College Football: Texas A.J. Jones (24) in action, diving into endzone for touchdown vs Oklahoma at Cotton Bowl Stadium. Dallas, TX 10/10/1981 CREDIT: Heinz Kluetmeier (Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X26122 TK2 R3 F12 )

BEVO BEAT Football

Daily Longhorn football history: The 1981 season

Posted July 29th, 2017


The Texas football program dates back to 1893. Each day, we look at a little piece of Longhorn history. We’re starting by looking at each Longhorn football season. 

After ending the 1980 season on a three-game losing streak, and going 2-5 to end the season, coach Fred Akers made changes to the coaching staff. Out as offensive coordinator was Leon Manley, who had been in place since 1977. Manley had been the Longhorn’s offensive line coach from 1966-1974 and was one of Darrell Royal’s closest friends, but the dip in the offense while the defense, led by fan-favorite Leon Fuller, led Akers to demote Manley

Manley remained on staff but handed the reigns to Ron Toman, who had been the quarterback and receiver coach at Notre Dame the previous five seasons.


The change worked.

The 1981 season is one of the best during the Akers era. The Longhorns bounced back from 7-5 to go 10-1-1. Texas opened the season with four-straight wins, including a 34-14 victory over No. 10 Oklahoma. Texas beat four ranked teams, including three ranked in the top 10. The week before,  Texas beat a rising Miami program ranked No. 14 at the time 14-7. After beating the Sooners, Texas entered its  matchup with Arkansas ranked No. 1 for the first time since 1977.

Ranked No. 1, the Longhorns crash landed against Arkansas, losing 42-11. Overall, Texas is 30-7-3 when entering a game ranked No. 1. But those seven loses have been by an average of 12.5 points. Two of the seven losses came to unranked teams,  this 31-point loss, the largest margin of all, to unranked Arkansas and the 6-0 loss in 1961 to TCU.

Texas bounced back the next week to beat No. 8-ranked SMU, led by Eric Dickerson and Craig James, 9-7. Texas ended the season with a 21-13 win over Texas A&M.

But because Texas had tied Houston 14-14, SMU won the Southwest Conference title with a 7-1 record. But also because SMU was on NCAA probation for recruiting violations (they eventually would be handed the famed “death penalty”), the Pony Express weren’t eligible for the Cotton Bowl, so the automatic bowl big went to Texas.

The Longhorns’ opponent was Alabama and coach Bear Bryant.

The first time Bryant faced the Longhorns was in 1951 as the head coach of Kentucky. He left the Wildcats to take the Texas A&M job in 1954 and went 1-3 in four seasons against the Longhorns.

In January of 1982, Bryant was still a year away from retiring at Alabama after 25 years, but this was the last time he faced the Longhorns. Texas scored all 14 of its points in the fourth quarter with the help of a Robert Brewer 30-yard run and a Terry Orr 8-yard run. Alabama had one last chance in the game after garnering a safety with 48 seconds left in the game,  but failed to score again as Akers topped Bryant 14-12.

At Alabama, Bryant went 0-3-1 (this may explain why Paul Finebaum is constantly trashing the Longhorns) against Texas– all in bowl games.

CREDIT: UPI, 08/14/81. DeLoss Dodds flashes the “Hook’em” sign as he sizes up a T-shirt that was presented to him by UT officials on his first day on the job on Aug. 14, 1981. (Photo by UPI)

Royal out, Dodds in: Darrell Royal stepped down as the Texas football coach following the 1976 season, but he didn’t stop working for Texas. Already the athletic director, he stayed in that position but left following the 1980 season. In August of 1981, Texas officially named his successor, a former Kansas State track and field coach turned Kansas State athletic director named DeLoss Dodds.

Dodds would go on to become one of the great athletic directors in NCAA history. Not only did he guide the department into becoming an even greater financial juggernaut, he helped form the Big 12 Conference in the 1990s, hired Mack Brown, Rick Barnes and Augie Garrido in a three year span and changed the face of college football when he helped negotiate the creation of the Longhorn Network, which made Texas even more profitable.

Dodds stayed in his position until 2013, when he retired to become special assistant to the UT President.

With Dodds in place, the 1981 season was the first since 1957 that Royal wasn’t somehow involved with the program as a coach or AD. Officially Royal became a member of the Texas athletic council and his voice was loud, but 1981 can be seen as changing of the guard at Texas.

Stepping on a soap-box: The 1981 season is also a magical season for one of the best defensive players who never gets the credit he deserves at Texas.

Kenneth Sims recorded 131 tackles in 1980 and was an All-American. As a senior in 1981, Sims registered 110 tackles as a defensive end, 21 for a loss. He had 9.5 sacks and 32 quarterback hurries, forced six fumbles, recovered two and was the no-brainer Lombardi Award winner.  He was the first winner of that award and one of three others to receive the honor (Tony Degrate in 1984 and Brian Orakpo in 2008). Nine other players have been finalist for the award.

Sims was a two-time All-American and two-time All-Southwest Conference player. He finished eighth in Heisman Trophy voting– joining Tommy Nobis and Scott Appleton as the only Longhorn defenders to receive Heisman votes. Marcus Allen of USC rightfully won the award, however.

Sims also won the Ted Hendricks Award– the first Longhorn to do so.  Degrate, Orakpo and Jackson Jeffcoat would also win the honor. Had the Chuck Bednarik Award been around (it didn’t become a thing until 1995), he probably would have won that.

The only lineman award Sims didn’t win was the Outland Trophy, which Nobis, Appleton and Brad Shearer had won in the past. The Outland Trophy instead went to Nebraska center Dave Rimington — namesake of today’s Rimington Trophy award given to the best center.

Sims was college football’s best defender in 1981 and became the third Longhorn– and the last Longhorn since– to be selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft when the New England Patriots selected Sims. The Pats, which were not the renowned franchise fans know them of today, had taken Steve McMichael and Raymond Clayborn in recent years.

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Theory: The main reason Sims isn’t remembered as well in Longhorn lore as others is because his NFL career was not up to the lofty No.1 overall pick expectations people have and he didn’t win a national title. Sims had 17 sacks in 74 career games in the NFL. His best season was in 1985 when he had 5.5 sacks and the Pats reached the Super Bowl. By 1989, after eight seasons, his NFL career was over.

No Pro Bowls or individual awards just a place on the 1982 NFL Al-Rookie team is on his resume.

But as a Longhorn, Sims is rightfully a member of the Longhorn Hall of Honor.

Other things not on a soap-box: Texas’s offensive changes produced a dynamic backfield. A.J. “Jam” Jones rushed for 834 yards and six touchdowns. John Walker added 714 more yards and six more touchdowns. Rick McIvor passed for 918 yards and five touchdowns, while Robert Brewer added 404 yards. Donnie Little, who had played quarterback in previous seasons, caught a team-high 18 passes for 338 yards.

Defensively, outside Sims, William Graham had seven interceptions, tied for second-most in a single season, and Vance Bedford added four more picks. The “DBU” tagline could easily be applied in 1981 as Graham, Bedford, future All-Americans Jerry Gray and Mossy Cade and Mike Hatchett helped the defense pick off 23 passes (surprisingly none were returned for touchdowns).

All-Time Texas sack leader Kiki DeAyala led Texas with 12 sacks. It was only beginning as he would have one of the greatest defensive seasons ever for the Longhorns the following season.

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