Published September 21, 2010
AUSTIN, Texas – The audacity of the final score was staggering: UCLA 66, Texas 3.
In 1997, the Bruins romped over the Longhorns in one of the biggest routs since Davey Crockett and the boys got whipped at the Alamo.
Texas fans fumed. Some cried. Most were gone by halftime.
The humiliation lasted until November. One season after winning the Big 12, "Rout 66" drove the Longhorns into a complete collapse and a 4-7 season that ended with the firing of coach John Mackovic.
On Saturday, the Bruins (1-2) come back to Austin. The current Longhorns (3-0) were hardly in grade school in 1997, but fans and former players will always remember the day UCLA jammed a big ol' stick right into the eyes of Texas.
Most would like to just forget it.
"Nooooooo! Not that game!" former wide receiver Wane McGarity responded when contacted by e-mail to discuss the game.
"Dang, I never saw us look so (bad)," said Texas mega-booster Joe Jamail, a billionaire trial lawyer from Houston. "Hopefully we can return the favor."
Just that season Texas had named the field at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium after Jamail, a colorful character who peppers his language with curse words.
"I had made a very large contribution to the university, I don't know how many millions, and they decided to stick my name on the field. I was proud and pleased," Jamail said.
But after the game, when only a few die-hard fans had stayed to sing "The Eyes of Texas," Jamail saw athletic director DeLoss Dodds and asked him a hard question. He didn't hold back the cussing: "Deloss, how much ... money will it take to get my name off that ... field?"
The score reverberated throughout the country.
In Chapel Hill, N.C., then-Tar Heels coach Mack Brown was in the fourth quarter of a tough game against Stanford when the Texas score was announced.
"Bad night to be in Austin, Texas," Brown thought to himself.
Texas entered the 1997 season expecting great things.
The Longhorns won the '96 Big 12 championship with a stunning upset of Nebraska. Quarterback James Brown was being hyped as a possible Heisman Trophy contender and the Longhorns were ranked No. 11 after a 48-14 win over Rutgers.
But not all was perfect. James Brown hurt his ankle against Rutgers and realized the score was misleading. He looked around and saw a young team still living off the championship of 1996 and not ready for prime time.
"I was like, 'Wow, we are definitely not as powerful as we think we are," said James Brown. He is now an assistant coach at Lamar University in Beaumont.
With Brown hurt, backup Richard Walton started. Texas was still favored to win at home against a UCLA team that had lost its first two games.
And then all hell broke loose.
Texas had eight turnovers. UCLA romped to a 38-0 lead. Cade McNown threw a school-record five touchdown passes in the first half. Texas fans were stunned, then quickly disgusted by what they were seeing. The booing started early and many were pouring out of the stadium by halftime.
"They'd have burned the place if they could have," Jamail said.
Walton and third-team quarterback Marty Cherry were smothered by blitzing Bruins. Ricky Williams, who would win the Heisman Trophy in 1998 and finish his career as the leading rusher in major college history, ran for just 36 yards.
"I remember sitting back watching Marty take a beating," McGarity said. "They beat us so bad they sent a guy into modeling."
Indeed. The UCLA game was Cherry's last for the Longhorns. He quit before the season ended to pursue a male modeling career, eventually landing much softer gigs with Abercrombie & Fitch and Ralph Lauren.
It was 45-0 before Texas managed to do something right: kick a field goal.
"They just couldn't stop us. And they could not block our defense," said then-UCLA coach Bob Toledo, who is now the head coach at Tulane.
McGarity says that's because Texas coaches changed the offensive scheme just a few hours before the game, tossing out what they had practiced all week.
"(Mackovic) felt like we ran up the score on him but we didn't," Toledo said. "It was just one of those games. We came back out at halftime and there was hardly anybody there. They were gone."
By the time it was over, it was the worst Texas loss since 1904 when the Longhorns were beaten 68-0 by Chicago. But even that game was on the road. To lose like that at home was complete humiliation.
James Brown says he could have played that day and wanted to rally his team. He said he told Walton he was going in. But Word got to Mackovic, who ordered trainers to take away his helmet.
"He said, 'If you put yourself in, that would be the worst mistake you could ever make,'" James Brown said.
Mackovic, who lives near Palm Springs, Calif., did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
Fans, frustrated by too many seasons of false hopes under Mackovic, boiled over and took it out on the coach and the athletic director. T-shirts and banners that said "Dump DeLoss, Flush the John" soon appeared.
Mackovic seemed deaf to the rage roiling around him.
"Last year, we won the (Big 12) championship and everybody lived with that. They'll just have to live with this, too," Mackovic said.
Texas never recovered. A win over rival Oklahoma only eased the pain before a four-game losing streak.
"It really let the air out of all those young players, to get beat like that," James Brown said. "They thought we were so good. They realized we had a long way to go ... It made everyone re-evaluate the whole program."
Mackovic was peppered by questions about his job all season. Williams, who was tearing through a 1,800-yard season, was loyal to Mackovic and threatened to leave school early if the coach was fired.
The season ended with a loss at Texas A&M. Mackovic was fired the next day.
Texas' darkest hour proved to be the starting point of the program's recovery. After being mired in mediocrity for more than a decade, Mackovic's firing opened the door for Texas to hire Mack Brown.
The new coach's folksy charm convinced Williams to stay for his senior season. Williams won the Heisman in 1998 and within two years the Longhorns were playing for the Big 12 title.
Mack Brown suffered his share of humiliating defeats — losses of 63-14 and 65-13 to Oklahoma in 2000 and 2003 were the worst. But those games weren't at home. And they proved to be only setbacks in a pattern of growth toward the 2005 national championship.
In 1997, when the Bruins were romping and stomping their way through Austin, it was impossible to see those days ahead.
James Brown said it's the one game that his old teammates don't talk about.
"Only you," Brown said. "Nobody brings that one up, buddy."