UCLA at Texas, and memories of ‘Rout 66'
There are certain things you just don’t forget if you’re a Texan. The Alamo is one. Sixty-six to three might be another.
Sept. 13, 1997, was among the most embarrassing days in the storied history of University of Texas football, the date when a winless UCLA team came to Austin and did everything except grill Bevo steaks in the parking lot after the game.
“We had a quarterback, Marty Cherry, who had spent all summer modeling for Polo,” former Texas wide receiver Wane McGarity recalls. “He took a beating that day and never played in a game again.
“They beat him back into modeling. That’s what UCLA did; they turned us all into models.”
UCLA returns to Austin on Saturday for the first time since that game and, just as they were 13 years ago, the Bruins (1-2) will be heavy underdogs against an undefeated (3-0), nationally ranked Texas team.
The 66-3 loss is the second-worst in Texas history (Chicago beat the Longhorns, 68-0, in 1904). The debacle, known as “Rout 66,” put Texas coach John Mackovic on a road out of town and sent the Bruins on a 20-game winning streak that nearly landed them in the 1998 national title game.
It’s debatable which program was really the big winner, though. UCLA won the game, but Texas’ loss forced it into a move that assured long-term success.
“We had two nice seasons,” former UCLA receiver Danny Farmer says. “But that game changed the mind-set in Texas. They had to look at the direction the program was headed and went out and hired Mack Brown.”
With Brown as coach, Texas has been better at meeting UCLA’s goals than UCLA has during the last decade. The Longhorns have been to two Rose Bowls, the Bruins none. Both teams have beaten USC once, but Texas’ victory was in the national title game.
The Longhorns have nine consecutive seasons of 10 or more victories. UCLA, in the last seven-plus seasons under Rick Neuheisel and Karl Dorrell, is 47-44.
Legendary Texas coach Darrell Royal put it to former Longhorns sports information director Bill Little this way after the ’97 game: “He said, ‘You can’t lose at home, 66-3, not if you’re Texas.’
“Things changed dramatically.”
All it took was one excruciating game that left Mackovic saying, “What do you say to friends and family who see this score?”
Brown, then North Carolina’s coach, heard the score during a game against Stanford. Assistant coach Cleve Bryant, who had coached at Texas, came over to Brown and said, “It’s not a good night in Austin, Texas.”
No one saw it coming.
Texas was ranked 11th, coming off a season in which the Longhorns had upset third-ranked Nebraska in the Big 12 Conference championship game.
UCLA was 0-2 and foundering.
“That Wednesday, I kicked the team off the practice field, I was so frustrated with how they were playing,” former UCLA coach Bob Toledo says.
But, come game time, the Bruins quickly messed with Texas. Cade McNown had passed for 202 yards and five touchdowns with five minutes left in the first half.
“We could have run a quadruple reverse and we would have scored,” UCLA running back Skip Hicks said. “Everything worked that day. Even the flight home was smooth.”
The turbulence remained behind.
While UCLA ripped off a winning streak, a posse was forming in Austin, with T-shirts and banners calling for the firing of Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds and Mackovic — “Dump DeLoss, flush the John.”
Mackovic had ridden the crest of the Nebraska victory. His fourth-and-inches call had clinched that game and he tried reminding the faithful, saying, “Last year we won the [Big 12] championship and everybody lived with that. They’ll just have to live with this too.”
But not even the Longhorns’ victory over Oklahoma could save the coach’s job. Texas lost three road games — Oklahoma State, Missouri and Baylor — that had home fans tearing down the goal posts. And the Longhorns finished 4-7.
“The Baylor fans dragged the goal post to the river,” McGarity says. “It was ‘kick Texas while it’s down’ time.”
It didn’t take long for Texas to kick back.
Mackovic was fired the day after losing the season finale to rival Texas A&M. Brown was hired five days later.
Things changed immediately.
“Coach Brown used that 1997 season to get us motivated,” McGarity says. “He would have pictures of the ’66-3' and pictures of fans tearing down the goal posts.”
Texas traveled to the Rose Bowl in 1998 and was again beaten badly by UCLA, the 49-31 final score closer than the game. But, McGarity says, “we didn’t quit that day.”
Texas finished 9-3 in Brown’s first season, with running back Ricky Williams winning the Heisman Trophy.
“Mack would still tell us, ‘You let someone come in here and beat you like that?’ ” McGarity says. “That one game was a steppingstone for years to come.”
UCLA’s Farmer says when he tells people now about UCLA beating Texas, “they get really impressed. They don’t remember what Texas was like back then.”
In Texas, though, they remember.
“They are never going to forget the Alamo in Texas,” Little says. “But they’re never going to forget 66-3 either.”