Either Ohio State or Oregon will be crowned as the national champion on Monday, but neither the Buckeyes nor Ducks will be the first college football team to earn such distinction in North Texas.
Over the years, there have been six games here with national championship implications, all at the annual Cotton Bowl.
The last was a game played on a cold, clear Jan. 2, 1978, though Notre Dame needed a favorable reach of circumstance, including a Fort Worth twist, to claim the crown. The Irish also needed earplugs to drown out Alabama’s cries of injustice.
The Fighting Irish traveled to Dallas for a cardinal matchup pitting the No. 5 Fighting Irish against No. 1 Texas and its Heisman Trophy-winning running back Earl Campbell in the 42nd Cotton Bowl.
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The game was the third in nine years in which a No. 1 Texas team played Notre Dame in the annual New Year’s game.
To put itself in the conversation for the national crown, Notre Dame first needed to defeat the undefeated No. 1 team in the nation. The one-loss Fighting Irish, led by junior quarterback Joe Montana and coach Dan Devine, had no trouble turning the upset in front of more than 76,000 spectators.
Battling to a 3-3 draw in the first quarter, Notre Dame outscored the sloppy Longhorns 35-7 the rest of the way in a 38-10 drumming. Irish running back Vagas Ferguson rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns and caught a 17-yard scoring pass from Montana.
Montana finished 10 for 25 for 111 yards.
Campbell carried his weight, though he was kept out of the end zone. The Tyler Rose finished with 116 yards on 29 carries out of the Longhorns’ wishbone. Texas, however, was undone by six turnovers, including three interceptions and a fumble by quarterback Randy McEachern.
Notre Dame’s boast of “We’re No. 1” as players celebrated seemed premature until two other New Year’s surprises.
Highly favored No. 2 Oklahoma’s victory over Arkansas — the sixth-ranked team in the nation but hit by coach Lou Holtz’s suspension of key players — in the Orange Bowl was supposedly only a formality. That is until a Fort Worth guy stepped in for Arkansas.
Reserve running back Roland Sales of Fort Worth Arlington Heights stunned the Sooners with a then-Orange Bowl record of 205 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the Razorbacks’ 31-6 triumph.
When No. 4 Michigan lost to No. 13 Washington and quarterback Warren Moon there indeed appeared an opening for the Fighting Irish, even after No. 3 Alabama topped lower-ranked No. 9 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
Over Crimson Tide protests, poll voters agreed that among four one-loss teams Notre Dame was No. 1 in the final poll, followed by Alabama and Southwest Conference peers Arkansas and Texas.
1970, ’71 Cotton Bowls
Darrell Royal’s No. 1 Longhorns won their 20th consecutive game and 500th in school history with a national-championship-clinching, come-from-behind 21-17 victory over Notre Dame. Billy Dale — set up with a pass-and-catch between QB James Street and Cotton Speyrer on fourth-and-2 — answered Joe Theismann’s touchdown pass with the go-ahead score, a 1-yard run with 1:08 left in the game.
Theismann and Notre Dame got even the next season, forcing six Texas turnovers in a 24-11 victory, which denied Texas a 31st consecutive win and unanimous national title.
What Texas said: “We dedicated the game to Fred before we left for the Christmas holidays. When Fred came into the dressing room before the game it picked us all up. He didn’t have to say anything.” — Texas QB James Street, after the 1970 game, on teammate Freddie Steinmark, who was diagnosed with cancer during the season and died in 1971.
What Notre Dame said: “They executed flawlessly on every play. They went right down the field. And that was a great pass-and-catch, I guess.” — Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian on the game-winning drive in the 1970 game.
1965 Cotton Bowl
Most have forgotten that Judy Hill of Fort Worth was the prestigious Maid of Cotton of 1965, but many recall the Arkansas team that claimed a share of the national title with a defense that didn’t allow a point in its last five regular-season games.
The undefeated Razorbacks needed to rally to defeat Nebraska, which featured future coach Frank Solich in the Huskers’ offensive backfield.
Running back Bobby Burnett’s 3-yard scoring run with 4:41 left in the game sealed victory for Arkansas, which shared the national title with Alabama. The key play of the drive: Arkansas converted on a third-and-6, QB Fred Marshall to Jim Lindsey, who, according to reports, turned “in the nick of time” to catch a ball in the flat headed straight for his helmet.
What Arkansas said: “A great comeback. It just proves you can never underestimate a 19- or 20-year-old youngster.” — Coach Frank Broyles.
What Nebraska said: “He turned around a mite too early for us.” — Nebraska coach Bob Devaney, on Jim Lindsey’s 10-yard reception on Arkansas’ successful conversion on third-and-6.
1964 Cotton Bowl
No. 1 Texas, in front of its most famous student, Lynda Bird Johnson, made one of Roger Staubach’s first games in Dallas a less-than-memorable experience only weeks after the assassination of President John Kennedy.
The game marked only the ninth time that the top two ranked teams faced one another. And while Navy’s No. 2 featured the All-American boy with the Heisman Trophy, it was the quarterback-led Longhorns who seized the national title.
Duke Carlisle, the game’s most outstanding offensive player, had touchdown passes of 58 and 63 yards to Phil Harris in Texas’ 28-6 victory. Staubach was 21 for 31 for 228 yards. His 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth was the Midshipmen’s only score.
What Texas said: “I’m glad they’re stressing scholarship rather than athletics at the Naval Academy.” — UT fan, overheard by a Star-Telegram reporter.
A little-known Navy fact: It likely would have been Navy and not Texas with the No. 1 ranking entering the game if not for the Midshipmen’s loss to SMU earlier in the season … at the Cotton Bowl.
1960 Cotton Bowl
Future Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ernie Davis had an 87-yard touchdown reception in the opening minutes of the game and a 1-yard scoring run in the second quarter for No. 1 Syracuse, which beat No. 4 Texas 23-14 to seal its undefeated national championship run.
Davis, the game’s most outstanding player, also had an interception on defense to set up another touchdown.
About Texas: The game was the first of 10 Cotton Bowl appearances for Texas under coach Darrell Royal.
About Syracuse: The Orangemen were making their second Cotton Bowl appearance in four seasons. In the 1957 game, Jim Brown gave TCU and quarterback Chuck Curtis all it wanted in a 28-27 Frogs victory. Brown had 132 yards and three touchdowns rushing. Curtis had a touchdown pass, to Jim Shofner, and another rushing. Jim Swink also scored for TCU.
College Football Playoff National Championship
7:30 Monday, AT&T Stadium