Bobby Hawthorne began writing a history of football at The University of Texas at Austin as a young boy by clipping articles from his East Texas hometown newspaper. Along the way, he discovered that Longhorn football is much more than just game. It’s a religion.
“Football is Texas’s unofficial religion, and our faith in this team or that transcends the superficiality of reason, logic or experience, or last year’s record,” writes Hawthorne in “Longhorn Football-An Illustrated History,” published in September by the University of Texas Press.
A graduate of the university and former director of academics for the University Interscholastic League, Hawthorne grew up in Longview, watching the Longhorns with his father on the family’s RCA black-and-white TV.
“Where I’m from, you are either for UT or AandM, and I gravitated toward UT,” he says.
His love of watching the game turned into playing it at White Oak High School, where he excelled as defensive back and wide receiver on a 13-1 state semifinal team in 1970.
“I love football,” he says. “I miss being able to play the game. As I said at my step-daughter’s marriage last summer, where I come from, love is a word that’s mostly limited to football, Jesus, old dogs and cold beer, in that order.”
Hawthorne’s passion for football made it easy for him to dive into compiling the 200 iconic photos found in his book and writing the history of Longhorn football from what he calls “a fan’s point of view.”
University of Texas Press Sponsoring Editor William Bishel approached Hawthorne about doing the book in 2005 after another press author recommended him.
“I was immediately impressed by his enthusiasm, and from that point on I was sure he was the right person for the job,” Bishel says. “His talent certainly shows up in his writing, but what sets the book apart from all the other football books is the photography, which Bobby himself selected. That’s where you see his enthusiasm come through, I think.”
Hawthorne combed through numerous campus archives as well as several personal collections for images that tell the story of the last 113 seasons of Texas football, from the 1894 team that shut out six straight opponents through the 2006 Rose Bowl.
“I wanted to follow the storythe ups and downs,” he says. “All of the photos aren’t of the high moments. I also wanted to show that win or lose, the players are doing something remarkable.”
And though the ‘Horns have enjoyed far more winning than losing seasons, Hawthorne knows how to stick with his team. UT lost the first two games he saw in person: the 1971 Cotton Bowl to Notre Dame and the 1972 Cotton Bowl to Penn State. He finally saw them win in person in 1975 against Alabama.
There were certain iconic photos Hawthorne knew had to be in the book: Nelson Pruett catapulting into the end zone in the Longhorns’ 7-6 upset of Texas AandM on Thanksgiving Day 1938; Noble Doss’ “impossible catch” against AandM in 1940; James Street and Darrell Royal with 2:26 left to play against the Irish in the 1970 Cotton Bowl.
“But I also looked for photos people had not seen before or not as often,” he says. One such photo was of Earl Campbell romping past Southern Methodist University’s Sid Greehey in a 1977 victory against the Mustangs. Campbell rushed for 213 yards in the game.
The photo of Campbell, taken by Tom Lankes of the Austin American-Statesman, was one of the most difficult to find, says Hawthorne, and one that he was determined to get. An intern at the Statesman finally found the photo for him in the newspaper’s archives.
Hawthorne was especially enthusiastic over finding the photo because Campbell is his favorite Texas player of all time.
“In my opinion, Earl Campbell was the greatest player in the history of UT and the second greatest running back of all time, behind only Jim Brown,” Hawthorne says. “I’ve never seen a combination of strength, power, speed and balance. He could be hit by 10 guys before he went down.”
Another photo Hawthorne found especially unique is one of defensive line players Bo Robinson, Tommy Jeter, James Patton and Shane Dronett.
“It just screams testosterone and UT,” Hawthorne says. “These kids look like UT players, and it speaks to the power and intensity that is UT football.”
Which leads to a question Hawthorne can’t quite find an answer for. What is it about football at UT?
“I can’t explain why it is what it is,” Hawthorne says. “It was the first sport at Texas that galvanized the community. People made it a part of their lives. Over time, it became a social, almost tribal, experience. That has never changed and probably never will.”
These days Hawthorne prefers to watch the Longhorns on TV like he did as kid, both to avoid the crowds, the Texas heat and so as not to embarrass himself if the game goes south.
“If a game is close or Texas is losing, I’ll stalk upstairs and watch it alone, pout, scream at the television, that kind of thing. I’ve embarrassed myself on more than a few occasions.”
He said he figures real UT fans understand. Like thousands of others across the city, state and nation, Hawthorne is invested in the team and the Longhorns.
“In Texas, football means Texas Longhorn football,” he writes. “It means ‘The Eyes of Texas,’ and it is the stuff of heroes and myths and legends worthy of the great state of Texas.”