The Last of the Legends

 

Julian Garrett, who passed away on Saturday, was the last surviving member of arguably the greatest team in the first half-century of Texas football.

Chances are, you have no reason to know about Canute the Great, a Viking who became king of England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden. But it was Canute who once proved the infallibility of man by walking to the sea and commanding the waves to stop.

When they didn’t, he uttered the now-famous, loosely translated, phrase, “Time and tide wait for no man.”

We are sadly reminded of that as we learn of the passing Saturday of Julian Garrett, thus closing a treasured moment in time in Texas Longhorn football history. Garrett, who had turned 94 three days earlier, was the last surviving member of a group of Longhorn football players featured on the cover of Life Magazine during the season of 1941, arguably the greatest team in the first half-century of Texas football.

To understand the significance of the magazine cover of November 17, 1941, it is important to understand the times. There were no sports magazines at the time. The Sporting News, was a newspaper published in St. Louis which covered major league baseball, but that was the only thing even close. Life Magazine was an icon, a weekly news features publication that was a pioneer in photojournalism. Exactly one year before, the issue of December 18, 1940, featured President Franklin Roosevelt on the cover. Two weeks before, actors Clark Gable and Lana Turner had shared the front page. And in a touch of irony – since the magazine had gone to press the week before – Gen. Douglas MacArthur was featured on December 8, 1941.

But in the days before all of their lives would change with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the innocence of the age included a multi-page spread on the hottest team in college football, the Texas Longhorns. For a dime, on November 17, you could have been one of 13.5 million people who bought the most popular periodical in America and been introduced to 14 Longhorns on the cover, and candid photos inside with players and their families, and their coach, D. X. Bible.

The cover photos were of the eleven starters and three key reserves who were the regulars during an era where players played both offense and defense. Julian Garrett, a starting tackle, was one of a class of 125 recruits which Bible had brought into Texas as freshmen in 1938. The names of others would become like a roll call of the legends of the game at Texas. Malcolm Kutner, an end, would become UT’s first all-American of the modern era. Jack Crain, Pete Layden and Noble Doss the offensive heroes, along with Kutner. Wally Scott, one of the few juniors on the cover, went on to become a successful Austin attorney and one of UT’s most ardent supporters during the next sixty years.

Scott, Spec Sanders (a junior college transfer at running back who would go on to a fine pro football career), and R. L. Harkins were the non-starters among the fourteen. The others included end Preston Flanagan, tackles Garrett and Bo Cohenour, guards Chal Daniel and Buddy Jungmichel, center Henry Harkins, and quarterback Vernon Martin.

After a mid-season victory over SMU, the Longhorns were elevated to the nation’s No. 1 team, and appeared destined to play in the Rose Bowl – which would have been the first bowl game in school history. Part of that dream was dashed the next week, when the injury-riddled `Horns were tied by Baylor, 7-7. That was the weekend before the Life issue appeared on America’s newsstands.

Still, the hope of playing in the Rose Bowl remained, even after a subsequent 14-7 loss to TCU the following week. As the days dwindled down in November, Texas still had a final game on the schedule. After shutting out Texas A&M, 23-0, on Thanksgiving, the Longhorns had to wait until the first week in December to finish the ten-game schedule.

The Rose Bowl was still an option, but fate intervened. The Longhorns’ final game was against Oregon, and Oregon State had defeated the Ducks, 12-7. The bowl committee was concerned that it could be embarrassed if Oregon defeated Texas and the Horns headed to Pasadena off of a defeat to a team Oregon State had already beaten.

Intertwined in all of this was Bible, the legendary Texas coach. He was arguably the most visible figure in college football. He had won at Texas A&M and Nebraska before Texas made him their head coach and athletics director and paid him more money than the school president was making (which was really unusual at the time). Bible’s winning ability was well known, but his greater strengths were his character and his integrity. So when the Rose Bowl folks suggested that Bible cancel the Oregon game to clear the path for a Rose Bowl invitation, Bible staunchly refused on the principle that he had given his word to play, and UT, therefore, was going to play.

The Rose Bowl invited Duke, and by the time dusk came on the Ducks in Austin in the final game of the season, Texas had won, 71-7. It was December 6, 1941.

The next day, of course, the country was at war, and the lives of all of the players, coaches, and everyone had changed forever. The trip to Pasadena didn’t happen for anybody, as fears of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast of the U.S. caused the Rose Bowl to be moved to Duke’s home field in Durham, NC.

Many of the Texas seniors entered the Armed Forces, and some played with service teams during the war. A number tried post-war pro ball in spite of the rust they had collected. Sanders and Kutner were the most successful, although Doss was a member of Philadelphia’s NFL championship team in the late 1940s. Sanders returned from the Navy in 1946 to play for the New York Yankees in the old All-American Conference, and led the team to Division championships in 1946 and 1947. His 1,432 yards rushing in 1947 set the pro record which stood until 1958. In 1950, the team had been absorbed by the NFL, and Sanders led the league in interceptions with 13.

Kutner, who would become the only member of the team to make the National Football Foundation’s Hall of Fame (he was the only all-American, therefore the only eligible player), played five years with the Chicago Cardinals and was twice named all-NFL. He followed his playing career with great success in the oil business in Texas.

Upon returning from World War II, success in their lives after college would be a common theme for the players. Doss entered the insurance business and became one of Austin’s leading citizens. Crain was a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Layden, who as a baseball and football star is still considered one of the greatest athletes in Texas school history, went on to become one of the few players in history to play major league baseball and NFL football.

When Doss died in February of 2009, Garrett became the lone survivor of the boys who are forever young on that cover of Life Magazine. Garrett had spurned offers to play professional football after the war, and spent his time in the ship building industry during WWII. His life’s work would include many years in the petroleum industry in the Golden Triangle area of southeast Texas. His family, and his love for The University of Texas, punctuated a life well-lived.

Seventy years after they carved their legacy, most of the members of that 1941 team are gone. It is hard to put into perspective what they did for the school. Seventy years is a long time. What we do know is that they came from a time where their parents had survived “The Great War” (World War I), and the Great Depression. Their time at Texas was brief, in the grand scheme of things. And yet somehow, they rode into a mosaic that included men who would be later termed “The Greatest Generation.”

The character of Mr. Bible cast a long shadow on The University, which was, in its own way, trying to define its identity. The game, the school, the town, the state – all were different then. But the value of a university will always be represented by the people it produces…not as much for what they did, but for who they were.

And there, on the cover of Life Magazine, young men with hopes and dreams stare back at us. The realization of their accomplishments is great. But the promise they leave us is a reminder that universities aren’t about buildings, and teams are not just about wins and losses. In those photos, the fourteen young men look to a future – a future they had no way of realizing, or imagining. That is the gift they gave us, because that’s the gift that never changes. And as they march forever into the distance, it is that which we celebrate, respect, and honor. Because they remind us that generation after generation, college football is a game played by young people, whose present is undefined, and whose future is limitless.

Bill Little works for Texas Media Relations at UT. This article originally appeared on MackBrown-TexasFootball.com.

Top, Julian Garrett. Bottom, 1941 cover of Life Magazine featuring Texas football players. Photos courtesy UT Athletics.

 

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