James Street sat at a table in his office last week, eating a muffin, slurping a cup of coffee and talking about -- what else? -- the 1969 Texas football team.
Street has been talking about that team for more than 35 years. He was the quarterback on that team, the most storied in Longhorn history.
He said he didn’t mind rehashing “the game of the century” against Arkansas, and the Cotton Bowl in January 1970 against Notre Dame, adding that he was proud to be a part of Texas football lore. But he’s also hoping for some new stories for Longhorn fans to tell.
“I’ve got to enjoy this for 35 years,” said Street, now a successful Austin businessman who helps people manage money they have won in lawsuit settlements. “They ought to forget about us, I think. The truth of the matter is, that’s what should happen. I’ve been waiting a long time for that to happen.”
The legend of Street and the 1969 team has grown over the years simply because Texas football hasn’t been that successful since. The Longhorns repeated as national champions in 1970, but that was a disputed championship because Texas was crowned champion by United Press International before its loss to Notre Dame in the 1971 Cotton Bowl.
Nebraska was named national champion by the Associated Press that season after the Cornhuskers had defeated Louisiana State in the Orange Bowl.
Even so, nothing in the 1970 season came close to the drama of 1969, when Street led remarkable comeback victories over Arkansas -- both were in the now-defunct Southwest Conference -- in the regular-season finale and over Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.
Against second-ranked Arkansas, No. 1 Texas trailed, 14-0, at the start of the fourth quarter. With President Nixon in attendance and the game being nationally televised, Street scored on a 42-yard run and had a two-point conversion run to pull Texas within six points, 14-8.
Arkansas drove to the Texas seven-yard line, but an interception in the end zone got the ball back for the Longhorns. With about seven minutes left, on fourth and three, Street completed a 44-yard pass to Randy Peschel, setting up the game-winning score in a 15-14 Texas victory.
A few weeks later, Notre Dame, coming out of self-imposed bowl exile, made its first bowl appearance in 44 years and was making the decision look good.
With 6:52 left, and the Irish leading, 17-14, Texas took possession at the Longhorn 24, then put together a 17-play scoring drive, converting twice on fourth down.
On fourth and two from the Notre Dame 10 with 2:26 left, conventional thinking called for a tying field goal. Instead, Texas went for it, got the first down, then scored for a 21-17 victory.
The Longhorns finished 11-0 and won the undisputed national championship, the last Texas team to finish a season unbeaten.
“People remember that team for a lot of reasons,” Street said. “The drama, the circumstances. Nixon. Notre Dame.... But what’s made it endure is that they haven’t had another [consensus] national championship team since. It’s been 35 years, and that adds to the lore.”
Street was a feisty competitor. At 5 feet 11, he wasn’t the most gifted athlete, but somehow, he always won. He was 20-0 as a starting quarterback, the only quarterback in Texas history to win every game he started.
Darrell Royal, Street’s coach and a Texas legend, said what Street had going for him was “the it factor.”
“He was an extremely good competitor, that was the main thing,” Royal said.
He was also an accomplished pitcher for the Longhorn baseball team, posting a 29-8 career record, a 1.86 earned-run average and 302 strikeouts. He once pitched a perfect game and led Texas to three consecutive College World Series appearances.
For all his athletic accomplishments, though, Street says he spends more time these days talking about his son Huston, the closer for the Oakland Athletics and the 2005 American League rookie of the year. Huston helped Texas to a national title in 2002.
Juston and Jordon, twins on the current Texas baseball team, were part of Texas’ College World Series championship team last spring, giving the Street family stake in three national title teams.
“I got to live it back then,” Street said of his playing days. “And with Huston, I got to live a couple of other things. And with Juston and Jordon, I got to live their national championship. Now it’s No. 1 and No. 2 playing again, it’s back to Texas-Arkansas. I get to live the whole thing all over again. It’s kind of neat.”
James Street said Huston’s success had enabled the success of the 1969 football team to live on.
“I’m best known now as Huston’s daddy,” he said. “If I’m doing some kind of talk or something like that, I get introduced as ‘Huston’s daddy, James Street.’ His success usually brings all that other stuff back up.”
Others aren’t so sure about that. Augie Garrido, the Longhorn baseball coach, says he has seen people spot Street in the stands, sit down next to him and start talking.
“They’ll never stop talking about the ’69 team,” Garrido said. “James and the guys from that team have a celebrity status around here.”
That celebrity has given the players from that team a bond that remains strong. Street, offensive lineman Bob McKay, running back Ted Koy and kicker Happy Feller, who kicked the game-winning extra point against Arkansas, remain close friends.
“It amazes me that people still talk about that team and the stuff that goes on around it,” McKay said. “It’s something we’ve built our friendships on. Going through that together made us a lot closer.”
But, Street said, reserving spots in the annals of Texas lore was not something they planned.
“When you’re going through it, you’re just doing it,” he said. “You’re trying to win a game, not make history. And then afterward, nobody is sitting around saying, ‘We can do it. We can keep it going for 35 years. Don’t let go.’
“Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy talking about it. Those are great memories for me. But, hell, I’m a little surprised Texas hasn’t won another one by now to make it go away.”
The Longhorns can win another national title Jan. 4 by beating top-ranked USC in the Rose Bowl. Texas played three times in games between No. 1 and No. 2 in the 1960s and won each time, 1963 games against Oklahoma and Navy and the ’69 game against Arkansas.
USC is favored but Street, asked to imagine the possibility of a Texas upset and its effect on his legacy, couldn’t quite contain a proud smile as he answered.
“You’ll never be able to take the place of the ’69 team, but if they go 13-0 and win the national championship, that’s going to be the new standard,” he said.
And then he took it a step further.
“Now let’s think about this: If Vince Young really does come back and play next year, he could win the national championship this year, play next year, win the Heisman Trophy and win the national championship again,” he said. “Then they’ll really quit talking about the ’69 team.
“And that,” he added, “would be wonderful.”