Former Texas Longhorns quarterback James Street dies at 65

Posted Monday, Sep. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Former Texas quarterback James Street, who took over the Longhorns’ wishbone offense and led them to the 1969 national championship, died Monday. He was 65.

Street died early Monday but no other details were immediately available, said Serena Fitchard of the James Street Group financial services company that bears his name.

Bill Hall, a longtime friend and business partner, said Street died at home in Austin after traveling to California over the weekend to watch his son, Huston Street, pitch for the San Diego Padres.

“We are sad to lose a Longhorn legend,” men’s athletics director DeLoss Dodds said. “James Street was a great college football player and an even better man. I am proud to have called him my friend. He started what became a great Street family legacy at Texas.”

Street started the 1968 season as a backup but was made the starter after two games. He led Texas to 20 consecutive victories, including the “Game of the Century” — a come-from-behind, 15-14 victory by the top-ranked Longhorns over No. 2 Arkansas to cap the regular season. The game was attended by President Nixon, who declared Texas the national champions after the Longhorns’ victory even though there was a bowl game to be played.

The Longhorns will wear stickers with Street’s initials on their helmets during Thursday’s game against Iowa State.

Street was also a baseball standout, posting a 29-8 record pitching for Texas that included a perfect game (1970 vs. Texas Tech) and no-hitter (1969 vs. SMU). He was on three Texas teams that advanced to the College World Series, and his son, San Diego Padres relief pitcher Huston Street, helped Texas win the CWS in 2002.

But it was football where James Street made his biggest mark in Texas lore.

An undersized but gritty quarterback, he was undefeated as the starting quarterback in a wishbone offense that changed the college football landscape.

Texas coach Darrell Royal and assistant Emory Ballard introduced the wishbone, which features a fullback lined up behind the quarterback and a step in front of two other backs, to major college football in 1968. The innovation nearly flopped. After a tie and a loss in the first two games that season, a frustrated Royal inserted backup Street to take over.

“Coach Royal grabbed me and he looked for a minute as if he were having second thoughts about putting me in. Then he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Hell, you can’t do any worse. Get in there,’” Street said in 2012 when Royal died.

The 1969 Texas-Arkansas game ranks among the greatest ever played.

Arkansas led 7-0 at halftime, then stretched it to 14-0 in the third quarter. Street made it 14-8 with a 42-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion. On a fourth-and-3, Royal stunned even Street by calling for “53 veer pass,” a play that had rarely worked all season.

Street told tight end Randy Peschel to get enough yards for a first down. “But if you can get behind him, run like hell,” Street said, and the pass connected for 44 yards to set up Jim Bertlesen’s winning touchdown.

Although Nixon declared Texas national champion after that game, Texas still had to play and win the Cotton Bowl, a game that whipped up a frenzy of its own. Notre Dame ended its self-imposed 44-year ban on bowl games to play the Longhorns.

Street, who said he was raised Catholic, called his mother to tell her who Texas was going to play.

“When I said Notre Dame, there was complete silence,” Street said told The Associated Press in 2005. “I said, ‘Mom, this is your son. You’re pulling for us.’”

Texas trailed by three points late in the fourth quarter when Street led the winning drive that converted two fourth downs before Billy Dale’s final touchdown won it 21-17. He got a handshake from former President Lyndon B. Johnson after the game in Dallas.

Texas didn’t win another national championship until Vince Young led the Longhorns to the title in the 2005 season. Street later went on to a career in finance and structured settlements, founding a firm in Austin that focuses on working with plaintiffs in legal disputes.

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