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Bohls: Texas to honor four national championship teams with quarterback busts

These three busts of former quarterbacks who led the Longhorns to national championships will eventually be on display at Royal-Memorial Stadium, along with a likeness of Vince Young that is at a foundry in Montana. From left are busts of Eddie Phillips, Duke Carlisle and James Street.
  • Texas to celebrate Duke Carlisle, the late James Street, Eddie Phillips and Vince Young.
  • All four quarterbacks were Texas-bred players who had spectacular signature plays in their careers.
  • Montana sculptor Ken Bjorge also created the Earl Campbell statue as well as statues of Auburn stars

Eddie Phillips wondered what all the fuss was about.

For the life of him, when he was contacted by a former Texas teammate and told that he was to be honored as the quarterback of the Longhorns' 1970 national championship team, well, he wasn’t sure what to think.

Thanks to a generous project that was the brainchild of a wealthy San Antonio oilman and longtime, inveterate Longhorns fan, Phillips will be recognized as one of the only four quarterbacks who have ever lifted Texas to a national title. 

The four will be immortalized with bronze busts that will be installed sometime next season for permanent display on top of a black granite pillar in the newly constructed south end zone of Royal-Memorial Stadium.

“I was kind of overwhelmed,” Phillips said humbly from his Dallas home last week. “I never thought I would have a bust anywhere. It’s great when you have great teammates, I guess.”

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That he did. This strong, quick-footed quarterback had more famous colleagues than any other Longhorn before or since and was a huge part of the core of the teams that were much-acclaimed as the Worster Bunch. There never has been and probably never will be a more celebrated UT group than that collection, which spawned heroes such as Bill Atessis, Bobby Wuensch, Cotton Speyrer, Scott Henderson, Greg Ploetz, Bill Zapalac, Freddie Steinmark, Phillips and, of course, namesake Steve Worster, the best fullback who ever lived. 

That 1967 recruiting class included 13 of the state’s top 22 blue-chippers, and they finished their careers with a gaudy 30-2-1 record and two of the school’s four national titles. And trust me, they’re still ticked off about the two defeats. Six players in the Worster Bunch were All-Americans, four of them twice.

But someone’s got to grab the lion’s share of the glory or at least be the focal point, and who better to represent those teams that reached the pinnacle of college football than their legendary quarterbacks.

“It’s a good idea,” Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said Friday. “We’re honoring the entire teams.”

Texas quarterback Duke Carlisle, shown running against Navy in the 1963 Cotton Bowl, directed the Longhorns to their first national championship.

And that is why sometime this fall Texas will unveil the bronze busts of Duke Carlisle, the late James Street, Phillips and the incomparable Vince Young that are being created by celebrated Montana sculptor Ken Bjorge to honor the champions in 1963, 1969, 1970 and 2005. The first three came under Darrell Royal, the last under Mack Brown.

Carlisle, too, was part of a great recruiting class that was 50 strong with so much talent that after playing on the freshman team in 1960 per NCAA rules, he and 16 teammates all lettered the next season as sophomores.

The same went for Young, who as a junior directed Texas to the eye-popping win over USC in the most dramatic Rose Bowl ever for Texas’ last national title in 2005. He then left for the NFL. So did 32 other Longhorns — 25 of them through the draft — off that talent-rich 13-0 team that scored 50 points or more seven times and had just one win that wasn’t by double digits.

"This is such an incredible honor for me and my family," Young said, "and I can't thank CDC and everyone at the University of Texas enoughfor including me in such a special tribute. You know I bleed orange, and I'm humbled to be included in this display alongside legends like James Street, Duke Carlisle and Eddie Phillips in representing our national championship teams."

But Carlisle’s bunch was the first to light the Tower orange.

And he’s just as humble as Phillips.

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“My teammates like Charlie Talbert and Pete Lammons and Tommy Ford would say what the hell are you doing on top of that thing because we always thought it was a team effort,” Carlisle said, laughing. “It’s certainly a great honor for the team. It’s nice to have those teams remembered.”

The quarterbacks were happy to learn that every single name associated with the champions — from every scholarship player and walk-on to trainers and managers — will be inscribed on the pillars.

“It’s not just about the quarterbacks,” said Jimmy Nixon, whose brainstorm the idea was. “It’s about the teams.”

And it began in 1963.

Texas quarterback Vince Young tries to break away from a Colorado tackler during the 2005 Big 12 championship game. Young would go on to lead the Longhorns to the BCS national championship win in the Rose Bowl over USC.

Carlisle, a retired oilman at 79, was a lightly built, 6-foot, 172-pound senior at Athens and had come frighteningly close to choosing Oklahoma because of the Sooners’ 47-game win streak and Bud Wilkinson’s stature.

But his mind was changed when Texas upset No. 2 OU in 1958 and whipped ’em again in ’59. Royal told Carlisle that “we’re going to start beating them regularly, and he sounded like he meant it.” In fact, the Longhorns’ domination grew to eight straight over the Sooners during a span when Texas very easily could have strung together three national titles in four seasons.

“When you think about ’61, ’2, ’3 and ’4,” Carlisle said from his home in McComb, Miss., referring to four Texas teams that went 40-3-1, “we won in ’63. If we don’t let TCU upset us  (6-0) in ’61, and we make a two-point conversion against Arkansas (in a 14-13 loss) in ’64, Coach Royal easily could have had three national championships in four years. We had the strongest program in the country for a four-year period.” 

Think Alabama-dynasty good, for you millennials.

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Bjorge has completed three of the four busts, with Young’s 90% done, but Nixon — who spearheaded the project — is still raising money for the privately funded work and its $108,000 price tag. Bjorge is also the sculptor who created the 9-foot-tall Earl Campbell statue that stands in the plaza southwest of the field.

Nixon first approached former Texas running back Billy Dale, who runs a cool website called Texas Legacy Support Network, an independent, tax-exempt organization that celebrates UT athletic history with stories and pictures and helps former Longhorns who need temporary financial assistance.

“I was excited because I played with two of the quarterbacks,” Dale said. “Jimmy committed a significant amount of his own money, and he asked if he could use my site to try to raise some of the money about two years ago.”

Dale researched the quarterbacks' pictures and forwarded to Bjorge much of the material he used to begin the process.

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The 77-year-old South Dakotan was once a practicing environmental lawyer and then a law professor at Gonzaga before he switched to sculpture. He set up a gallery in an artisan hotbed that is Bigfork, Mont., a quaint, picturesque village on the north edge of Flathead Lake about an hour south of the Canadian border.

He knew he had an innate knack for the art in a class when he molded a three-dimensional, 4-inch howling wolf piece in the span of 20 minutes. His instructor promptly said he was wasting his time teaching. Before long, Bjorge did a life-sized-plus rendition of former Washington head coach Jim Owens, who interestingly enough succeeded his former OU teammate when Royal left for Austin after the 1956 season.

Since then, Bjorge has done the likenesses of Auburn stars Cam Newton and Bo Jackson and has worked for six years on a statue of Abraham Lincoln.

For these busts, which are 1½ times life-size, Bjorge relies on photographs of the players to create their likenesses. He uses only his fingers to mold the busts with an oil-based clay. He needed six to eight months to complete each. Young’s is in the foundry now.

Former Texas quarterback James Street posed in his Austin office in 2007 in front of a painting showing him being congratulated by President Lyndon Johnson after beating Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 1969 season.

Janie Street sent Bjorge pictures of her late husband before they finally settled on one from his freshman year at Texas. One without the curly hair and the long Elvis sideburns. she insisted. Of course, James was always enamored with his hair, a far cry from the flat-top style Carlisle wore back then, courtesy of 75-cent haircuts.

When Street played Longview high school basketball games on the road, fans would taunt him and throw combs on the court.

“He’d pick ’em up and comb his hair,” Janie said, laughing. “He loved his hair.”

During the process, Janie’s niece Farrah Chelstrom and her husband coincidentally were in Montana and stopped by Bjorge’s gallery one summer day. She spotted a bust and said, “That looks like Uncle James.”

“Ken called me,” Janie said, repeating the story, “I told him, ‘You’re doing it right.’ ”

But each bust is unique.

“They’re all equally difficult,” Bjorge said. “It’s a likeness more than a snapshot in time.”

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Four teams.

Four quarterbacks. All Texas-bred. All — save Young, from Houston Madison — from smaller cities, if you count Mesquite, a Dallas suburb. All incredibly athletic. All better than Oklahoma and Texas A&M, with a combined 12-2 record versus the two hated rivals. All tremendous leaders.

Street quarterbacked the 1969 team, college football’s last all-white national champion, and Young — a Black man and arguably one of the school’s best-known and most beloved players alongside Campbell, Worster and Tommy Nobis — led Texas’ last championship team in 2005.

"I do hope everyone who sees these busts realizes that we are just a part of the championship teams," Young said. "That's what this is all about — a championship culture, championship teams and the pride and winning tradition of the Texas Longhorns."

All also had singularly spectacular plays that have been remembered forever. Carlisle’s, oddly enough, came on defense.

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Carlisle was a two-year safety before becoming the quarterback in 1963 and throwing two touchdown passes in the Cotton Bowl to beat Roger Staubach and Navy. But on the final drive of a pivotal game against Baylor, a fumble at the Bears' 10 put the outcome in doubt. Even though Longhorns lore has long held that Carlisle was inserted at safety on the next-to-last play of the game, he said he was told to stay in on defense the entire series.

To seal the game, he made arguably one of the biggest defensive plays in Longhorns history. The tight end he was assigned to cover was jammed at the line of scrimmage, so Carlisle came off his man and stepped in front of wide receiver Lawrence Elkins to intercept a pass from All-American Don Trull in the end zone in the closing seconds, securing a 7-0 win to clinch the Southwest Conference championship.

“It was a lot of relief more than anything,” Carlisle remembered.

Phillips, too, played defensive back in high school and almost made the Los Angeles Rams as such as a fourth-round pick. His signature UT moment came on a desperation, 45-yard touchdown pass to Cotton Speyrer on third-and-19 in the final minute to hold off upset-minded UCLA 20-17 and keep the eventual 30-game win streak going strong at 23.

”I never heard a stadium go from you could hear a pin drop to the loudest I ever heard,” Phillips said. “The last drive before that, I came off the field, all dejected. Bobby Wuensch jumped in my face and said, ‘We’re going to win this game.’ Bobby was one you said, ‘Yes, sir’ to.”

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Street was a two-sport star who threw a pair of no-hitters and became a two-time second-team All-America pitcher for Texas' baseball team. He was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.

But he’s known best for his long pass to Randy Peschel on fourth-and-3 to set up the winning touchdown in a 15-14 victory over Arkansas on a frigid December day at Fayetteville in the Big Shootout. How big was it? It's known as the Game of the Century, and President Richard Nixon was on hand and gave the team a plaque in the dressing room, declaring Texas the national champs. Street and Phillips were in that locker room.

Young was, well, just exceptional and one of the best athletes this school has ever seen. His sprint to the end zone on fourth-and-five completed a storybook performance against USC in what some have called the best bowl game ever played.

“That was a career in one day,” Nixon said. “I think Vince may have been the greatest college football player who ever played the game. He could have played any position. He was just amazing.”

Street and Carlisle are both in the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame. Young and Street have been inducted in the state’s Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Of the four, only Young became an All-American.

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They were as photogenic as they were phenomenal.

Phillips was so clean-cut handsome, the late storyteller Dan Jenkins once likened him to Robert Redford. “I don’t know if I agreed with it, but it was a pretty nice compliment,” Phillips said.

They were, as a group, immune from pressure. They never blinked.

Well, rarely.

“When I was going to ask for Kitty’s hand in marriage,” Phillips said, “going to her dad was the most pressure I’d ever been under.”

Kitty’s father was Tom Landry. Yeah, that one.

They winked at pressure.

Together, they compiled an astounding 76-4 record. Top that.

“Wow,” Carlisle said. “That’s good.”

Except for the losses to No. 6 Notre Dame in a Cotton Bowl in which Texas fumbled 10 times and to a 10th-ranked Penn State club led by Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell when Phillips played, and to No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 15 Washington State in the Holiday Bowl before Young actually got into his groove, they were perfect.

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In truth, Carlisle and Street were perfect. Carlisle, the terrific two-way player who started at safety before sticking at quarterback, was 12-0. Street, whose recognition is so long overdue it’s embarrassing, ran the innovative wishbone offense to perfection and raced through 20 games without a loss. 

But Phillips’ 14-2 mark — the Horns lost to Notre Dame in the 1971 Cotton Bowl, but Texas was named the United Press International national champion after the regular season, as was its custom before bowl games — and Young’s incomparable 30-2 streak were just as jaw-dropping.

And just as Texas did when it waited too long to build its own Hall of Fame in the north end zone upon Del Conte’s arrival and erect statues of Heisman Trophy winners Campbell and Ricky Williams, the school finally got it. It might be late to the party, but what a party it’s become.

And Nixon, a 68-year-old oilman who began going to football games with his father as a kid, has been instrumental in the journey.

Montana sculptor Ken Bjorge, left, and longtime Longhorns fan Jimmy Nixon, who spearheaded projects to erect a statute of Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell and create busts of Texas' four national championship-winning quarterbacks to honor those teams, stand in front of the Campbell likeness.

“I went to games as a kid, and I was hooked,” said Nixon, who graduated from Texas in 1974 and made his fortune as a landman and oil well operator. “I had this idea our stadium was getting too commercialized. From history, you look at the Colosseum in Rome and at bronze statues instead of a Jumbotron. It was like ‘Ben Hur’ — a spectacle.

“The grandeur of the stadium really matters, as do the heroes we can never forget. And what a great recruiting advantage to put our star players in bronze.”

Nixon was the impetus behind the drive for the Earl Campbell statue, raising all the money privately, as he has for the bust project. He sold then-AD DeLoss Dodds on the idea, and although it hit an inevitable political snag involving on-campus statues and had to be shelved for a time, it is coming to fruition.

“DeLoss first told me we could put it in his office in the meantime,” Nixon said. “I think DeLoss’ office was on the seventh floor. But the Earl statue is 9-foot-tall, so I told him Earl’s head would be on the eighth floor.”

Of course, it could be argued that Campbell, as the school’s first Heisman winner and truly a man among boys, was truly bigger than life anyway.

So in many respects are these four legends who commanded some of the best offenses and teams in school history.

And which of the four teams was the best?

“I would say the 2005 team,” Phillips said. “What Vince did that year was unbelievable. He carried ’em individually. And James. You don’t lose a game you start, that’s pretty special, too.”

Special indeed. And soon immortalized for all time.

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