In February 1994, the Big Eight Conference invited four schools from the crumbling Southwest Conference to form the newly-coined Big 12.
It was a life-saver thrown out for teams in a historic yet deceitful conference that had torn itself apart with NCAA rules violations and general pettiness. Before the invitation was made, it was assumed that the four remaining public schools in the SWC — Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Houston — would be the ones to move on to a more stable and profitable conference for the foreseeable future.
However, one devastating, mind-boggling substitution was made.
Baylor, not Houston, was invited into the Big 12 along with the other three previously stated public schools in the SWC.
The Cougars were left by the wayside with private schools TCU, Rice and SMU. It was a near-death sentence for UH football, one that took 27 long years to get out of.
Now, midway through the school’s first Big 12 season, the Cougars are days away from facing who many UH alumni feel is the main culprit for the school’s decades-long banishment from big-time sports: Texas.
“They didn’t want us in,” said Ted Pardee, son of former UH head coach Jack Pardee and former UH linebacker. “I couldn’t believe that Tech, and A&M and Texas let it happen. Now, fast forward to today, we know what happened. We know that Texas was in on it with Baylor.”
Due to a mix of pressure from the Baylor-graduate Texas governor and lieutenant governor at the time, a slew of poorly coached and NCAA-probation-ravaged seasons for the Cougars (UH went 4-28-1 in the final three years in the SWC), and perhaps a lack of respect for “Cougar High” from A&M and Texas, the two schools opted not to include Houston in the new Big 12.
Many others around UH, including former star quarterback David Klingler, who went 3-1 against UT, believe Texas ensured the Cougars were left out simply because they were unable to have enough success against Houston across all sports.
After all, aside from the dark ages of the 1990s, Klingler pointed out that UH was dominant in stretches during the ’70s and ’80s. In football, coaches Bill Yeoman and Jack Pardee were taking the lead meanwhile the basketball team was soaring in the days of Phi Slama Jama under Guy V. Lewis.
Legendary track and field coach Tom Tellez tutored the likes of Olympic great Carl Lewis among many other title-winning athletes, and Dave Williams, the “father of college golf”, led the Cougar golf team to 16 national championships and nine SWC titles.
“Texas decided they wanted to kind of take their ball and go home,” Klingler said. “It left probably UH more than any other schools out in the cold, and I think it was in some ways done vindictively because they couldn’t meet up to the sports.”
Whatever role Texas played in keeping Houston out of the Big 12, former UH football players from the SWC era take special delight in recounting stories of beating the Longhorns over the years. Pardee and Klingler were teammates during a stretch where the Cougars beat Texas four times in five years from 1987-91, many of which were blowouts courtesy of the Run and Shoot offense.
“We used to beat the brakes off Texas,” Klingler remembered. “The question was just how bad were we going to beat them this year.”
There was a special chip on the Cougars’ shoulder against Texas during the Pardee era since Jack was an alumnus of the Longhorns’ arch-rival, Texas A&M. Also, UH’s Heisman-winning quarterback Andre Ware never forgot Texas’ recruiting snub back when he was in high school.
“Their head coach, Fred Akers, comes down to Dickinson to recruit Andre and says ‘We’ll offer your scholarship but you’re not gonna play quarterback,'” Pardee said. “‘You’re gonna play defensive back.'”
Those feelings of hatred towards the Longhorns made the Cougars’ 66-15 rout in Austin in 1988 that much sweeter.
69,000 fans showed up to Memorial Stadium to celebrate ‘Parents Weekend’, but by the time Andre Ware threw his fourth touchdown at the end of the second quarter, the Texas crowd turned into a skeleton of what it was at kickoff.
“You could hear the voice of the quarterback echoing in the stands,” Klingler said. “They were all going back home by halftime.”
“Typical Texas,” Pardee said.
That 1988 drubbing of the Longhorns wasn’t even the first time that the Cougars spoiled a day dedicated to parents in Austin.
In 1976, the No. 19 Cougars entered Memorial Stadium looking for their first-ever win over No. 20 Texas in the middle of the team’s first season in the SWC. This time on ‘Dad’s Day‘, UH found itself in front of a then-record 77,000 Texas fans facing a Darrell Royal-led Longhorns team that hadn’t lost in its last 42 games in Austin.
Entering the game, many of the players, including guard Chuck Brown, were receiving all sorts of talk from Texas fans who believed the Cougars weren’t fit for SWC football.
“They were giving you all sorts of riffraff and things like that,” Brown said. “Saying we won’t do any good.”
By the Cougars’ second drive, however, Texas fans were once again silenced.
After intercepting a Longhorns pass deep in Cougar territory, UH embarked on an astonishing 17-play, 79-yard drive capped off by an easy touchdown to sophomore running back Alois Blackwell.
“I went in the end zone standing up,” Blackwell remembered. “I’ll never forget I said, ‘Wow, this is going to be a long day for Texas.'”
Texas never sniffed the end zone for the rest of the game, turning the ball over four more times in the game en route to getting shut out and logging just 121 yards of total offense. Superstar defensive tackle Wilson Whitley led a ferocious UH defense against the Longhorns’ wishbone offense, logging eight tackles and a fumble recovery.
When all was said and done, the Cougars left Austin with a dominant 30-0 win, which is to this day the last time Texas was shut out on its home turf.
“I think that if we still were playing today,” Blackwell said. “They’d still be at zero.”
After the game, Brown was set to meet up with some of those trash-talking friends from Texas who attended the game to share a beer.
“I had a lot of friends that went to Texas, and I told them just to meet me after the game,” Brown said. “Ain’t one of them showed up.”
Fast forward to today, and those two wins over Texas are a few weeks away from being 35 and 47 years old respectively. It’s been 32 years since UH last beat Texas and 21 years since the two teams last met.
The Longhorns are again headed for greener pastures to play in the SEC, leaving Houston just one chance to get what it feels is revenge on Texas for that Big 12 omission almost three decades ago.
But regardless of Saturday’s result, now that UH is finally back in a power conference with its Texas counterparts, Cougars like Ted Pardee are confident that Houston will finally find itself on the right side of college football dominance in the state.
“If they’re going to talk, then they’re going to have to hear it from me when the tables turn,” Pardee said. “The tables absolutely will turn, and I know it makes them cringe.”