Football Sports

SWC Rewind: Trips to Lubbock yield tales of cleats, cotton

The Cougars went 12-7-1 against the Red Raiders in the Southwest Conference. | The Houstonian 1977

Over 19 years together in the Southwest Conference, Houston and Texas Tech engaged in epic battles with consequential but often odd circumstances.

How this year’s upcoming game goes is yet to be seen, but over the years, Houston’s games in Lubbock can be summed up in one sentence by former UH star quarterback David Klingler:

“Whenever we played Tech, it was always a mess.”

Here are just a couple of the Cougars’ most memorable clashes with the Red Raiders in another Southwest Conference Rewind.

The Clash for the Cotton Bowl

After a rough 2-8 season in 1975, the Cougars entered their inaugural year in the SWC seemingly on a down-swing. However, inside the locker room, the expectations were as high as ever.

Head coach Bill Yeoman spent the entire offseason and training camp instilling one lofty goal for the upcoming year into the mind of the whole team: Win the conference and get to the Cotton Bowl.

Throughout the season, players like star running back Alois Blackwell wore T-shirts that read “Think Cotton” as a constant reminder of what the team was working towards.

“We wore those under our jerseys every day in practice, and during the game,” Blackwell said. “Those T-shirts were always front and center not only physically, but it was in our mind in regards to what we wanted to accomplish.”

Two months into the 1976 season, the Cougars were on track to get to their promised land in Dallas. UH had jumped out to a 6-2 record and The Cougars were riding high after dominating No. 20 Texas in a 30-0 win, rising to No. 9 in the AP Poll.

Sitting in second place in the SWC with two conference games left on the schedule, the Cougars’ road to the Cotton Bowl faced one final barrier: Lubbock.

The No. 5-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders were 8-0 and enjoying their best season since 1938 under second-year head coach Steve Sloan. Sloan’s defensive staff boasted future NFL head coach Bill Parcells and longtime assistant Romeo Crennel.

With the Cotton Bowl in sight, Yeoman stopped the team bus on the way to their Lubbock hotel to motivate the team ahead of one of the most important games in the program’s history.

“Coach Yeoman stopped the bus by the cotton fields, and let the team captains go out there and pick some bowls of cotton,” said Chuck Brown, a guard for UH from 1975-78. “Because if we beat these guys, we’re going to go to the Cotton Bowl.”

In 2023, Yeoman’s decision almost definitely would not have been received well by players and fans alike. In 1976, however, it helped galvanize the team.

UH took that fire all the way to the beginning of the game.

After the Red Raiders got on the board first with a safety, sophomore quarterback Danny Davis led UH to score on four of its next five possessions, throwing two touchdowns while Dyral Thomas punched one in as well. On the other side, Lombardi Award-winning defensive tackle Wilson Whitley led a top-tier UH defense in holding Tech to just a field goal, giving the Cougars a 24-5 halftime lead.

For much of the second half, Yeoman’s patented Veer offense began running out the clock. Blackwell, the leading man in a loaded backfield that ran six players deep, led the way with 103 yards rushing — 74 in the second half — against Bill Parcells’ defense. Parcells recruited Blackwell to Texas Tech when he was a star high school player in the small town of Cuero, Texas.

With the Cougars up 27-5 and under seven minutes to go, UH seemed ready to celebrate its huge win.

However, the Red Raiders refused to go out quietly.

With 6:37 left to play, Davis threw a pick-six to Texas Tech’s Richard Arledge. Shortly thereafter, Donnie Allison and the Red Raiders drove 93 yards on five straight passes to score again and bring the game within one possession after a two-point conversion.

Danny Davis then lost a fumble on the ensuing possession, setting the Red Raiders up with the ball on their 19-yard line with 2:40 left.

Having gone from 22 points down to potentially tying the game in less than four minutes, Jones Stadium came back to life as fans rushed back into the stands.

“I’ll never forget…They started coming back, and (the fans) started coming back into the game,” Blackwell remembered. “The stands filled up again. And as a matter of fact, it came right down to the last pass play.”

Allison drove the Red Raiders all the way to the Cougars’ 10-yard line in less than 90 seconds. On second down, Allison’s 33rd pass of the game was picked off by freshman safety Elvis Bradley at the goal line, sealing the victory for UH.

“Out of all the games, that was one of the tougher ones,” Blackwell said. “They gave us all we could handle.”

After thumping the Rice Owls for the Bayou Bucket a week later, the Cougars fulfilled their destiny, becoming co-champions of the SWC and punching their ticket to the Cotton Bowl, where the Cougars upset another undefeated team in the No. 4 Maryland Terrapins.

“That’s what we played for all year long,” said Chuck Brown. “But getting there, it was just really surreal.”

Decades later, Blackwell was living in Dallas and was invited by his friend and former Cougar Robert Newhouse to come to the Cowboys’ facility, where he worked, to pick something up. Once there, Newhouse introduced Blackwell to the man who nearly convinced him to play for the Red Raiders as a teenager — Bill Parcells.

Parcells, now a two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach known as one of the greatest in the sport’s history, shook Blackwell’s hand and recognized him instantly.

Alois Blackwell, Cuero, Texas,” Parcells said. “Home of the Fightin’ Gobblers.”

“He had never forgotten,” Blackwell said. “And that was years later.”

Playing Catch in a Cold Snap

After a freezing win in Lubbock, Jack Pardee addresses the team sporting one of the leis given to the team by the Aloha Bowl Committee. | The Houstonian 1990

Almost 12 years later, second-year head coach Jack Pardee and the Cougars were 7-2. The team had just entered the rankings at No. 17 after handing No. 10 Wyoming its first loss of the season.

Sophomore quarterback Andre Ware had taken control of Pardee’s high-powered, pass-happy run-and-shoot offense and was blossoming into a star along with record-setting skill players Chuck Weatherspoon and Jason Phillips.

With another bowl game in sight — this time the Aloha Bowl in Hawaii — the Cougars again had to travel to Lubbock to face the 5-4 Red Raiders. Fellow sophomore coach and friend of Pardee, Spike Dykes, had implemented a spread offense headed by rocket-armed QB Billy Joe Tolliver.

“Tech figured it out,” said Ted Pardee, son of Jack and UH linebacker at the time. “They were like ‘Houston’s having success passing, so we probably need to start throwing the ball around.’ So they started to change and adapt.”

When they arrived in Lubbock, it was a beautiful day with clear skies. However, when the players stepped out of their hotel on game day, they were greeted with something totally different.

We’re doing pregame walkthrough a day before the game in shorts, T-shirts,” Pardee said. “Wake up the next day … three feet of snow on the ground.”

A cold front came into Lubbock early, and the Cougars were caught completely unprepared. The Cougars entered Jones Stadium without winter uniforms wearing inadequate AstroTurf cleats. To make matters worse, they also took to Campbell Field under heavy fire from Tech fans who launched cold tortillas at the beleaguered players.

“We’re all slopping around out there in the snow, and of course, I’m standing on the sideline freezing to death,” said Klingler, a backup at the time. “It’s like watching the receivers run routes on ice skates and defenders trying to tackle and cover on ice skates.”

In the first half, the Cougars’ potent passing attack was reduced to short throws while receivers were unable to find their footing. Thanks to a pick-six by defensive back Mecridric Calloway, UH kept it close going into halftime and was down just 16-14.

However, as the game began slipping away in the third quarter, UH equipment staff rushed to find a solution to the Cougars’ footing issues before it was too late.

Chuck Weatherspoon was sliding around. Our quarterbacks at the time, they were struggling to get any traction,” Pardee said. “The equipment managers during the game went to a sporting goods store and bought all these old screw-in cleats to finish the game.”

Down 23-14 in the fourth quarter and with fresh, weather-appropriate cleats, UH began to make its run. Soon, Ware and the Cougars started look like their gun-slinging selves again.

“The old adage is ‘You can’t throw in the snow. You can’t throw in the weather,'” Klingler said. “Of course, we just threw it all over the place.”

Ware threw it 61 times for the game for 348 yards, with 243 of them coming in the second half. After a muffed Texas Tech punt led to a UH field goal, Ware led a crucial touchdown drive, finding Jason Phillips for a fourth-down conversion. Two plays later, Ware hit Kimble Anders for a 15-yard score, putting UH 24-23 with 10:27 to play.

The Red Raiders wasted no time in answering, taking advantage of a short kickoff and scoring on a run by tailback Ervin Farris, his third touchdown of the game. Tech then went for two, but Tolliver slipped on the snow on his dropback, keeping the score at 29-24 with 8:50 to play.

Minutes later, the weather tilted in UH’s favor once again when Tech was forced to punt on their own 7-yard line. The icy punt went for just 15 yards, and with under three minutes to play, Ware and the Cougars were set up deep in Red Raider territory with a chance to take the lead.

Ware hit Phillips two more times, with the last giving UH the lead, 30-29.

With 1:51 to play, Tolliver attempted to engineer a game-winning drive, but fumbled on the first play. Defensive back Johnny Jackson fell on it, securing the Cougars’ win.

As the Cougars entered the locker room, they were met with two distinctly different gestures of both hate and victory.

“All the Tech fans are throwing snowballs at us. It’s getting crazy,” Pardee said. “We’re getting pelted with snowballs, and the Aloha Bowl Committee was there and they had the Hawaiian flower leis and they were putting them on us.”

Finally out of the hostile snow and invited to a bowl game in paradise, Jack Pardee addressed his victorious but frostbitten team in a moment that yielded an incredible photo.

“(Jack‘s) got like a big red jacket on. His ears and nose are bright red from beinig frozen,” Ted remembered. “And he’s got a flower lei around his neck.”

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