On December 6, 1969, the Texas Longhorns and Arkansas Razorbacks met in what many consider the Game of the Century. In the centennial season of college football, both teams were undefeated; both featured devastating and innovative offenses; both boasted cerebral, stingy defenses; and both were coached by superior tacticians and stirring motivators, Texas's Darrell Royal and Arkansas's Frank Broyles. On that day in Fayetteville, the poll-leading Horns and second-ranked Hogs battled for the Southwest Conference title -- and President Nixon was coming to present his own national championship plaque to the winners.
Even if it had been just a game, it would still have been memorable today. The bitter rivals played a game for the ages before a frenzied, hog-callin' crowd that included not only an enthralled President Nixon -- a noted football fan -- but also Texas congressman George Bush. And the game turned, improbably, on an outrageously daring fourth-down pass.
But it wasn't just a game, because nothing was so simple in December 1969. In Horns, Hogs, & Nixon Coming, Terry Frei deftly weaves the social, political, and athletic trends together for an unforgettable look at one of the landmark college sporting events of all time.
The week leading up to the showdown saw black student groups at Arkansas, still marginalized and targets of virulent abuse, protesting and seeking to end the use of the song "Dixie" to celebrate Razorback touchdowns; students were determined to rush the field during the game if the band struck up the tune. As the United States remained mired in the Vietnam War, sign-wielding demonstrators (including war veterans) took up their positions outside the stadium -- in full view of the president. That same week, Rhodes Scholar Bill Clinton penned a letter to the head of the ROTC program at the University of Arkansas, thanking the colonel for shielding him from induction into the military earlier in the year.
Finally, this game was the last major sporting event that featured two exclusively white teams. Slowly, inevitably, integration would come to the end zones and hash marks of the South, and though no one knew it at the time, the Texas vs. Arkansas clash truly was Dixie's Last Stand.
Drawing from comprehensive research and interviews with coaches, players, protesters, professors, and politicians, Frei stitches together an intimate, electric narrative about two great teams -- including one player who, it would become clear only later, was displaying monumental courage just to make it onto the field -- facing off in the waning days of the era they defined. Gripping, nimble, and clear-eyed, Horns, Hogs, & Nixon Coming is the final word on the last of how it was.
Sportswriter Frei's first book is a decent account of the December 1969 gridiron clash between the Texas Longhorns and the Arkansas Razorbacks, a dramatic, all-white affair played out before Pres. Richard Nixon and a war-torn American public, and often considered the finest game in the history of college football. Frei, a reporter for the Denver Post, covers all the bases in a wistful, sepia-toned "when it was a game" vehicle that has become the male version of the chick flick: translucent irony, fleeting ethical conundrums, black and white (sometimes literally) views of right and wrong, reverence for authority figures and a nod and a wink's worth of boys-will-be-boys lead up to the "Big Shootout" (as the game was later dubbed), complete with a healthy amount of blood, guts and glory. The author does his best to invoke the atmosphere of two very different Southern college towns during that turbulent juncture in American history (down to the Neil Young reference in the title). He's mostly successful, although the subtitle promises far more analysis of the dying days of segregation than Frei delivers. One shortcoming: the overuse of pointed if tacit connections, most notably Pres. Bill Clinton's relationship to Arkansas, the ROTC and his clumsy avoidance of the war in Vietnam. While Frei fills his narrative with descriptions of interrelated smalltown events and people in Fayetteville, Ark., bringing Clinton into the picture does nothing to advance the story. Still, Frei's target audience fans of Southern college football will enjoy this history.