Notable Moments: The Southwest Conference, Arkansas, and Texas A&M

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Notable Moments: The Southwest Conference, Arkansas, and Texas A&M
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The Arkansas Razorbacks have played Texas A&M 65 times.  Arkansas leads the all time series by 38-24 with 3 ties (back when there was no overtime).  These games were played predominantly when Arkansas was a member of the Southwest Conference.

Just as a refresher for those who may not remember well (or a primer for those too young to know), the Southwest Conference existed before the SEC and the Big Eight (at that time) expanded.  It consisted of Arkansas and eight Texas schools.  Those schools were Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, Houston, SMU, and Rice.

Arkansas had winning records against everyone in the conference except Texas.  The conference had its heyday. 

There were a number of famous players.  Among the more noteworthy are a few big names.  The Doak Walker award is named for Doak Walker who played for SMU.  Andre Ware of Houston, Earl Campbell of Texas, Doak Walker of SMU, Davey O'Brien of TCU, and John David Crow of Texas A&M all won the Heisman Trophy.

There were also national championships.  Those teams were: SMU 1935, TCU 1938, Texas A&M 1939, Arkansas 1964, and Texas in 1963, 1969, and 1970.  

Besides some of the national title teams, there were other very noteworthy teams sprinkled in there.  SMU had the famous Pony Express and was No. 1 for several weeks in the late '70s.  Coincidentally, SMU is also the only school that the NCAA has ever put on death penalty—a penalty that was so harsh that the school never did recover and is now a "mid major" and not even a very good one. 

The NCAA has never considered using it since.  But despite this, SMU was once powerful. Houston developed an early forerunner to the today's modern spread offense.  It was known as the "run and shoot" offense and there was a period of time in the 1980's when Houston was very feared and would frequently score 70 or more points per game.  They won one game 95-5.  

Some legendary coaches also prowled the sidelines during the heyday.  Frank Broyles is still the name most people think of when they think of Arkansas football.  He has been with the University in some capacity for 52 years (from 1957 until today).  He still is the fundraiser-in-chief.

Darrell Royal, namesake of the Texas Stadium and the coach who delivered three national titles to Texas, is synonymous with Texas football.  Grant Teaff, former Baylor coach for years, still serves on most of the more powerful NCAA and BCS committees.  Lou Holtz coached Arkansas for about eight seasons.  Bear Bryant, Gene Stalllings, and Jackie Sherrill all served coaching stints at Texas A&M.

Finally, the biggest college football game ever played up to that point (and some say it remains the biggest but it is certainly in the top 10) is the 1969 Great Shootout game played between Texas and Arkansas at Fayetteville.  President Nixon was helicoptered in, future president George Bush was there.  Many other famous people of the day attended. 

It was the 100th year (centennial) of the existence of college football.  Texas was the No. 1 team in the country and Arkansas was No. 2.  It came down to a one point game as Texas won in a 15-14 thriller.  Texas would go on to win the national title that year.

But all good things come to an end.  The Southwest Conference didn't lose its way because of lack of competition or quality of teams.  It lost its way due to four factors with the first three of them leading to the fourth and deciding factor.

The first problem was that in the 1960s, pro football came to Texas.  Dallas and Houston now had pro teams.  And, especially Dallas in the 70's, they were success stories.  Four of the eight Texas teams in the conference were located in Dallas or Houston (TCU and SMU in Dallas/Fort Worth area and Houston and Rice in Houston). 

The fans shifted allegiances to their pro teams and that got worse as these teams started being cellar dwellers in the conference.  The big schools (Texas, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Texas Tech) had no problem filling their stadiums but these schools in the pro markets weren't.

That led to television problems.  TV was starting to really take a dominant role with the creation in the '80s of ESPN.  More and more games were being shown.  But the only games that got put on tv from the SWC were the big four that I mentioned because fans didn't really support the others much any more. 

Besides that, the real killer was the at the geographic territory occupied by the SWC only accounted for 7 percent of tv sets at the time where other conferences were accounting for a lot more.  The SEC had 18 percent of tv sets at the time.  One doesn't have to know high finance to know that spells trouble in a tv world.

SMU and Texas A&M also got put on NCAA probation and SMU's was bad.  This tarnished the reputation of the conference significantly.  People used to care a lot more about cheating. 

The phrase passed around in the SEC that "if you ain't cheating, you ain't winning" may have worked there but getting caught at it at most schools outside of the SEC at that time was bad news.

Finally, sensing that the conference was ripe for plucking some teams away, the SEC decided they were going to expand to 12 teams.  This was due, among other obvious money, power, and reach considerations, to a little known (at the time) NCAA rule that allowed teams with 12 or more teams to host a conference championship game.

 The SEC considered Arkansas, Texas, and Texas A&M from the SWC.  They also considered South Carolina, Clemson, and Georgia Tech from the ACC.  We now know that in 1992, they decided on Arkansas and South Carolina.

When Arkansas accepted, it was really the death knell for the SWC.  It became an all Texas league with only about 5.5 percent of tv sets after the departure of Arkansas and still stuck with the same aforementioned problems.  The Big Eight sensed the opportunity and grabbed the three other coveted schools (Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech). 

Because they saw the opportunities involved in a conference championship game too (and didn't want to fall behind the SEC), they sought a fourth team from the remains of the SWC to complete a dozen.  Due to some politics, the influence of Grant Taeff, and the fact that Baylor had recently been the best of what was left, Baylor was chosen.

The other schools were left to scurry for other conferences which wasn't too hard for them because Texas produces the most recruits every year in the nation.  Therefore, like Florida, most conferences want t presence in that state if they can logically get one.  TCU is now in the Mountain West and is annually a BCS buster candidate, Houston, SMU, and Rice are in Conference USA.

There have been some notable games over the years between Arkansas and Texas A&M. Here are just a few...

1906 - Texas A&M 6 Arkansas 0

This was the first meeting between the schools and only the 43rd game ever played by Arkansas and only the 42nd ever played by Texas A&M.

1937 - Texas A&M 27 Arkansas 0

Texas A&M put a whipping on Arkansas that day en route to an undefeated 11-0 national championship season.

1964 - Arkansas 17 Texas A&M 0

Arkansas would have their way this day and go on to finish undefeated and beat Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl winning the national championship.  The famous Ken Hatfield punt return happened during this season.  Current Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones (who helped orchestrate the renewal of this series) played for this Razorback team.

1980 - Arkansas 27 Texas A&M 24

This was the 800th game in Texas A&M history.

1991 - Texas A&M 13 Arkansas 3

This was Arkansas' last conference game as a member of the Southwest Conference.  Arkansas was weak that year and the rest of the conference schools were really ticked that Arkansas left them in the lurch.  This was one of the lesser beat-downs as the Texas schools near unanimously took revenge on Arkansas that year.

This series is set to renew and be an annual contest in the new Dallas Cowboy Stadium.  It has been signed for 10 years with renewal terms already in place for afterward.  It is supposed to be a inter-conference rivalry between the SEC and Big 12 that is being touted as a near equal to the Red River Rivalry played annually between Texas and Oklahoma in Dallas.

Texas A&M has some of the more famous and unique traditions anywhere.  Some famous Texas A&M traditions are: the 12th man (the crowd), purebred collie mascot Reveille, Yell practice, Yell leaders (there are five of them, three seniors, two juniors, and must be elected), the Aggie Bonfire, Gig 'Em, and Kyle Field.

I hope you enjoyed reading this walk down memory lane as much as I enjoyed writing it. This took quite a bit of research.  Any comments are certainly appreciated.

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