September 24, 2010
UCLA's visit to Austin Saturday is a return to the scene of the most bittersweet moment any Texas fan can remember, the day the slightly favored Longhorns were reduced to ashes in the infamous "Rout 66" immolation of 1997. The "bitter" half of that equation requires no explanation: UT turned the ball over eight times, trailed 30-0 at halftime and had already sent most of Darrell K. Royal Stadium packing before it finally added a field goal to make the score 45-3 in the second half. Third-team quarterback Richard Cherry, sacked three times, immediately quit the team to become a male model. The 66-3 final was Texas' worst beating in 93 years, and the worst ever on its own field.
The score alone was enough to send coach John Mackovic in front of the jury, less than a year after upsetting Nebraska for the first ever Big 12 championship. The specifics that began to emerge later were almost enough to convict him:
"They just couldn't stop us. And they could not block our defense," said then-UCLA coach Bob Toledo, who is now the head coach at Tulane.[Texas receiver Wayne] McGarity says that's because Texas coaches changed the offensive scheme just a few hours before the game, tossing out what they had practiced all week.
"(Mackovic) felt like we ran up the score on him but we didn't," Toledo said. "It was just one of those games. We came back out at halftime and there was hardly anybody there. They were gone."
[Injured quarterback] James Brown says he could have played that day and wanted to rally his team. He said he told [backup Richard] Walton he was going in. But Word got to Mackovic, who ordered trainers to take away his helmet. "He said, 'If you put yourself in, that would be the worst mistake you could ever make,'" James Brown said.
Fans, frustrated by too many seasons of false hopes under Mackovic, boiled over and took it out on the coach and the athletic director. T-shirts and banners that said "Dump DeLoss, Flush the John" soon appeared.
Mackovic seemed deaf to the rage roiling around him. "Last year, we won the (Big 12) championship and everybody lived with that. They'll just have to live with this, too," Mackovic said.
Over the next two months, they'd have to live with a four-game losing streak and a season-ending loss to Texas A&M to close out the program's sixth losing season in 12 years. Mackovic had to live with getting fired the next day for the second time in his career. (He'd be run out of town a third time amidst a player mutiny at Arizona six years later.)
Which brings us, of course, to the sweet. Mack Brown's arrival from North Carolina a few weeks later marked the beginning of one of the most dominant – and lucrative – decades in school history, a spectacular run of ten-win seasons that effectively began with the rock-bottom embarrassment against the Bruins, and has the 'Horns sitting again as better than two-touchdown favorites for Saturday's return date. That should be some solace for UCLA fans if the breaks go the other way this time: Over time, what goes around always comes around eventually.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.