We bring you Part Two of our series "When Cats Were Kings" chronicling the golden era of the Southwest Texas State Bobcats under Jim Wacker. You can find Part One here, as we looked at the 1981 National Champions. Part Two looks at the 1982 SWT team.
Ron Jacoby had waited his time. Three long years to be exact. For three years he sat behind starting quarterback Mike Miller on the depth chart. He watched Miller set school records, raise to Lone Star league trophies as well as a National Title in 1981. In 1982 it was his turn to run Jim Wacker's veer offense. For the senior from Austin McCallum who'd been watching and waiting it was his time.
A little Respect
The Bobcats had run roughshod through three rounds of the 1981 playoffs on their way to winning it all. They had pretty much run roughshod over the rest of the schedule as well. The one blemish was a loss at home to Texas A&I, the Bobcats ninth straight defeat at the hands of the Javelinas. Still, heading into 1982 the defending league and national champs were picked 3rd in the Lone Star Conference by SIDs in a preseason poll - behind Abilene Christian and A&I.
The Bobcats lost some big-time talent off the '81 championship team, including quarterback Mike Miller who was drafted by the Chiefs, Bobby Watkins who went to the Lions in the second round, and Ken Coffey who headed out to the Redskins. Watkins and Coffey were the backbone of the SWT secondary, and their replacements would have huge shoes to fill.
The Lone Star was also stacked. This was an era before Texas' in-state talent departed in waves to out of state schools. If you were a football player in Texas who didn't get a SWC offer, chances are you found a home at one of the Lone Star schools, they offered financial assistance, and NFL scouts routinely recommended Lone Star players to their higher-ups. In six years from 1979 to 1985, SWT had seven players drafted into the league. That's the same number of Texas State players drafted the last 17 from 2000 to 2017.
ACU and A&I were stacked as well. ACU returned Loyal Proffitt who torched the Bobcats for over 400 yards through the air a year before; he was just a sophomore. The Wildcats had gone 8-2 in 1981, one of those losses was 38-31 to the Bobcats on a Watkins interception for a touchdown as time expired. Texas A&I had gone 28-7 in three years under Ron Harms including an NAIA title in 1979. The Javelinas returned Mark James at quarterback, coming off a 1981 that saw him lead the Lone Star in total offense.
Most folks thought the Lone Star was going to be a dogfight start to finish. As important A&I hosted the Bobcats at Javelina Stadium, where most Lone Star foes went to die while hearing Javelina Band trumpeters belt out the opening bars to Jalisco.
It All Starts Up Front
Ron Jacoby had the benefit of a powerful and significant (for the era) offensive line. Inside the Bobcats returned three starters, center Scott Forester and guards Mike Wynn and Greg Westmoreland. Westmoreland had made Second Team All-Conference in '81. Outside at the tackles, two new starters were breaking in, converted defensive tackle Rick Sowells who earned First Team All-Conference in 1981 on the defensive side of the ball. Mark Gregurek joined him at 6-4 283 pounds.
The Bobcats were also big and deep on the defensive front. End Mike Bailiff was All-Conference in 1981 and fully recovered from an ankle injury that kept him out of the playoff run. Speedster Rod Jones filled in at the other end. All-Conference performer Mike Langford returned inside along with John Hardin who started every playoff game as a true freshman. Van Hughes transferred to San Marcos from Texas Tech and gave the Bobcats a plus athlete on the defensive line. David Lacky and Roland Altinger provided depth inside to give the Bobcats a nice rotation.
The Bobcats returned All-Conference performer Cyril Friday at linebacker along with Tim Staskus. The Bobcat secondary returned Bill Hall and Stanley Burton, Hall was among the fastest players on the team. Adrian Simpson and Kenny Huewett were called on to fill in for Watkins and Coffey along with David Glasco a ball-hawking UNLV transfer.
In terms of skill players, the Bobcats had some cards to play. Highly productive Vaughn Dreary returned in a more featured role, and Ricky "Silk" Sanders returned at running back. Sanders was the fastest player on the squad. At receiver Gary Peoples returned after a productive 1981 season. Peoples had started since setting foot on campus. Tight end David Vela, who set the school record for touchdowns receiving the year before, returned as well.
Picking Up Where they Left off
If anyone was looking for a dramatic fall-off in the Bobcat's performance, they'd have to wait. SWT opened with Lamar at home in front of over 12,000 fans. Jacoby's debut went according to plan as he ran for two touchdowns. He was also 16-25 for 169 yards passing. SWT's defense added a school-record six interceptions in a 30-0 complete victory.
A week later the 11,700 fans watched the Bobcats dispense with Prairie View 35-7. Ricky Sanders ran for 107 yards on just eleven carries the Panther offense managed only 71 total yards.
In week three Southland competitor Nichols State came to Bobcat Stadium and gave the Bobcats their first test of the 1982 season. Jacoby struggled for the first time, throwing three interceptions and the offensive line sputtered to get the veer offense going. Luckily Nichols found the going even tougher vs. the Bobcat defense. The Colonels were sacked twelve, yes 12, times by SWT. Those twelve sacks led to 101 negative yards for Nichols. Still, Bobcat mistakes gave the Colonels a chance.
One of Jacoby's picks resulted in the first score of the game and a 7-0 Nichols lead. The Bobcats gained a brief moment of offensive consistency with a six-play 80-yard drive to tie the game just before the half. Then the Bobcat defense did its part once again.
His head coach Jim Wacker described Kenny Meyers as being too small and too slow to play college football. Not exactly a vote of confidence, but Meyers didn't care. Starting in place of the injured Mike Bailiff, Meyers broke through the line with 1:28 remaining in the first half and hit Nichols quarterback Keith Menard forcing the ball out. The ball bounced off someone's shoe and directly to defensive end Rod Clark. Clark may not have been the biggest defensive end at just 210 pounds, but he was one of the fastest. His speed was a game changer across from all-everything Mike Bailiff. His speed changed the game vs. Nichols as he carried the ball 15 yards for what would prove to be the go-ahead score in a 14-7 win.
Meyers ended the day with four sacks, and he and the rest of the Bobcats held Nichols to just 50 net yards on the game. For Wacker the win was a cautionary tale, "We can't count on winning games on an intercepted fumble return that bounces off someone's shoe" he said after the game. The lucky bounce kept the Bobcats undefeated heading into their first road test of the year.
True freshman Eric Cobbel was acclimating well to the college game. Cobbel scored twice from his running back position in the first three games. Against Southeastern Louisiana, on the road in the rain, his contributions would be critical. Cobble returned a blocked punt for a score before fielding a punt and scampering 72 yards for a score a few plays later. Cobble's heroics helped stake SWT to a 27-0 halftime lead. The Bobcats grew the lead to 34-0 in the 3rd, then Southeastern got going. The Lions scored 21 straight late in the fourth after a couple of onside kicks to make the game somewhat respectable at 34-21.
Wacker's squad was now 4-0 and was 17-1 over its last 18 games. The Lone Star was waiting, and Wacker had his sights on repeat, not only of the league but a repeat of the National Title.
"Make sure we're not one of those victims"
Wacker need his young charges to understand that games weren't a given victory. Nichols State had helped and Southeastern's mad dash in the last minutes of the game became teaching moments. Wacker knew his team was better than almost any opponent they lined up against, but he didn't want to them to beat themselves. "Every week you pick up the newspaper and read about upset by teams that are rebuilding. That's the major story in college football right now, we've got to make sure we're not one of those victims."
As SWT prepared for the conference opener against Howard Payne, the opponent was as much themselves as the Yellowjackets. Howard Payne, after all, hadn't beaten SWT in nine years. The Bobcats made it ten straight with a 31-3 win and a 5-0 start.
The next test would be unique as the Bobcats traveled to Houston to take Sam Houston State in the Eighth Wonder of the World - the Astrodome. A neutral site for both teams, the dome game drew almost 20,000 fans. Jacoby scored four times on two runs of one yard and two runs of five. Defensive Mike Bailiff returned a fumble for a TD, and Ricky Sanders added a touchdown as the Bobcats put up 52 in a 31 point victory over the Bearkats.
A week later, against SFA, the Bobcat offense played another sloppy, turnover-filled game with three interceptions and two fumbles. However, the 'Cats still had enough to overcome the hapless Lumberjacks, 31-21.
The Bobcats had been tested, and while they'd been sloppy at times, they had survived. They would need all their efforts the next week to deal with East Texas State in a game where they were left for dead.
The Commerce Miracle
In 1981 the Bobcats cruised to a 38-7 win over East Texas State in San Marcos. In 1982 the Bobcats traveled to Commerce to take on the 4-3 Lions. SWT handled the Lions for five straight years. ETSU's Kyle Mackey sought to change all that.
Mackey, the Lions quarterback, looked the part at 6-4 and 215 pounds. The junior from Alpine set a school passing yards record for the Lions in 1981. He was back and so was running back Ricky Dirks. A Paris native, Dirks got the Lions on the board early with an 18-yard run then Mackey went to work. He hit receiver Mike Spencer on an 11-yard touchdown before Dirks second touchdown run, this one for 20 yards climbed the Lions to a 21-3 halftime lead.
Whatever halftime speech Wacker delivered worked, at least for a little while as Jacoby carried ten yards to cut the lead to 21-10 early in the 3rd. But Mackey connected on his second touchdown pass before Dirks ran for his third touchdown and a 34-10 fourth-quarter lead. On the day Mackey threw for 326 yards, torching the Bobcat defense.
Early in the fourth the Bobcats trailed by 24 and had yet to slow the Lions attack. Jacoby hit Gary Peoples for what appeared to be a harmless score to bring the 'Cats within 17. But while the score seemed harmless what happened over the next six minutes was nothing short of remarkable. Capitalizing on an ETSU fumble, Ron Gaskin kept the Bobcat hopes alive with a touchdown run cutting the lead to 10.
Dirks made a critical mistake in an otherwise dominant performance with a fumble late in the fourth, and Jacoby hit David Sorrell on a 30-yard touchdown strike and brought SWT within three with five minutes remaining. The Bobcat D got it's second big stop in the fourth quarter and forced a Lion punt. All that sat between SWT and a win was 93 yards and the Lion defense.
Jacoby went to work. Bailed out on a couple of occasions by David Vela, who made 12 catches for 139 yards, the 'Cats drove. Jacoby set three school record in Commerce for total plays, passing attempts, and completions, the last of which was the game winner to Ricky Sanders from eight yards out with seventeen seconds on the clock. Jacoby's unlikely evening kept the #1 ranked Bobcats undefeated. It also solidified his role from Mike Miller's understudy to the offensive leader.
SWT blew out Angelo at home to set up a chance to clinch an outright Lone Star title against Abilene Christian.
"I'm too old for the finishes"
Under Wacker SWT could beat you any way you wanted: slow down their offense, their defense was destructive. If you put up big offensive numbers, the Bobcats had the speed and skill to get back into the game. The Bobcats' biggest opponent was usually themselves. As they headed into the meat of their league schedule, ACU and A&I, the Bobcats margin for error narrowed.
Against ACU, the Bobcats got on the board first with an Eric Cobble 21 yard touchdown run. SWT wouldn't make any more noise in the first half thanks to three turnovers and trailing in time of possession 21 minutes to just 8. The Bobcat defense rose up and shut the door on Loyal Proffitt and the Wildcats however and at the half, it was 7-0.
In the third quarter, Ken Huewitt picked off a Proffitt pass and returned it 21 yards for the touchdown and a 14-0 Bobcat lead. In the fourth Proffitt finally made good with a three-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 14-7.
Another Bobcat turnover, this time on a pitch from Jacoby set the Wildcats up again. With under two minutes to go, Proffitt drove the Wildcats inside the Bobcat 20 and connected on a 13-yard touchdown pass to Kelly West bringing ACU to within a point at 14-13.
ACU was faced with a decision: kick an extra point and force a likely tie or go for two and the win. A tie assured the Wildcats wouldn't win the Lone Star while a win kept their title hopes alive. With nothing to lose, ACU went for the win and the two-point conversion. The 'Cat defense braced as ACU was talented enough to attack them by run or pass, Proffitt has settled in during the second half. The Wildcats chose to run a toss sweep, but the SWT defense sniffed it out and held. The Bobcats recovered the ensuing onside kick to bring another Lone Star title to San Marcos onceagain and give Jim Wacker his 100th career victory.
Endings and Beginnings
His 101st win was what Wacker really wanted. He wanted to beat his old nemesis Texas A&I. He also wanted to beat his good friend an college roommate, Ronnie Harms. SWT was assured a home playoff game in two weeks, but before all that the there was a trip to Kingsville to deal with. A&I had won nine straight over the Bobcats, but it was more than that, it was how they'd done it. In 1980 the Bobcats were primed for a playoff run when an A&I win in the last week of the season knocked them out of contention. In '81 the Bobcats were undefeated and played their final regular season game at home, in front of 17,000 plus. A&I ruined the coronation with a 21-14 win as SWT blew a 14 point lead. Even though SWT won the National Title, those losses still weighed on Wacker and his team.
They wanted payback and to get it they'd have to go into one of the toughest places to play in college football. Since 1974 the Javelinas were 47-5-1 at home including a stretch of 21 straight home wins from 1974 to 1976. The Javs routinely drew over 12,000 per game in part because of an incredible tailgating scene, straight out of a BBQ postcard, and "Jalisco."
Jalisco became the signature of A&I and its football team after the First World War when two school trumpet players, tired of playing traditional military marches, went rogue and started playing the song Jalisco and other traditional Mexican music. The rest of the band caught on. In 1961 band director Dr. Joseph Bellamah published the Javelina Band's signature arrangement of the song, and in 1969 the school officially adopted Jalisco as their fight song.
Road teams for a half-decade had listened to the A&I bands' rendition as the Javelinas racked up titles and wins. When the Javelinas were rallying the band was known to play the song constantly, for entire halves at times.
The 1982 Javelinas needed more than a song. Heading into the SWT game, the Javelinas were 5-5 including a loss to Howard Payne that featured 11 turnovers. But they were still dangerous at home, and they had the Bobcats' number.
At the same time, SWT was dealing with another distraction. Jim Wacker was a wanted man.
Way up in Fort Worth, TCU coach F.A. Dry was relieved of his duties in the week leading up to the SWT/A&I contest. In and of itself that didn't seem like an earth-shattering development in San Marcos. Then Dallas Morning News published a story that named Jim Wacker as the Horned Frogs' top replacement candidate. Wacker told his team that he wouldn't consider any other jobs before the end of the season. Still, most of his players knew that if TCU came knocking, Wacker would be gone.
Distractions aside the Bobcats headed south to end the A&I curse though for a half the Javelinas were competitive. They led 21-20 in the second quarter and were gouging the Bobcat defense. In the second half, the game turned as SWT's defense clamped down holding the Javelinas in check. Ricky Sanders also went off. He finished with 151 yards on 21 carries and three scores including a 52-yard run to tear the game open. The Bobcats went onto break the nine-game losing streak with a 45-27 victory.
The Bobcat win gave them an undefeated regular season and handed A&I just its third losing record in eighteen seasons.
The 'Cats were off to the playoffs for the second straight season. They hosted Fort Valley State a week later. But that week the Bobcats weren't only occupied with the playoff contest. The new that the rumors of Wacker to TCU were no longer rumors and were fact rocked the Bobcats. On Tuesday night before the playoff game, Wacker met with his team to announce he was leaving San Marcos for Fort Worth effective at the end of the season - whenever that may come.
The earliest potential end date was four days later when the Bobcats played their first loser goes home game against Fort Valley.
"We've Got to Stop 'Em"
Among a myriad of things that a head coach can't control, the weather sits at the top of the list. With an offense like the veer, which relies on exchanges and pitches, rain doesn't help. What came down on November 27th, 1982 in San Marcos, Texas wasn't rain, it was more biblical. It turned Bobcat Stadium's field into a slush pit and caused SWT issues with ball security.
Five turnovers including three interceptions by Fort Valley's Rufus Jones kept SWT in a bind. The Bobcats weren't just fighting the elements; they were also fighting the news that Jim Wacker was heading to TCU immediately following the season. Whatever the cause, the Bobcats were behind 6-0 at the half.
The funk lifted in the second half with an opening Bobcat touchdown drive culminating in a run by Cobble that gave 'Cats a 7-6 lead. When you needed a big play on defense, Ken Huewitt had become the man. Against Grand Valley Huewitt didn't disappoint. He came into the Wildcat backfield and executed a strip sack, and the 'Cats were back in business. They capitalized with a six-yard touchdown run from Sanders.
Jacoby broke off a 46-yard touchdown run to seal the game and then hit Vela on a 26-yard touchdown to cap it at 27-6. The Bobcats in spite of the elements, gained over 460 yards while their defense was its typical stingy self allowing only 126 yards on the afternoon.
The next week Jacksonville State made the trip to San Marcos for their second playoff game in as many years against the Bobcats. The Gamecocks were 10-1 heading into the playoff rematch and once again led by All-American quarterback Ed Lett.
Ricky Sanders opened the scoring with a fifteen-yard run that was sprung thanks to a great block by David Vela. The Gamecocks answered with a 77-yard scoring drive, followed by a 40-yard touchdown pass by Lett to Joe Hartsfield. Not to be outdone, the Bobcats went 54 yards with Jacoby scoring on a 14-yard keeper. The point after was blocked, and at the half, the 'Cats trailed by one.
Trailing at the half had become a SWT tradition under Wacker. Unfortunately for Jacksonville State so had second-half comebacks.
At the end of the third quarter, the Gamecocks drove inside the Bobcat 10 yard line and set up on first and goal, or first and ten depending on the spot. The spot became an issue. On first down, and the last play of the third quarter, the Gamecocks got down inside the one-yard line on a nine-yard run. Jacksonville State thought it was 2nd and inches, however when the quarter ended, and the field flipped - officials announced to Jacksonville State coach Jim Fuller that it was 2nd and goal rather than 2nd and inches. The difference was critical and game-changing. Picking up a couple of inches would have given the Gamecocks a first down and more importantly four more downs to score. Instead, the Gamecocks had three downs to put the ball across the goal line.
In the huddle defensive lineman Mike Langford told his teammates, "this is the season, we've got to stop 'em." That's exactly what they did. Three straight plays, three times the Bobcats stoned the Gamecocks at the doorstep. The goal-line stand gave the Bobcats the ball back in the shadow of their end zone. Afterward Fuller took the controversy in stride, "I don't know, maybe with four more chances, we still wouldn't have made it."
The Bobcats now had 99 yards to negotiate for a Palm Bowl bid. Jacoby hit Vela for back to back 14-yard receptions to get the 'Cats outside their own 30. Jacksonville State helped with back to back pass interference calls. A few plays later Jacoby threw to Tom Wooley to get the Bobcats inside the JSU ten. Jacoby then finished off the drive with a five-yard touchdown run. All told SWT went 99 yards in eight minutes to take the lead. The Bobcat defense once again stopped JSU and got the ball back. From their SWT executed their four-minute offense to perfection to secure the win and a shot at a second title.
As the jubilant players left the field and an emotional Wacker soaked up his last game at Bobcat Stadium, the other big news started circulating. That news was that SWT named a new head coach during the Jacksonville State game. In odd timing, Baylor offensive coordinator John O'Hara, who was in attendance at Bobcat Stadium, was offered the job with 25 seconds remaining in the contest. O'Hara who'd interviewed for the position earlier, accepted and was introduced to the team after the game. As Wacker celebrated with his team, school officials introduced them to their new head coach. It's as though your mom and dad were getting a divorce and your new stepdad showed up as pops was packing up his stuff. Within three weeks the Bobcats found out their coach was leaving, won two playoff games, hired a new coach and were set to play in the Division II finals.
Wacker politely invited O'Hara to watch the team prepare for their title defense the next week. His team was focused on sending him out in style.
Twice is Nice
All that sat between the Bobcats and a perfect season and repeat National Title was Cal Davis. Davis was undefeated, riding a seventeen game winning streak and were led for most 1982 by future first-round quarterback Ken O'Brien. However, the Bobcats caught a break thanks to the team they'd defeated for the title a year before. O'Brien was injured in the third quarter of the Aggies semifinal win against North Dakota State.
O'Brien was out for the title game, and unknown backup Scott Barry got the nod. Losing O'Brien hurt, losing six turnovers in the title game (four fumbles, two interceptions) hurt worse. The Aggies led 3-0 in the first quarter, then the maroon wave took over. Freshman Eric Cobble scored from two yards out on a fourth down play and a 6-3 lead.
The Bobcats got the ball back but were forced to punt. That's when Wacker rolled the dice. Why the hell not, he was leaving town anyway. The Bobcats lined up for a punt but snapped the ball to upback Teddy Steele who raced 15 yards for a first down and kept the Bobcat drive alive.
Faced with another fourth down later in the drive, Wacker again gambled, and Jacoby threw a touchdown pass to tight end Dale Posey. Up 13-3 at halftime, Jacoby came out firing to start the second half. He found Ricky Sanders for a 40-yard touchdown and a 20-3 lead. A bad Aggie punt snap followed by a worse attempt to throw the ball out of the end zone by punter Pat Inglesby resulted in a 40-yard loss and Bobcat ball at the Cal Davis four. Three plays later the Bobcats scored again, and the route was on.
Sanders wrapped up the Bobcat scoring with a thirteen-yard run and a 34-9 final. SWT outgained the Aggies 328 to 18 on the ground. The Bobcats won the title again in dominant fashion. In their two title games, they won by a combined 76-23. Wacker said that his 1982 team wasn't as talented as their 1981 counterparts, but they were tougher. They also did what the 1981 team couldn't; they went undefeated.
The 1982 Bobcats placed sixteen players on the Lone Star All-Conference team. Cyril Friday, Tim Staskus, Mike Bailiff, Billy Hall, Ricky Sowell, and David Vela were all named All-Americans. Sowell holds the distinction of making First Team All-Conference on the defensive line one year and offensive line the next. Ricky Sanders, Rod Clark, and Van Hughes were all drafted into the NFL in 1984.
The '82 team set a record for most consecutive wins in SWT history with 17, a streak that grew to 20 straight in 1983.
Wacker left town shortly after; he had to get to Fort Worth where the Frogs were confident they'd hired the best coach in the country. In his second year, it looked like they were right. After a one win 1983 campaign the Frogs won eight games in 1984, making the Bluebonnet Bowl. That '84 team rose to #12 in the country and had top 15 showdown with Texas with SWC title implications on the line. They would lose. That game would prove to be the high water mark for Wacker's TCU tenure. He mustered one more winning season, ironically his last at TCU in 1991. He was fired and went to Minnesota where he won 16 games in five seasons.
Walker passed away in 2003 after a long bought with cancer.
Jim Wacker was a visionary showman who never met a stranger. His marketing and salesmanship were ahead of their time. More than that he was a great football coach, able to find and blend talent into championship caliber teams. Teams that kicked the hell out of opponents and won big games. Prior to TCU, Wacker won 103 games compared to just 34 losses. His teams won four national titles and appeared in the semifinals of their respective playoffs two other times.
Bobcat Stadium was renamed "Jim Wacker Field" in his honor in 2003.
John O'Hara couldn't capitalize on what Wacker had built in San Marcos. His 1983 team won the Lone Star for a fourth straight year and made the playoffs once again, but were bounced in the first round. In 1984 O'Hara oversaw the Bobcats transition into I-AA and the Gulf Star Conference. His first team in the Gulf Star won 7 games, but that would be his last winning season at SWT. The Bobcats transitioned from the Gulf Star to the Southland in 1987.
O'Hara made headlines in 1985 after the Bobcats got off to a 1-5 start when he fired blanks from a starter pistol at his three captains. As the story goes, about midway through practice, he called the team around him and had the three captains, Mitch Davidson, Eric Cobble, and David Lackey stand in front of him. He said, "We've elected these guys to lead us, and it's obvious they're not getting the job done. I don't know but one thing to do, and that's to get rid of them.' " O'Hara then pulled the pistol out of his shorts and fired a shot at each captain.
Apparently, the captains weren't in on the joke, and for a second thought they were actually in harm's way.
O'Hara justified the stunt by saying "I want our players to realize that I`m serious about what we're doing and that we need to start having good leadership, and the players need to listen to the people that are their elected captains." Guess he thought the best way to instill that was through gunplay.
The team responded by losing to Nichols State 20-12 the next week.
Eventually, Southwest Texas State became Texas State, and the campus population grew. In 2005 David Bailiff took Texas State to the Southland Conference title, their first league crown since O'Hara's 1983 squad, and the I-AA Semifinals. In 2008 Brad Wright led the Bobcats to a Southland Crown and a first-round playoff appearance. Texas State transitioned to the FBS beginning in 2011 and joined the Sun Belt.
They've taken some lumps in recent years but it's fun to remember when Bobcats Stadium was rocking, the Lone Star was fist fight in a phone booth, Wacker was in charge, and the 'Cats were Kings.