We're dredging up the kind of history no one wants to remember. We owe it you, our valued readers, to give a thorough and complete accounting of such history, the good, the bad, and most certainly the ugly. Welcome to our new series, Bad Beats, the epic beatdowns in the history of Texas College football. Relax, everyone gets a turn.
Being John Mackovic
Just about the time John Mackovic seemed to turn things around, UCLA came along and stole his chain. And his new Jordans. And his lunch money.
Texas fans always viewed Mackovic as an outsider, not up to leading a program built by Darrell Royal. He was also prone to wearing sweaters and ties on the sideline. Texas isn't known for sweater weather, and Mackovic's choice of apparel didn't jive with the hippies and outlaw country crowd. In Austin, you can be a 70-year-old country western singer with ponytails and a tank top, but if you wear a tie on the sideline at Royal-Memorial Stadium, you're viewed with suspicion.
He might've done well at UCLA; they'd love a sweater in Pasadena. They found Austin pretty accommodating on September 13, 1997. The Horns were a thirteen point favorite, ranked 11th in the country and fresh off kicking the hell out of Rutgers. Mackovic's last two seasons gave locals hope. His 1995 team won the last SWC title and finished 10-2-1. In 1996 the Longhorns won the inaugural Big 12 Championship after knocking off third-ranked Nebraska in St. Louis.
Let this be a lesson to you, one day you're a back-to-back conference champion, eleventh in the country, and the next UCLA is bludgeoning you in front of a National TV audience. Life comes at you fast.
What About Bob?
Bob Toledo was no stranger to Texas. He spent five seasons running RC Slocum's offense at Texas A&M before leaving and heading to UCLA. Toledo took over the Bruin program in 1996 and started recruiting Texas, poaching Skip Hicks from Burkburnett and about a dozen other Texans. In their defense, UCLA is known for its picturesque location and pageant quality co-eds. You can also drive a kid to the Rose Bowl and show him the view of the mountains in the distance, and he'll soon forget the wonders of Waco or College Station.
Bob had hit a snag in 1997, his 1996 team finished 5-6, and his 1997 UCLA team flew into the 512 with a 0-2 record. The losses came to eventual PAC 12 champ Washington State, led by Ryan Leaf and Tennessee led by Peyton Manning. Manning and Leaf went 1-2 in the 1998 NFL draft. One of those two turned out to be a top-five NFL quarterback of all time. The other one tried to kill a San Diego Charger's beat reporter. We forget which was which.
Entering the game the biggest question was whether the Godfather of Soul, James Brown would be healthy enough to start or would Mackovic have to turn to the pride of Bay City, Richard Walton. Walton started, though he's probably tried to wipe memories of that afternoon from his mind.
The LA Times predicted Texas in a walk, the Longhorn's size, and strength would be too much for the sun-soaked Bruins. For his part, Texas defensive tackle Chris Akins proved prophetic when he worried aloud that Texas would be in trouble if Texas turned the ball over to the explosive Bruins.
Akins should've played the lottery or headed to Vegas for the weekend. Instead, he was stuck in Austin, watching UCLA put up 66 in front of an increasingly hostile home crowd. Well, hostile until halftime, then most of them left to pursue the enchantments of Sixth Street.
UCLA collected eight Texas turnovers, sacked Texas' quarterbacks seven times, and held the great Ricky Williams to just 38 yards. Worse, UCLA's Bob Toledo used the thumping to demonstrate to the twenty or so assembled Texas recruits that the Bruins might be an excellent alternative.
UCLA linebacker Danjuan Magee summarized the afternoon from the Bruin's perspective, "When you get'em down you want to rub their faces in it, you don't want them getting back up. That's all we kept doing." That's how the Duke of Wellington described his win over Napoleon at Waterloo, but with a weaselly British accent.
The Bruins scored 38 points in their first six possessions before Texas made a stop. Officials called another UCLA touchdown back at the end the first half due to a phantom illegal motion penalty. Its as though the officiating crew didn't want to be a further accessory to the first half murder of the Texas program.
The Bruins led 45-0 in the third before Texas added a field goal. Texas' offense, satisfied with avoiding a shutout, took the rest of the afternoon off, save for two more interceptions and another fumble.
Bruin quarterback Cade McNown set a school record with five touchdown passes. His performance certainly played a role in Chicago selecting him 8th overall in the 1998 NFL draft. Chicago traded McNown in part because he suffered from a bad attitude. Also, he was a terrible pro-quarterback. Neither of those issues reared their heads in Austin. Meanwhile Walton and backup Marty Cherry combined for six turnovers.
Mackovic was dumbstruck by the happenings; he seemed surprised that his team only gave up eight turnovers, he swore it was nine. The fog of war can confuse and debilitate, watching UCLA beat your team like a rented mule can cause optical illusions. For Texas fans, eight turnovers were plenty. They'd just witnessed the worse home loss in school history; all broadcast live on ABC. The afternoon served as the second-worst loss in school history. The Longhorns 1904 blowout at the hands of the University of Chicago, 68-0, held that distinction.
Since that fateful day, the game has taken on a life of its own. It's now known as either "Route 66" or the "Massacre at Memorial Stadium." Mackovic decided not to show his team the game film, perhaps for fear of inducing post-traumatic stress disorder in his young charges.
If the real test of a cowboy is whether they jump back into the saddle, Texas would have to dwell on things for a while. The Longhorns had a bye week before taking on Rice in Houston, giving the local and national media two-full weeks to dissect the events of September 13th. Texas beat Rice and upset Oklahoma State in Dallas a few weeks later but lost five of six to end the season and Mackovic's tenure in Austin.
UCLA, on the other hand, used the game as a springboard to ten straight wins and a top-five AP final ranking. They beat Texas A&M in the 1998 Cotton Bowl, not by 63, so A&M had that going for them.