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of a football program that had not seen a lot of success in a few years

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game famous Century Column Recalls

Fifty years have gone by but Mack McKinney still remembers his 22nd birthday like none other, so do thousands of Texas Longhorns fans of a certain age.

What was tabbed as the Game of the Century in the fall of 1969 wasn’t originally scheduled for Dec. 6. Texas and Arkansas typically played their Southwest Conference classic prior to Thanksgiving. That year, however, in the 100th anniversary season of college football, ABC broadcaster and historian Beano Cook persuaded both teams to push their game in Fayetteville, Ark., back because he thought it would be something special. Both parties agreed and one of the most memorable No. 1 vs. No. 2 games fit for a president and his entourage ensued.

“December 6 was my birthday and my parents made the trip to the game,” said McKinney, a 1966 Cameron Yoe graduate. “My mother baked a cake for me but almost lost it in the crowd when she happened to get in the way of (President Richard) Nixon’s Secret Service detail which, unintentionally I’m sure, almost jostled it out of her hands. Fortunately, she made it to the bus, which was to take us back to the airport and we enjoyed it on the trip.

“Arkansas was not done with my parents,” he continued. “In driving a car with Texas plates they had to go about 50 miles outside of Fayetteville to find a gas station which would sell them gasoline.”

Such was the nature of the old Texas-Arkansas rivalry that was every bit as heated as the Longhorns had with Texas A&M and still do with Oklahoma, especially in the 1960s and ’70s when the two — led by Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles, respectively — often jockeyed for national championship prominence.

McKinney was a senior linebacker on Texas’ 1969 team and had put together a solid career coming out of Cameron. He was one of a trio of ex-Yoemen whose Texas careers intersected with each other. Mike Perrin, who interrupted a flourishing law career to step in as athletic director for a few years earlier this decade, graduated in 1968, and Wayne Kirk, who was a sophomore, in 1969. Rockdale’s Mike Speer also was on the Longhorns’ roster as was Belton’s Tommy Lee.

“Coach Royal recruited a lot of small-town guys back then and with no scholarship limitations he could recruit a bunch,” said McKinney, who was one of about 65 freshman signees. “One of his philosophies, especially with small-town players, was to recruit quarterbacks and linebackers, assuming they were the best athletes on each side of the ball. My freshman class had eight or nine quarterbacks and 12-15 linebackers. I played quarterback for one day at which time it was decided I would do better at another position.

“Playing sports at Yoe High School was a great experience. We were part of a resurgence, in part, of a football program that had not seen a lot of success in a few years,” McKinney added. “Mike Perrin and I were fortunate to be awarded football scholarships. Mike came from a staunch Aggie family and I was raised in a Southern Baptist household, so his forsaking A&M and my turning down Baylor created quite a stir in our respective families.”

Indeed, the Yoemen won four straight district titles between 1964-67 under head coaches George Kirk and Ken Fuqua. McKinney later went into the home-building business with Fuqua in the Houston area. Along the way, McKinney also played under assistants Bob McQueen and John Wilkins, who both won a pair of state championships at Temple and Odessa Permian, respectively. McKinney also was part of a resurgent Texas program that posted a string of mediocre seasons before winning the final nine games of the 1968 season, including a Cotton Bowl victory over Tennessee.

“In 1969, we had several All-Americans and All-Conference players but our strength was truly being a team,” said McKinney, who has lived in Austin since 1981 and recently retired. “After three straight 6-4 seasons there was a focus on toughening everybody up, and those that survived the ordeal were tough and bonded as a team. Also, we were pretty salty and with the exception of maybe three games. Our reserves, with myself included at the time, got a good deal of mop up time on the field which helps morale.

“Coach Royal’s coaching style was very much like a CEO. Most of the hands-on coaching came from his very able corps of assistants. In fact, if you were called into Coach Royal’s office for a visit it wasn’t a very good sign. He was not personally close to many players, but he damn sure had our respect.”

Along with rising to the top of the rankings before the classic showdown with Arkansas was the compelling story of Freddie Steinmark, the Colorado-born defensive back who played much of the season with what was later diagnosed as bone cancer in his thigh and his leg was amputated soon after the Arkansas game. James Street was the daring quarterback and, as McKinney said, one of the few quarterbacks recruited in his class who remained at quarterback. Other players such as Jim Bertelsen, Cotton Speyrer, Happy Feller, Ted Koy and Bill Bradley were central figures now firmly etched in Longhorns lore.

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