Main Content

ACU-Texas showdowns have made other sports history, too

Enlarge

Earl Young anchors his ACU relay team to victory over Texas, Michigan and Ohio State during the 1961 quadrangular meet in Abilene between the Wildcats, Longhorns, Wolverines and Buckeyes.
Earl Young anchors his ACU relay team to victory over Texas, Michigan and Ohio State during the 1961 quadrangular meet in Abilene between the Wildcats, Longhorns, Wolverines and Buckeyes.

It won’t necessarily be a bad thing should the pace of tonight’s NCAA Tournament basketball game hit the gas and “turn into a track meet” between Abilene Christian University and The University of Texas at Austin.

After all, that’s how the Wildcats and Longhorns have known each other best for more than 80 years.

While they’ve never played a men’s basketball game against each other, and despite their sizable – nearly 8:1 – enrollment differences, Texas (40,048 students) and ACU (5,293 students) have collegiate trophy collections to make most universities burn with envy.

When you consider all sports, the Wildcats have won the fifth most NCAA national team championships in history (57 in Division II, and 64 overall), while the Longhorns are tied with Arkansas for eighth (47, all in Division I). ACU also is fifth in NCAA individual national titles (327), while Texas is fourth (379).

Enlarge

ACU distance stars Alfred Rugema and Gilbert Tuhabonye compete in the 2001 Texas Relays in Austin.
ACU distance stars Alfred Rugema and Gilbert Tuhabonye compete in the 2001 Texas Relays in Austin.

Photo by Gerald Ewing

Some of the fastest men and women on the planet have been track and field standouts at the two universities. Texas has sent 64 athletes in the sport to the Olympics, while “little Abilene Christian,” as the late ABC broadcaster Howard Cosell once called it, has 39.

The “Texas Sports Dynasty of the Century”? In 1999, Texas Monthly magazine closed out the previous 100 years and handed that honor to ACU track and field, whose fame was boosted by Bobby Morrow (’58), the former Wildcat sprinter known around the world.

While Austin’s legendary Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays, hosted for 93 years by the Longhorns, has many times featured showdowns in events between the two universities, the biggest stage for both in Abilene was in 1961. That’s when a standing-room-only crowd of more than 6,000 – the most to ever attend a meet in ACU’s hometown – watched the nation’s best tracksters battle in a quadrangular between Abilene Christian, Texas, Michigan and Ohio State. The Wolverines finished first, followed by the Wildcats, Longhorns and Buckeyes. ACU’s future U.S. Olympian, Earl Young (’62), was among the stars.

Austin has been something of a second home to Wildcat track and field heroics, thanks to Morrow – the only sprinter to win the men’s 100-yard or 100-meter race three straight years (1955-57) at the Texas Relays – and many others who followed. Some notable ACU-UT track and field exploits, thanks to the research of Dr. Charlie Marler (’55), professor emeritus of journalism and mass communication, university historian and former sports information director:

  • 1904 – James F. Cox, a top sprinter-hurdler for the Longhorns, finished second in the men’s high hurdles at the second annual All-South Track Meet in Austin. Seven years later, he served the first of two terms as president of Abilene Christian (1911 and 1932-40).

  • 1934 – Texas head coach Clyde Littlefield predicted the 400-meter showdown between ACU’s Harold Green and Texas’ Alex Cox would be “the greatest quarter mile race ever staged at Memorial Stadium” in Austin, where ACU, Texas and SMU competed in a triangular meet. Green ran 49.0 to beat Cox, although Texas won the meet.

  • 1955 – Sprint star Bobby Morrow “caused considerable consternation in Orange circles … a lot of Texas folks couldn’t understand why he’d go to a comparatively little school like ACC when he could come to a great big school like the University,” wrote Mark Batterson, sports editor of The Austin American. “To Morrow, the reasons are simple to the extreme. He likes the coach at Abilene Christian (Oliver Jackson), he likes the religious education he is getting there, and his brother went to that school before him.” Morrow beat the Longhorns’ best, Bobby Whilden, in a quadrangular meet in Austin and again in the Texas Relays, where Morrow was named Most Outstanding Performer.

  • 1956 – “Sprint superiority, normally a trademark of the University of Texas, may be yielded to Abilene Christian College and its fabulous Bobby Morrow,” The Austin American printed on the eve of the Texas Relays. But the superiority, surprisingly came in the mile relay where the Wildcat foursome of Don Conder, Jack Shropshire, James Segrest and Paul “Ginger” Johnson set a division record of 3:14.1. The Longhorns’ mile relay victory in the university division was 3:14.2.

  • 1956 – Bobby Morrow, an ACU junior, won three Olympic gold medals for the U.S. in Melbourne, Australia: the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay on his way to being named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. UT’s only Olympian, Eddie Southern – the nephew of ACU Bible professor Dr. Paul Southern (’30) – won a silver medal for the U.S. in the 400 hurdles and set an Olympic record of 50.1 in the event prelims.

  • 1957 – Morrow won the Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete and was again named Most Outstanding Performer at the Texas Relays. ACU and Texas 440- and 880-yard relay teams battled in the meet, with the Wildcats pushing the Longhorns to a world record in the 880 relay. For the season, ACU and Texas split four showdowns of their record-setting 440-yard relay teams.

  • 1958 – Texas coach Littlefield issued a challenge to ACU for the Wildcat and Longhorn 880-yard relay teams to meet in a special duel at the Texas Relays. He believed ACU was the only team that could push his to run faster than their world record of 1:22.7 set the year before. At the meet, ACU ran a 41.0 to beat the Longhorns in the 440-yard relay.

  • 1959 – Bill Woodhouse of ACU won the 100-yard dash in 9.3 to beat Texas’ Ralph Alspaugh.

  • 1961 – ACU was named Most Outstanding Team at the Texas Relays, with its 1960 Olympic gold medalist quarter miler Earl Young named Most Outstanding Performer. The Wildcats tied the world record of 1:22.6 in the 880-yard relay, broke the collegiate mile relay record with 3:07.9 and won the 440-yard and distance medley relays. Texas failed to win a running event at the meet for the first time in 10 years. At the San Angelo (Texas) Relays that spring, the Wildcats ran 3:08.9 in the mile relay to break the Longhorns’ Texas collegiate record of 3:09 set in 1958 at the Kansas Relays.

  • 1962 – ACU won the Texas Relays 4×200 relay for the second straight year.

  • 1967 – ACU won the Texas Relays distance medley relay for the second straight year, and fourth time in eight years.

  • 1971 – ACU (70 points) beat Texas (50) and Baylor (49) in a triangular meet at Austin’s Memorial Stadium. The Wildcats won eight of 16 events and set records in four of them.

  • 1979 – Carl “Sugar” Williams of ACU won his second straight Texas Relays title in the men’s long jump.

  • 1984Dale Jenkins (’86) of ACU won his third straight Texas Relays title in the men’s pole vault, capping an eight-year run in which a Wildcat won the event five times (others were Frank Estes and Billy Olson). The Wildcats took the sprint medley relay in an upset win over Alabama and others, and the featured 4×100 relay.

  • 2007 –Nicodemus Naimadu of ACU won his second consecutive Texas Relays crown in the 3,200-meter steeplechase.

Tonight’s David and Goliath matchup in basketball is just another chapter for two giants in their own orbits of the college sports world. Their unique competitive rivalry began at the epicenter of track and field.

Follow the Wildcats during March Madness at acu.edu/champions.

 
SHARE: