Texas Longhorn Quarterbacks: A Journey Into Two Dimensions of Fame
The Texas Longhorns have a proud and storied past on the gridiron.
Over the decades, UT football has presented rugged linemen, dependable runners, and spectacular quarterbacks to a variety of all-star teams.
When the jolly crowd in Austin can put all three together, a championship is often the result.
As the current occupant of the No. 3 position in the BCS ranking system, the situation appears ripe for another Texas opportunity to lasso the national title.
If the Longhorns are successful, expect much of the subsequent discussion among fans to center on Colt McCoy and his place as the greatest quarterback in UT history.
For full disclosure, please note this writer predicted on the Bleacher Report in August Texas would win the BCS Title this season and McCoy would win the Heisman Trophy.
Let there be no question concerning the high regard for Colt McCoy in this corner.
But, the University of Texas football tradition is far more than young McCoy. Respect for the hallowed halls of Austin and the rich history of the football program runs much deeper and further back in this reviewer, a native Texan.
Many have witnessed the greats who took the field deep in the heart of the Lone Star State, however, the passing years have not been as kind to some as to others.
Plain speaking, a lot of people who could tell the story of the past 70 years of Texas quarterbacks are simply not around anymore.
Having attended Longhorn football games since a first-grader in 1939, it is a curious case of good fortune this writer is available to pass along observations made through the past seven decades.
The responsibility of the signal caller position has changed over time. In fairness to various generations, we should view the position in no less than two different eras.
Prior to the mid-1960s, players were expected to "go both ways," meaning they played both offense and defense like a baseball or basketball player.
These were football players, not specialists. The game of this era was the same as the youngster of today who plays in his neighborhood or backyard.
From the mid-1960s to present day we have seen the rise of the age of the specialist. This performer is not expected to play but one position on "one side of the ball" the entire season, if not his career.
In some circles, this era of specialists is called the age of the "modern player."
Let the journey begin.
No. 5 Tom Landry: 1942,47,48
Tom Landry was recruited as a first class quarterback. After one season in Austin he received a call to defend his country in World War II.
Upon returning to the university following the fall of Adolph Hitler and Hirohito, Landry quickly sized up the QB situation as "I saw my competition was the greatest football player I had ever seen." That competition was Bobby Layne.
Landry moved to running back in a supporting roll for his final years.
An excellent athlete, Landry became a noted defensive back who went on to a superb professional playing career with the New York Giants.
No. 4 Bobby Lee Lackey: 1957-59
Bobby Lee Lackey was a tall drink of water who engineered the beginning of the Darrell Royal era.
During the late '50s, Bobby Lee (See pictured with an adoring fan) performed enough miracles on the field to take the Longhorns to the Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl.
The National Championship was on the line in the 1960 Cotton Bowl. Top-ranked Syracuse rolled into Dallas with a perfect 10-0 mark to face the once-beaten and fourth-ranked Longhorns led by Bobby Lee Lackey.
It was the first of 10 Cotton Bowl coaching appearances for Darrell Royal.
The favored Orange scored on their second play from scrimmage when Syracuse went to future Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis for a Syracuse touchdown.
Davis scored again in the second quarter when he plunged in from one yard out, and caught a two-point conversion to make it 15-0 at halftime.
The Longhorns took the second-half kickoff and Bobby Lee Lackey went to the air. First with a 69-yard pass to Jack Collins for a touchdown.
After the No. 1 ranked Orange moved out to a 23-6 lead, Lackey scored on a one yard run and then converted on a two-point conversion pass to Richard Shulte to make the score 23-14.
The Longhorns could get no closer and that is how the game ended.
For those interested in more detail concerning this great game, be sure to check out the fine 2008 film "The Express."
The movie is named for the great Syacuse running back, the late Ernie Davis, who was known as "The Elmira Express," and features the season-ending battle in the Cotton Bowl with Bobby Lee Lackey's Longhorns.
No. 3 Marv Kristynik: 1963-65
Marv Kristynik probably understands Colt McCoy's current situation better than anyone.
Marvelous Marv had the starting QB job thrown in his lap. He was chosen to replace the ultra-popular Duke Carlisle, who had graduated after leading the Longhorns to an unbeaten season and the 1963 national championship.
Kristynik proved up to the task in 1964, leading Texas to the Orange Bowl and a 9-1 record.
The single loss was a one point affair, bowing to eventual national champion Arkansas 14-13, when Texas was unable to convert on a two-point conversion (pictured above) late in the game.
But it was Marv who would have the last laugh, if not on the Hogs, then certainly with them.
On New Year's Day, in the first ever night time Orange Bowl, Kristynik would lead Texas to a stunning 21-17 upset of top ranked Alabama and their incredible quarterback, Joe Namath.
The polls had closed early in the 1964 season, before the Bowl games were played.
Due to Marv Kristynik's performance in bringing down the Crimson Tide, some of the smaller award associations presented a national title to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Quite a gentleman that Marv Kristynik, he won even when he lost.
No.2 Duke Carlisle: 1961-63
Duke Carlisle, maker of memories.
While many had tried to take the Longhorns to the promised land, it was Duke Carlisle who first succeeded in doing so, taking Texas to its first national championship in 1963.
Duke was more than a leader on offense, he was an outstanding defensive back.
Carlisle preserved the unbeaten season of '63 by intercepting Baylor's all-america quarterback Don Trull in the end zone late in the fourth quarter of a 7-0 thriller.
In the Cotton Bowl against No. 2 ranked Navy and Heisman Trophy winner quarterback Roger Staubach, Duke Carlisle dominated the game with 213 yards passing on only seven completions and led the Longhorns in rushing that day.
Texas throttled Staubach and the Navy, 28-6, to leave no doubt as who was the best team in the country.
During his three years at Texas, the Longhorns went 30-2.
Duke Carlisle, "The Dreamweaver."
No. 1 Bobby Layne: 1944-47
In the history of Texas football there is no more a revered name than Bobby Layne.
In his four seasons at Texas, he was all conference four times and twice a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
He took the Longhorns to a Cotton Bowl win over Missouri and a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.
It was said he never really lost a game, he just ran out of time.
In the springtime, he pitched for the Longhorns, winning all 28 conference games when he took the mound. He also averaged 11 strikeouts a game during his college career.
He was the best offensive player and the best defensive player in college football.
Not necessarily due to talent but, because of his superior will to be the best and win at any cost.
His contemporaries acknowledged him as the dominant player of his time and followed his lead.
Because he only graced the Earth for 60 years, he is the definition of the vintage western saying "live fast, love hard, and die young."
Near the end of his life, he lamented much the same as Mickey Mantle, "If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself."
The Modern Age Quarterback: 1965-2009
The modern age quarterback plays only one position, and only on the offensive side of the ball.
His play calling is restricted by the coaching staff in order to enforce the previously prepared plan of action.
He concentrates on the execution of the game plan, or finds himself watching from the sideline.
The list of spectacular modern age Texas quarterbacks is long and varied.
Some, like Major Applewhite (pictured above) and Peter Gardere could have succeeded in any era. They were ballplayers who came to win.
Others, like the silky smooth Chris Simms, were best suited for this age of specialization and made the most of their opportunities.
A handful of signal callers, like Eddie Phillips, Bill Bradley, and Alan Lowry were talented in their own right, but were dwarfed by circumstances beyond their control.
The following is a listing of the five finest modern age Texas quarterbacks according to their performance on the field, with no regard for popularity.
No. 5 Marty Atkins: 1973-75
One of the most outstanding quarterbacks of the modern era of Texas football is Marty Atkins.
Marty played from 1973 to 1975, and is the only quarterback to start for three years under Coach Darrell Royal.
He led the Longhorns to 27 wins and a conference championship. As a senior, he was named all-america and was voted team MVP.
Marty was a man for all seasons but, the the team did not "have the horses" to help him take Texas to the national championship.
Contrary to rumor, Marty is not Bleacher Report writer Ronnie Throneberry.
No. 4 James Street: 1967-69
If Duke Carlisle was the economy version of Bobby Layne, then James Street is the poor man's version of the great one.
Street was a baseball player who was a wonderful competitor on the gridiron. He took the reins of the UT program and promised to do his best.
After two years and two games of "Super" Bill Bradley as the quarterback, the Longhorn coaching staff decided to take a chance by inserting Street into the starting lineup for the Oklahoma State game in 1968.
James Street led the Longhorns to victory in that contest and never looked back. His record as quarterback of Texas is listed as 20 wins and no losses.
In his senior season, like Duke Carlisle before him, he led the Longhorns to an undefeated national championship.
Street was a wishbone quarterback. He made reads, knew when to adjust calls, and could run the ball nearly as well as his all-america running backs.
As former Georgia Tech superstar Frank Broyles liked to say during his days as ABC's top color commentator, "that boy would beat you."
No. 3 Colt McCoy: 2006-Present
Colt McCoy is a wonderful personality latched to a spirit of fire in the belly that makes him one of the greatest players in the history of the Big 12 Conference.
His accomplishments are well known as he is the current quarterback, the most modern of the modern age.
Colt's popularity is startling, stretching throughout the generations of fans.
He recently placed second only to Earl Campbell as the most popular Longhorn of all time on a local radio call-in show.
While the book is not yet completely written on young Colt, his record and accomplishments to this point qualify him for a position in the top three modern age quarterbacks of the Texas Longhorn program.
No. 2 James Brown: 1994-97
Here is the man who saved Texas football.
His importance to the Longhorn program can not be overstated.
Texas had been competitive after losing the national championship to Notre Dame and Joe Montana in the 1977 season Cotton Bowl until the 1983 season-ending loss to Georgia in the Cotton Bowl.
For the next decade-plus they were not considered among the elite programs challenging for the national title.
The best team during this era was the 1990 group that was humiliated 46-3 by Dennis Erickson's "Street Warriors" from Miami in the Cotton Bowl.
It was an embarrassing time for the UT program. The whispers were getting louder, Texas had very little team speed and lacked athletic game changers.
And then came James Brown.
He was an incredible phenomenon who drove the nail in the coffin of two-time defending national champion Nebraska in the first ever Big 12 Championship Game in 1996.
With James Brown behind center, Texas won the last Southwest Conference title and the first Big 12 Conference title.
Brown led the Longhorns to berths in the Sugar Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl. He almost singlehandedly made Texas a respected and competitive force on the national scene once again.
By the time he left Austin, James Brown had broken over 30 Longhorn records.
Until Vince Young came along, James Brown was the best Longhorn quarterback since Bobby Layne.
He knew how to do it.
No. 1 Vince Young: 2003-05
There could be no other.
If James Brown rescued Texas football and took it to the mountain top, it was Vince Young who led the Longhorns to the promised land.
He appeared to be a gigantic version of James Brown. Standing nearly 6'6" and tipping the scales at almost 240 pounds, Young is the mega-modern quarterback.
What he did, who he did it to, and how he did it speaks volumes on his skill and leadership qualities.
There is an "it" factor in sports, politics, and entertainment.
And Vince Young, like Bobby Layne before him, had "it."