The assessment of TCU football has become a point of pride ever since a fateful 1961 upset.
by Trisha Spence
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More in Alumni, Mem’ries Sweet, Sports: Riff Ram
Topics: football, Mem'ries Sweet
by Trisha Spence
Cockroach (noun): a chiefly nocturnal insect that is a domestic pest.
Or the 1961 TCU Horned Frogs.
Nov. 18, 1961, was a crisp autumn day in Austin, Texas. It was also the day the unranked TCU football team toppled the No. 1 college team in the nation.
The Skiff’s sports section included a photo of a pass from quarterback Sonny Gibbs to Buddy Iles. On the next play, the duo again connected for a landmark touchdown — the only points scored during the game. Courtesy of TCU Archives
TCU’s 6-0 win bumped the University of Texas down to a No. 4 ranking with one opponent left in its season. Dreams of a national championship were over for the Longhorns.
“We had something that was in our reach, something for all time. That balloon was popped,” said Texas Coach Darrell Royal in the Nov. 21, 1961, issue of the Austin Statesman.
Royal had a few more choice words at his post-game party in Austin’s Villa Capri Motel, including an enduring quip that compared TCU to a cockroach falling into something and ruining it. The coach repeated variations of the gibe at various banquets that winter.
Teammates on the 1961 TCU roster, headed by Coach Abe Martin ’32 (MEd ’45), counter that the win was earnest and hard-fought. Sportswriter Dan Jenkins ’53, on assignment for the Dallas Times Herald, reported Martin saying: “It was the biggest win of my career, but all it did was make everybody mad because I cost the Southwest Conference a national championship.”
The only tick on the scoreboard came from a trick play in the second quarter. Channeling a different insect, quarterback Sonny Gibbs ’68 tossed a flea flicker before making a midfield pass to Buddy Iles ’62. The right end, flanked by Longhorns, was tackled into the end zone and a referee signaled the touchdown.
“We were very fired up. I remember that — it’s almost like it was yesterday, as far as the emotion,” said Marvin Chipman ’64, a running back on the 1961 team. “We had some real good momentum, and then we began to think that we could win. We just had to hold them one more time, one more time. And that’s what we did.”
Richard Owens said he was so thrilled by the big win that he used this photo of him holding the game’s final score as his Christmas card. Courtesy of Richard Owens
Longtime TCU fan Richard Owens ’49 (MS ’62) was at the game with friends. “One of the guys went to Texas and his girlfriend kept asking him, ‘When are we going to score, Tommy?’ ” Owens recalled. “I’d say, ‘You aren’t going to score.’ Tommy would say, ‘Well I think we will in a few minutes.’ Of course, they never did.”
For TCU’s Don Smith ’64, who played running back on offense and cornerback on defense, the trail to triumph is even more pronounced with perspective. “[Royal] sort of sensed what was coming because it had already started.”
Texas was bitten by the Horned Frogs two years earlier.
TCU’s 1959 win disheveled the 8-0 Longhorns, squashing their national championship bid, and cemented TCU legend Bob Lilly’s collegiate career.
“The ’59 game was, to some degree, at least as big of an upset,” Smith said. “We really shut them down.
“Of course, then two years later, they’re 8-0 expecting to win and we really basically controlled the game. They didn’t score a touchdown. We controlled them on many drives.”
Nancy Andrews, University of Texas student, and Allie Beth McMurty Allman, TCU cheerleader, right, huddle under coats as they enjoy the UT versus TCU football game in Austin, TX. Tommy Edgar, UT student, however, appears intent on the action on the field. All three students are from Graham, TX. Courtesy of Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas. Photo by Norman Bradford
Head cheerleader Allie Beth McMurtry Allman ’62, who cheered for both upsets, remembered Royal’s 1961 cockroach comments: “They were just poor losers. It wasn’t bad press for us; it was that victory — look what we did. … We beat them fair and square with that miracle throw from Sonny Gibbs, my classmate from Graham, Texas.”
Pivotal moments preceded that touchdown. In the first quarter, James Saxton, UT’s Heisman-contender halfback, was running the ball toward the end zone. TCU’s Smith ran to force him off the sideline. The two collided near the 13-yard line, sending a tumbling Saxton into the leg of Bobby Plummer ’62, who was chasing the play.
Smith extended an arm to help Saxton up, but the player was unconscious. Cheerleaders stopped celebrating the 45-yard run and raised their hands to hush the crowd. With fewer concussion protocols back then, Saxton later returned to the game but was not his usual darting self.
Sports analysts hypothesized that if that play never happened, Texas would have won the game.
“They didn’t score a touchdown. We controlled them on many drives.”Don Smith '64
Smith disagrees. “We had many stands that kept them from keeping their drives going,” he said. “We were able to keep ours going at a critical time in the game.”
Smith credits players such as Tommy Crutcher ’65 for running down the clock on short plays and first downs. “Finally we crossed into [Texas] territory, Crutcher looks like he’s got a red necktie his tongue was hanging out so far,” Smith recalled. “A big part of the reason we ended up winning, I’m sure, was because he was such a tough guy … the real difference-maker in terms of the emotion and the determination.”
TCU fans stayed attentive and enthused as the cheerleaders rallied them. “The band was there singing the fight song, and we kept telling everybody to yell,” Allman said. “We did not ever leave the field.”
After the victory over the Longhorns, The Skiff’s sports section included a photo of the scoreboard in Austin, Texas. Courtesy of TCU Archives
The game concluded with TCU intercepting the ball on Texas’ final drive. As the referees signaled the end of the game, Horned Frog fans rushed the field.
For seasons to come, Royal’s surly simile stuck. After TCU’s next victory over Texas in 1965, one that followed a three-year losing streak, James “Porter” Williams ’67 commented to the media: “The cockroaches are back.”
Chimes of “La Cucaracha” and “Happy Cockroach Day” salutations live on more than five decades later.
“We didn’t mind being thought of as cockroaches,” Smith said. “We thought we were better than that, but if that’s what they wanted to call us — showing us the contempt that that did — was quite satisfying to us.”
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