on them in the third and fourth quarters,” says Neal Jeffrey, the Bears’ inspirational senior leader that season who now is associate pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. “We had a chance to go ahead of them pretty late, but then I threw an interception. Randy Hughes (Oklahoma safety) got it. And now he’s a member of my church.”

Oklahoma won that game, 28-11, but the last OU touchdown was scored with only 44 seconds left to play, after a Baylor onside kick gave the Sooners great field position. And the Sooners played their starters for all but the last 40 seconds. When it was all over, OU Coach Barry Switzer came to the Baylor dressing room and asked to talk to the players and coaches. “I just wanted to tell them what a great game they played. I told them they ought to feel they could hold their heads high,” he said.

Teaff recalls: “I was convinced when we left the field at halftime that we were going to be competitive in 1974. So although we lost, it was a plus game for us.”

Kicker David (Bubba) Hicks, now president of a Waco bank, remembers the ride on the bus to the airport after the game. “I was sitting in front of John O’Hara and Bill Hicks (two of Teaff’s assistant coaches) and I heard one of them say, ‘Man, we could really be good next year.’ I just turned around and looked at them, and then I said to the guy sitting next to me, ‘Man, we could be good this year.’”

Hicks especially was taken with Switzer’s postgame visit to the Baylor locker room. “That was the first time in my experience for the coach of the opposing team to come to our locker room to congratulate us. And I think his visit made us realize for the first time that we belonged, because OU was a good team. I think that OU team was the best team I ever saw.”

Luce had believed all along that the Bears were being overlooked and underrated. “We had picked up several good junior college players like defensive tackle Wharton Foster. Ron Burns and Scooter Reed came in (as true freshmen) for the secondary, and they gave us some speed back there. And we had a strong senior class, which I think is very important,” he says. “Corky Nelson had come in as our new defensive coordinator and our defense was so simple, you’d think it was high school. We played seven or eight wishbone teams that year, and wishbone teams want to spread you out. But we put a lot of people up close to the line and played a lot of zone defense. We didn’t spread out. And I think that Oklahoma game set the tone for the entire season.”

In losing to Missouri in Columbia the next week, 28-21, the Bears lost a game they thought they should have won. In the third quarter, Luce forced a fumble that defensive back Charles McClanahan grabbed out of the air and returned 96 yards for the touchdown that tied the score. But Baylor let the Tigers score in the fourth period, forcing the Bears to fly home frustrated with their ninth straight defeat. “We went to Missouri, we got the game in our hands and we just gave it away,” says defensive end Jim Arnold, who now lives in Austin and is an executive with a statewide auto parts and warehouse business. “That was the most disappointing game of the whole season.”

Were they good enough?

The Bears obviously were better than the year before, but were they good enough to make a difference? The schedule provided no breaks. Coming up next was Oklahoma State, undefeated and fresh from a victory over Arkansas (which earlier had upset powerful Southern Cal in Los Angeles) and ranked No. 8 in the country.

On the evening before that game, Teaff did something he had refrained from doing before. He showed the team a special video. “I’ve always felt the catalyst for 1974 was our 1973 loss (34-28) to TCU,” he said not long ago. In 1973, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes co-sponsored the production of 13 shows. One of them was titled “The Athlete,” and it focused on a week in the life of the Baylor football team. The week chosen was the interval leading up to and including the Bears’ Homecoming game against TCU.

“I was looking at it as a good recruiting tool,” Teaff says. “The production crew came in, spent the entire week with us and recorded everything. It became the most widely viewed video of its type; it was seen nationally, even worldwide. But, of course, the climax of the game came very late when it looked like we were on the verge of winning after getting way behind. And then Neal (Jeffrey) lost track of the downs and purposely threw the ball out of bounds on fourth down to stop the clock. That doomed us.

The rest was history

“In the dressing room, after we had lost so ingloriously, Neal was sitting in front of his locker, head down around his knees, just sobbing his head off. I went over to him and told him, ‘Get your head up, Neal. We wouldn’t even have been in this game without you. Always remember that.’ Then I went outside and told the producer, ‘I’m sorry we didn’t give you a winner.’

“And I’ll never forget his reply. He said, ‘Oh, coach, you gave us a bigger winner than you realize.’ And I look back on that game now as the emergence of Neal Jeffrey as a leader,” Teaff says.

Teaff had wanted to show the video earlier, before both the Oklahoma and Missouri games, but his assistants talked him out of it, saying it would hurt Jeffrey. “By the time we got ready to play Oklahoma State, I had made up my mind. Friday afternoon, I sent the assistants out of town recruiting, and while they were gone I showed the team the video. I remember it was deathly quiet in the room after I showed it. The players just got up and filed out,” he says. “And the rest, as they say, is history. We lost only one game after that. And I credit that film, and the way the players reacted, for a lot of what we were able to do in ’74.”

Taking on Oklahoma State the next evening, the Bears not only wiped out the losing streak, they did something that grew into a habit: They dominated the fourth quarter, blanking OSU and scoring 14 points themselves. And it was in that game that the stumpy Beaird, all 5-foot-7-inches and 195 pounds of him, really established himself as a true papa bear. He had rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown against Missouri, but against Oklahoma State, he rushed for 91 yards, caught three passes for another 91 yards and scored three touchdowns, one of them after catching a screen pass and taking it 84 yards. The Bears toppled the favored Cowboys with room to spare, 31-14.

That broke the ice. “I think the OSU game was a real turning point,” Luce says. “They were ranked No. 8 in the nation and we beat them soundly. I think that was when people thought we might be pretty good. That was a critical, critical, critical game for us.”

Arnold says: “We came back from Missouri and got Oklahoma State, and we just dominated. We blew them out of the tub, and I think we knew we were going to.”

Sealed from the get-go

In conversations several months ago with a number of the 1974 Bears, a consensus began to emerge: Without question, the Texas game was the watershed moment of the campaign, but the Oklahoma State, Florida State, Arkansas and Texas Tech games were pivotal, too. Those were games that posed special challenges the way they unfolded, and the Bears answered every challenge. The other victories (TCU, SMU, Rice) were must-win contests for a team with championship on the mind, but the Bears had those games signed and sealed almost from the get-go.

Playing in Tallahassee the next Saturday after upsetting Oklahoma State, the Bears had to storm back from a 17-0 deficit at halftime to get their 21-17 victory over Florida State. What happened at halftime became the turning point. The dazed and mistake-prone Bears trudged to their locker room and found the door locked and no one around to unlock it. “I finally kicked the door in. I literally kicked it in,” Teaff says. “I was irate. And right above us were metal stands and people were stomping on them, and it was so loud we couldn’t hear ourselves think.”

After the customary 20-minute pause for halftime, Teaff and his players returned to the field. There they found the Florida State band still performing, honoring movie star and FSU alumnus Burt Reynolds and part of the cast of “The Longest Yard.” The halftime ceremony just went on and on — 25 minutes, 30 minutes, 35 minutes.

“That halftime lasted 40 minutes, and I counted every minute,” Teaff says. Still angry, he could see his team losing the concentration he thought it had acquired during the intermission. “Somebody get that guy out of there,” Teaff remembers saying, motioning to the band director who was still perched on his ladder directing. Baylor’s big defensive lineman Leslie Benson took Teaff’s words as an order.

As Ricky Thompson recalls: “We had just had a miserable, miserable halftime. Then we go out there and the field is still covered with band members. Grant fumed a few minutes and then blew up, and Benson went out and yanked the bandleader off the ladder and carried him off the field. The stands just erupted. It was the funniest thing of the whole season. I’ve never seen or heard of anything like that.”

But in the second half, it was no contest. “We just manhandled them,” says Hicks, noting that after Benson did his thing, “the band just disintegrated.” Beaird scored all three Baylor touchdowns. “Steve was just a hard guy to get down. He could make something out of nothing. But we had a lot of guys who could make things happen,” Thompson says.

In the second half of the FSU game, “We played flawlessly,” Teaff says. “I felt pretty good flying home. Near the end of the game someone came over to me and said, ‘That band leader said he’s going to sue you.’ I told the guy, ‘If anybody files a lawsuit, it’s going to be me. Tell him that.’ I never did hear anymore about it.”

Beaird still looks back on that game in Tallahassee as the turning point of the season. “Everybody has his own opinion,” he says. “But I’d have to say Florida State. We were way down and we came back and won. That gave us a lot of momentum. I remember the coaches were so positive after that game. And I remember we thought, ‘Well, maybe they’re right, maybe we are winners.’”

The Arkansas game the next week found the Bears rallying to win once more in the fourth quarter (21-17). More to the point, it found them beating Arkansas for the first time since 1966, and it gave Teaff his first victory over a Frank Broyles-coached team and enabled the Bears to begin their conference campaign with a victory for the first time since Teaff’s arrival at Baylor. It also proved the Bears could win a big one even with Neal Jeffrey on the bench for much of the game after taking a blow that left his nose smashed and blood pouring down his uniform. Mark Jackson, now a Chicago stockbroker, took over and played superbly, directing the Bears so well that on one sequence, they actually had to score three touchdowns to get credit for one. Game officials voided the first two because of what they perceived to be rules infractions.

The moment of truth came late in the game after Arkansas had forged ahead, 17-14. With 2:30 left to play, Wharton Foster pounced on a Razorback fumble and Jeffrey, the bleeding having stopped, returned to the lineup and directed the Bears 36 yards for the winning points, doing so with no time-outs left. Orville Henry, longtime sports editor of the Arkansas Gazette, wrote that “the difference was that Baylor played like Arkansas, and Arkansas played like Baylor used to … Baylor’s line stopped the Razorbacks four downs inside the five early in the third period, something no one else has done.”

Luce says: “Up to that point, nobody knew how good we were going to be. And so many good things had to happen for us to win. It was like it was written in the stars.”

As Thompson sees it, the Arkansas game was the big one of the year. “As many big events as there were that year, I guess 99 percent of the guys would go back to the Texas game as the turning point, but I still think Arkansas,” he says. “And I remember flying back from Fayetteville, and the pilot got on the intercom and told us, ‘Guys, we’re going to have to figure out a way to get you down there. There are so many people who have come out to the airport to welcome you home, we’re going to have a problem.’”

Schulz still talks about that airport reception. “It happened 30 years ago, but it feels just like yesterday,” he says. “The crowd was great.”

The Bears had become the darlings of Baylor fandom and the talk of the state.

Texas A&M brought the Bears back to earth. With a crowd that officially is listed in the Baylor football media guide as 57,200, the Aggies, ranked No. 8 by the Associated Press that week, converted a fluke fumble and the interception of a screen pass to score two touchdowns, and they kicked two field goals to win a 20-0 verdict although they never sustained a drive inside the Baylor 15. But the Bears never got inside the Aggie 40. “We were too conservative on offense in that game. But I left the game feeling our defense definitely had come of age,” Teaff says.

The Bears were never in trouble against TCU the next week, building up a 21-point lead before giving up a touchdown in the fourth quarter. “Our theme of the week was ‘redemption.’ We were trying to redeem ourselves after our performance against A&M,” said Teaff after the Bears’ 21-7 victory was official.

The greatest comeback

And that redemption brought them face-to-face with Texas and what turned out to be what many still regard as the greatest comeback in Baylor’s football history.

It was the afternoon of Nov. 9, and for the first half it was all Raymond Clayborn, Earl Campbell and Rosey Leaks, with a Billy Schott field goal thrown in. For Texas, 24 points; for Baylor, a single touchdown strike produced by Jeffrey’s 68-yard pass thrown to speedy Alcy Jackson early in the first quarter.

So at halftime, the fans were leaving. The Bears had moved the ball well throughout the first 30 minutes, but their own mistakes kept foiling their best efforts. “In the first half, they were really hurting us with the option play,” Teaff says. “But as we walked off the field, I asked Neal how he was feeling. He surprised me. He said, ‘I’m feeling great, coach.’ I said, ‘Neal, do you really believe that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, coach, we’ve got them right where we want them. We’re moving the ball. We just have to tighten up the defense now.’”

‘We’re going to win’

Hicks doesn’t recall any fiery speeches during that halftime, but he does remember a comment of Jeffrey’s: “I remember Neal saying to somebody in the tunnel as we went back on the field, ‘We’re going to win this game.’ And I don’t remember anybody arguing with him.”

Maybe linebacker Jim Arnold wasn’t arguing, but neither was he all that convinced. “When we went into the locker room at the half, Neal said, ‘Guys, cool it. We’ve got ’em right where we want ’em.’ And I thought, ‘Boy, what have you been drinking?’”

That’s when Corky Nelson, the team’s new chief of defense, went into action. Linebacker Luce says Texas was running the ball against them up the middle, and “we couldn’t stop them.” Nelson put Benson (6-3, 255) in the middle in place of John Oliver (very quick but only 6-2 and 207) and switched the defense to a seven-man front, forcing Texas to pitch the ball on the option. “And we had a cornerback blitz on almost every play,” Luce says. “Texas had to start trying to throw the ball, and that wasn’t their game.”

The Bears had gone into the contest relatively confident that they could block one of Texas’ punts. “We had decided that from studying the tape, but in the first half we never could make them punt,” Teaff says. That changed on the first series of the second half. Before UT punter Mike Dean could connect with the ball, Bears were streaking in on him from every direction. Reserve rover Johnny Greene blocked the punt and linebacker Johnny Slaughter recovered for the Bears on the UT 17.

Greene roomed with Mark Jackson for four years and seeing his roomie block the punt was a special thrill for Jackson. “After that, it seemed like, ‘Well, we blocked that one, now let’s do something with it.’ But to me,” Jackson adds, “the turning point in that game was when Ron Burns hit Marty Akins (UT quarterback) in the fourth quarter and just buckled him. We got the ball and scored to go ahead, and once the momentum got turned, it just steamrolled.”

Thompson remembers: “That blocked punt was huge. We had so many people in on that punter, there was no way he was not going to get his kick blocked. That must have been a sick feeling for him, to see so many guys in there in his face.”

And just like that, the tide turned. Seven plays later, on fourth-and-one at the Texas 1-yard line, Jeffrey faked a handoff and then went wide right and just did make it to the Texas end zone before several Longhorns engulfed him.

“I guess I’ve heard more about that run than anything I’ve ever done,” Jeffrey said not long ago. “People keep saying, ‘Man, it took you forever to get around that corner.’ Bill Hamilton was one of Texas’ linebackers and he was a good one, good speed. Our fake pulled him into the backfield, and then he was chasing me as I tried to get around the corner.

“I can still see it in my mind, big No. 13 bearing down on me, and I kept telling myself, ‘I’ve got to get there.’ I could see them stopping us at the 1-yard line and then driving 99 yards for another touchdown themselves, and the game would have been over. But I barely made it to the end zone.”

Hicks kicked the extra point. Suddenly it was a 24-14 game, Texas still ahead but the Bears were alive and on fire. The Baylor defense kept doing its job, and near the end of the third quarter, Jeffrey hit the extremely athletic Thompson (conference long-jump champion as well as football star that year) on a slant route that the Gatesville, Texas, native turned into a 54-yard touchdown run. Now it was 24-21, and there was electricity in the air.

“Just after I caught the ball, two Texas defensive backs hit me. They knocked me back but also knocked me free, and all I had to do was run,” Thompson says. He remembers that in the Florida State game, the Bears ran the same play but to the other side. “Against Florida State, I saw the seam wide open,” he says. “It would have been an easy touchdown but in my eagerness,
I slipped and fell. Against Texas, I just told myself, hit that seam full speed and don’t slip.”

In a twist of fate, Thompson ended up playing one of the biggest games of his life against the school whose team colors he’d always wanted to wear. “I grew up wanting to go to Texas. That was the only place I wanted to go. I had already told Texas I was coming,” he says. But then Cotton Davidson — also from Gatesville — and Clyde Hart visited him.

“I actually committed to Coach Hart in my house. That was Coach Teaff’s first year at Baylor. After telling Baylor I was coming, I had to call Texas and tell them I’d changed my mind, and for an 18-year-old, that was a hard deal,” he says. “But I’ve never regretted it.”

Ending the Texas jinx

Phillip Kent scored on a 6-yard run after the fumble recovery, and later in that quarter Hicks kicked two field goals. Suddenly, the Texas jinx was dead.

For Schulz, the win over Texas was personal. “That was the game for me because I grew up in Austin and they (Texas) didn’t want me,” Schulz says. “I went to Tyler Junior College, and when I got through there, Texas still didn’t want me, so I came to Baylor. The main thing in that game had to be the blocked punt, but coming from behind like we did was huge. But you know, even at halftime we felt confident.”

Beaird, now a foundation drilling contractor based in East Texas, remembers: “In the first half, we were really getting our butts beat. I looked up in the stands and everybody was gone. Late in the game, I looked up in the stands and everybody was back. I didn’t realize until later that beating Texas meant so much. It was such a classic game for Baylor fans. It was amazing how the momentum shifted. And if you were going to credit one guy on defense, I think it would be Corky Nelson. What a job he did. He put everybody up on the line, had Burns crashing on almost every play and dared them to pass. To me, he had so much to do with that victory.”

For offensive lineman Rell Tipton, a Houston attorney, it was fun only after it was all over. “Doug English, their great All-
American, was playing directly across from me,” he says. “My memory is of getting slapped in the head every play, getting run over a couple of times, trying to get help in trying to block him. But after that game, and for the rest of the season, there really wasn’t much question we were going to win.”

After the game, Texas Coach Darrell Royal visited the Baylor locker room and congratulated the Bears on their victory. Aware of the long famine they had endured, he told them, “Don’t look back, go all the way.” Royal told reporters after the game: “Emotion’s a great equalizer; that’s been proven before. Baylor sure played with emotion. They played an outstanding game and deserved to win. They had a chance to quit and never did.”

After the game, Teaff received a telegram. It came from Oklahoma Coach Switzer and it read: “Now people are beginning to see what we saw in that first game. Congratulations.”

Say it slow, slow, slow

It was a victory over the long-dominant Longhorns that was almost beyond Baylor fans’ belief. As former Baylor journalism professor Harry Marsh wrote, those fans, pushed beyond ecstasy, had discovered green and gold at the foot of the rainbow. Executive Vice President Herb Reynolds, Development Officer Tom Parrish, Regent Ralph Storm and their wives — and maybe some other people, too — secured their bedrolls and stayed at the stadium through the night beneath the glow of the brightly burning scoreboard lights. Did they get much sleep? Who knows? Did Grant Teaff get much sleep that night? The phone rang at his home until well after midnight, and finally, Teaff says, “We went downtown to the newspaper building and got some papers as they were coming off the press. I wanted to see it in print.”

What he saw was a story that began: “Mr. Webster, back to the old drawing board. Your dictionary is woefully incomplete. It does not yet contain a word to properly describe what the fantastic, intrepid, absolutely mind-boggling Baylor Bears did on a cold, gray, delicious, delightful Saturday afternoon here on Nov. 9, 1974. What the Bears did was defeat Texas, 34-24. Say it fast and it sounds routine. So say it slow, slow, slow. Because there was nothing routine about it.”

There was nothing about the remainder of the season that was routine either, although expectations of victory had grown so strong that it almost seemed so. The next game, against Texas Tech in Waco, the Bears had to overcome a special challenge. Teaff describes Tech’s offensive setup: “An exaggerated, unbalanced line, just a guard on one side of center and all the other linemen on the other side. They’d never used that before.” With it, Tech jumped out to a 7-0 lead. But the Bears adjusted, turned Burns loose again (a crucial QB sack plus an interception), tied the game on a plunge by Beaird in the third quarter and used a Hicks field goal and a 20-yard touchdown burst right up the middle by fullback Pat McNeil in the fourth to nail down the 17-10 verdict.

“It would have been real easy to lose that game,” Thompson says. “We probably had an emotional letdown after beating Texas. And what a tragedy that would have been. But after beating Tech, I don’t think there was a chance in the world that we were going to lose one of
those last two.”

It was the Texas Tech game that stamped sophomore guard Napoleon Tyler as the team’s poet laureate as the by-now-crowded BU bandwagon rolled on:

Somebody don’t want Baylor in a bowl,

so they put ’em in a hole.

But the Bears came out,

and that’s what Baylor pride is all about.

Big Louie was here

Next stop: SMU in Dallas. The Bears won easily, 31-14, scoring their first victory over the Mustangs since 1965. Jeffrey completed his first seven passes, Beaird rushed for three touchdowns and 133 yards (“I always seemed to have my best games against SMU,” he says), and linebacker Don Bockhorn kicked a whopper of a field goal (a record 59-yarder).

But most eyes were glued to the play of Schulz (listed at 6-1 and 226), who had to go against SMU’s huge nose tackle Louie Kelcher, the behemoth who had just destroyed Texas A&M two weeks earlier. A consensus All-America selection that season, Kelcher went on to win great recognition in the NFL playing with the San Diego Chargers. But in Teaff’s words, “Aubrey just dominated Kelcher that day. He was amazing. That was the game where he made All-America himself, no question about it.” Remembers Hicks: “Aubrey just ate him alive.”

Schulz, coach of the Clear Creek Wildcats outside Houston for the past 20 years, laughs about it now. “It was one of those games where it was just larger than life,” he says. “Kelcher was one of the few 300-pounders in football in those days, about 6-5 or 6-6 and 310. I mean, Louie was huge! I just had a good game. But on one play, I hit him so hard it knocked a hole in the front of my helmet. I still have that helmet in the trophy case in my office. The trainer put a piece of tape above the hole, and I put an arrow on the tape, pointing to the hole, and I wrote on it: ‘Big Louie was here.’”

The Bears beat SMU on Nov. 23. Texas clobbered A&M in Austin, 32-3, on Nov. 29 in a nationally televised game played in blizzard-like conditions. The Bears all got together and whooped and hollered for the Longhorns as they watched the game — which “was over almost before it began,” Teaff says — from the Lettermen’s Lounge at Baylor Stadium.

That outcome assured the Bears of no worse than a tie for the title and their coveted trip to the Cotton Bowl, but as Teaff says, “We didn’t want to just sneak in, we didn’t want that stigma.”

The Bears played their final regular season game against Rice on Nov. 30. “It was bitterly cold … and the students had gone home for the Thanksgiving holiday, but we had a huge crowd, more than 40,000,” Ricky Thompson remembers. Kicker Bubba Hicks says it was “the coldest game I was ever in, and in those days, we didn’t have the blowing heaters down on the sideline. Kicking the ball was like kicking a rock.” But he didn’t have to do much kicking. Beaird ran 20 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, McNeil ran 10 yards for another in the second, Mark Jackson ran 13 for still another in the fourth and Hicks kicked a 35-yard field goal. The Owls could score only on a third-quarter field goal. Baylor fans were talking about Cotton Bowl tickets long before the game ended.

A trip to the circus

Yes, they did lose in the Cotton Bowl. Penn State beat them, 41-20, although Baylor led at the half, 7-3. “Having a lead at the half threw us off. We weren’t accustomed to leading anyone at the half,” Mark Jackson says.

But that loss dimmed not a bit the golden glow the Bears had put on that remarkable season. Winning the crown, finally getting to the Cotton Bowl, breaking that 50-year drought — that was what was on Baylor fans’ minds and that was what the 1974 team delivered. Players and fans alike enjoyed it to the hilt. Field Scovell, long recognized as “Mr. Cotton Bowl,” appointed himself to be Baylor’s official host for the bowl game, and when someone told him that he certainly seemed to be enjoying his role, he replied: “Aw, you always have fun taking a kid to his first circus.”

That was the way it was at the climax of an unforgettable season — an unprecedented trip to the circus. The finish was crowned by a joyous gathering of thousands of Baylor fans in Dallas, waiting for the Cotton Bowl kickoff — fans who had waited so long and been disappointed so often, and then suddenly the sun had broken through for them. Longtime ardent Baylor fan Bill Logue, a retired state district judge in Waco, could have been speaking for the multitude when he said not long ago:

“The last time Baylor had won the championship was in 1924, the year I was born. And I was beginning to wonder if I would live to see them win another one. But then came that fantastic victory over Texas, and all the other victories that took us to the Cotton Bowl for the first time, and it really was a miracle on the Brazos. And I will never forget it.”

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