Saturday, October 31, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3, Game 9: The First Hello of Old Friends

For the final time this year, we look back to the 1964 season. Remember, this was the inaugural year of the Southland Conference, and Arlington State College started it with neither a win, nor a loss. Since that time, the Rebels had done okay, but not outstanding, losing to Louisiana Tech in Ruston and beating McMurray at home. The second game of the first Southland Conference season would pit 2-3-1 ASC against 3-2 Lamar Tech in Beaumont.

I've always liked Lamar, partly because of the history between the schools. As founding members of the conference, they have played against each other...a lot...and in multiple sports. Lamar basically has two SLC eras. Once UTA dropped the sport, Lamar joined several schools and left the SLC. They would rejoin a decade and a half later.

Plain fact of the matter is that Lamar was superior to UTA in just about every sport during their first go around. UTA would finish with an 11-game winning streak in football, but Lamar would win two out of every three games in baseball and basketball, while having better Olympic sports like golf and track. Also like UTA, they dropped their football program in the '80's (unlike UTA, they have since brought it back).

Saturday, October 24, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3, Game 8: All's Fair in Dallas

Can't wait to delve into today's game, the second most anticipated entry this year for me. The 1981 season is among the top five more favored seasons for me, along with the 1967, '68, '79 and '85 years. There are some good, quality, meaningful games from this point forward, necessitating the look at other seasons prior to this entry.

Today is just such a game. When we last left the 1981 UT Arlington football team, they had just gotten annihilated by SMU, 48-0. It wasn't much better afterwards. After beating New Mexico State 26-13 at home, UTA faced a three game road trip and lost every one, 38-16 at TCU, 35-31 at West Texas State and 52-9 at Southern Mississippi. At 1-4, it was looking like the same old Mavericks. Four of five games on the road to start, one home game in September, tougher competition in TCU and SMU and a lot of losses.

If this team had followed the usual script they would have lost the game after Southern Miss. UTA had opened Southland Conference play against Louisiana Tech six times, most since Trinity from 1965-'70. Unlike against Trinity, UTA was 2-4 in those games versus the Bulldogs, thanks to dominant Tech teams that won national championships and Independence Bowls. So not only did they have to travel to harder competition, they had to open against arguably the toughest school in the conference.

Same happened in 1981, yet Louisiana Tech was facing hard times and UTA won their conference opener over the Bulldogs for the second straight year. Prior to 1980, UTA was 1-4 against Tech to open SLC play. First time they had won the conference opener two years in row since the end of the 1960's. Heading into today's game, UTA was 2-4, 1-0 SLC.

North Texas State was UTA's opponent. This was usually one of the most anticipated games of the year. UTA hadn't faced the Eagles/Mean Green as a four-year University until 1973, a 31-7 win. After that, the series was all NTSU, 27-14, 24-7, 15-6, 28-23, 19-14 and 31-14. The main benefit for UTA was the crowd. It was always the highest attended game of the season for UTA in DFW. 19,131 at Texas Stadium, 14,798 at Texas Stadium, 14,800 at Fouts Field, 17,300 at Texas Stadium, 16,821 at Texas Stadium, 14,297 at Texas Stadium and 18,033 at Maverick Stadium.

Today's game takes place at another notable area stadium, but with an interesting backdrop. UTA previously played in the Cotton Bowl in 1974 against Louisiana Tech. The Texas Rangers had exercised a clause in their contract with Arlington Stadium and wouldn't allow UTA to play their home opener. So instead, they traveled 25 miles to open their home schedule at Fair Park. However, UTA and North Texas scheduled the game at the Cotton Bowl and were part of the State Fair of Texas on this date in 1981. I've often wondered why SMU, TCU or North Texas don't do more with the Fair.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3 Game 7: Losing

For today's installment of This Day in UTA Football History, we revisit the 1970 season, thankfully for the last time. 1970 is, without a doubt, the worst year on record and easily the worst team UTA fielded as a University. The 1974 squad won one game, but their schedule was tougher.

The 1970 offense would set records for least points scored in both total season (69) and per game average (6.9). They were futile to say the least. They actually could move the ball okay, but turnovers and penalties kept them off the scoreboard and on the sidelines. The defense wasn't much better, sitting in fifth for most points allowed per game (26.6). Still, if UTA had the offensive output they had seen the previous four years, they may have been a .500 team.

There would only be one first team All-Southland Conference selection, cornerback Earnest Baptist. The sophomore was one of the best at that position in UTA's history, going on to win two more and would join only five other Mavericks on the three-time first team list. There'd be a future multi-season NFLer in tackle Don Morrison. The senior would earn an honorable mention in the conference, as the SLC didn't have a second team this year. Morrison was drafted in the fourth round (third highest at that time in Maverick history) by the New Orleans Saints following this season and would play until 1979. Defensive end Sid Bailey would get drafted several rounds later, but didn't earn any conference selection and wouldn't have a long NFL career.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3 Game 6: Tradition Begins

2015/16 is the fourth athletic season since the UT Arlington Mavericks left the Southland Conference. Despite the amount of time, it is hard for me to separate the two. UTA was a founding member, and despite the men's team getting expelled from the conference in 1986 for not fielding a football team, the women's teams from UTA played in the SLC during that time, making UTA the longest tenured program to play in the SLC, participating for almost 50 years. McNeese State will equal UTA's streak if they stay in the SLC for four more years.

The conference morphed quite a bit from their Division 1-A heyday. In the mid-1970's to very early '80's, the SLC was one of the better mid-major conferences overall. Football was the equivalent of the Sun Belt or Mid-American Conferences today, basketball and baseball were right below the power conferences and certainly would have had more teams in those tournaments with the expanded fields of today. On the women's side, it was the same thing. volleyball, basketball and softball were as competitive as just about anyone in the NCAA. But several things would transpire to change that.

One of the big ones, with unforeseen consequences, was the conference dropping from 1-A football to 1-AA (FBS to FCS using today's terms). On paper and principle, it looked like a good idea, but for a variety of reasons, it was a big drop in stature, money and prestige and the quality of the on-field product suffered. There's a reason most of the teams in the SLC in the early 1980's are now are back at the FBS level (Louisiana-Lafayette never left, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech and North Texas joined at various times). Once Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech and Lamar left after the 1986season, all sports dropped in competitiveness. The SLC replaced members with a focus on whether they fielded a football team, other sports competitiveness holding very little in the overall decision.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3 Game 5: Road away from Home

Last week, I mentioned the 1959 opener was one of the games I was looking forward to the most in this years version of This Day in UTA Football History. Now let me introduce you to one of the games I am looking forward to least.

It is hard to get excited about a winless season, but that's what the 1970 season was. It was Coach Burly Bearden's last at the UT-Arlington, as well as the last UTA would play at the College level of the NCAA. It would be the first of nine consecutive losing seasons. I picked this game for two reasons, both of which are representative of UTA's flawed approach to moving up to the highest level.

Today was the first home game at Turnpike Stadium. Since moving up from the Junior College ranks, UTA played the games at Memorial Stadium, an on-campus venue located where the current Maverick Activities Center is now. What a great location for a stadium. I can only imagine what the football fortunes at UTA would have been had they never left. Think of Maverick Stadium, accessible AND visible to the core of the University, not relegated to the periphery. Today, the Mav is much more connected to the U with the construction of hundreds of apartments, but between 1980 and 1986, there wasn't much between Nedderman Drive and the Stadium.

The last four years at Memorial Stadium, UTA averaged around 9,000 in attendance, near capacity for the venue. They would never get even close to that again. They would get in the mid 7,000's three times at Maverick Stadium, but that wasn't even close to capacity like at Memorial. I will grant the late 60's produced winning teams, while the 80's only produced two winning teams in 6 tries, but I just can't believe location didn't play a factor in the average, to some degree or another.