Former Longhorn quarterback James Street dies

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson congratulated Mr. Street in 1970 after Texas defeated Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.
Former President Lyndon B. Johnson congratulated Mr. Street in 1970 after Texas defeated Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.
Associated press/file

NEW YORK — The showdown between Texas and Arkansas, both undefeated after 10 games, was hailed as the biggest game of the 1969 college football season. The Rev. Billy Graham gave the invocation. President Richard M. Nixon, who arrived in a helicopter, promised to award the victor a plaque as national champion.

The game was called “the big shootout” even before it was played.

With 5 minutes 51 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Arkansas led, 14-8. Texas had the ball on fourth down with 3 yards to go. Quarterback James Street, who died Monday at 65, was on the sidelines discussing what play to run. He was shocked when his coach, Darrell Royal, uttered his verdict: “Right 53 veer pass.”

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The play, a deep pass with only one receiver, the tight end, seemed to Mr. Street like the most improbable call in that situation. It had not worked the handful of times Texas had tried it. Mr. Street had expected a counter option to pick up a first down. He asked Royal if he was sure. “Damn right, I’m sure,” the coach growled.

In the Texas huddle, Mr. Street, who was 5 feet 10 inches and weighed 168 pounds, said, “Boys, you ain’t gonna believe this,” then called the play. Bob McKay, a tackle, wisecracked, “Damn it, Street, you can’t throw the ball that far.” But he could, in this case resulting in a 44-yard completion to tight end Randy Peschel. Two plays later, Texas scored and won, 15-14.

Nixon called it “one of the great games of all time” and awarded Texas the national championship, angering Penn State, another undefeated team. The 35-member board of coaches, the official arbiter of national championships, endorsed Nixon’s judgment.

James Street became an instant legend in a state that has produced many of them. He went on to win the 1970 Cotton Bowl and a handshake from another notable Texan, President Lyndon B. Johnson. Mr. Street’s record as a starting quarterback was 20-0, including two victories in the Cotton Bowl.

His son, Huston, a pitcher for the San Diego Padres, said his father died at his home in Austin, Texas. The cause has not been determined, Huston Street said, but he added that his father had been in good health.

James Lowell Street was born in Longview, Texas. At the University of Texas, he was a standout right-handed pitcher, compiling a 29-8 record and pitching a perfect game and another no-hitter. He was a member of three teams that advanced to the College World Series.

As a junior, he took over the quarterback job from the highly acclaimed Super Bill Bradley late in the Longhorns’ loss to Texas Tech in the second game of the 1968 season. The team was making waves with its new wishbone formation in which a fullback lines up behind the quarterback and a step in front of the other backs.

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

Mr. Street’s first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his son Huston, he leaves his wife, the former Janie Pedro; four other sons, Ryan, Hanson, Juston, and Jordon; his brother, Sewell; his twin sister, Mary Krystenik; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Street never won a Heisman Trophy and was not drafted by a professional football team. He also never graduated, Huston Street said.

Mr. Street later owned a successful business that did financial planning for plaintiffs who won money in lawsuits.