December 4, 1976, was a momentous day for the Southwest Conference. Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles both resigned that night, just minutes after the Longhorns beat the Razorbacks in Austin. Further out west, 8th ranked Texas Tech won a share of its first Southwest Conference Title with a 24-21 win over Baylor thanks to Rodney Allison.
Rodney Allison was a bit of a unicorn, one of the most talented players to come out of Odessa who somehow school district officials didn’t gerrymander to Permian. Instead, Allison played for the Odessa High Bronchos.
A high school All-American, Allison was on the losing end of one of the legendary and controversial Odessa High/Permian contests in 1973 when 19,000 fans watched a 41-36 MOJO win as the Bronchos fumbled, depending on your rooting interest, just before or just after crossing the goal line in the final seconds. Allison went on to a storied career at Tech, carrying the Red Raiders to a lofty perch previously unheard of.
Against Baylor, Tech’s talented quarterback raced 77 yards on the first play from scrimmage to give the Red Raiders a 7-0 lead. Allison ended the game with 106 yards on just eleven carries, and the “Little General” added another score to the board as well. The second Allison score came at the end of the first quarter, and Tech led 14-0 before Baylor, and its pint-sized tailback Gary Blair went to work.
Blair, a Junior College All-American at Kilgore, came to Waco in ‘76 as an insurance policy for Bear feature back Cleveland Franklin. Franklin, considered an equal to Texas’ Earl Campbell, went down with a knee injury during the ‘76 season. Blair, a North Mesquite grad, was ready to step up in a big way.
In Lubbock, Blair set a single-game rushing mark that afternoon with 199 rushing yards. In the second quarter, the 5-9 running back scooted across the goal line for the Bears first score. With time running out in the first half Grant Teaff pulled his senior quarterback Mark Jackson in favor of freshman Sammy Bickham who responded with a 50 yard TD bomb to Tommy Davidson to tie the score.
After a Tech field goal gave the Red Raiders a 17-14 lead early in the second, Baylor marched 80 yards with Blair churning up most of the yardage and sealing the drive with a one-yard dive to give the Bears their first lead of the afternoon, 21-17 late in the third.
Then the Little General took over. Allison and Tech backed up at their own eleven, promptly marched 89 yards with the Tech quarterback leading the Red Raiders on the ground and through the air in a five-minute tour de force. Running back Larry Isaac carried the ball the final five yards for the score and the 24-21 lead.
The Bears now had the entire fourth quarter to mount a comeback, and they almost did. In the final five minutes, Baylor took over near midfield and drove to the Red Raider nineteen before Tech sacked Mark Jackson for a twelve-yard loss with thirty seconds remaining. Those twelve yards proved critical as the Bears’ last-second field goal fell short of the crossbar.
The Bears ended the 1976 season 7-3-1 while Tech finished up 10-2 with losses to Cotton Bowl participant Houston and Nebraska in the Bluebonnet Bowl.