What the Original ‘Alcalde’ Taught Me About Texas Football History

Recently a document came across my desk that raised my hackles. Found in a dusty drawer somewhere in our building was a manilla folder labeled “1896.” Inside was Vol. 1 No. 19 of The Alcalde. In this office, I could close my eyes and throw a paperclip and hit an Alcalde with 80 percent accuracy, so my hackles were at their normal height seeing that.

Savvy readers of our beloved magazine, though, will immediately realize that the Alcalde wasn’t printed until 1913, and that this must be some sort of practical joke or mistake on my part and mail me long letters of complaint. But I’m not wrong; look for yourself if you must:

See, I’m not a liar.

Apparently, John Avery Lomax founded the alumni publication in 1913, but confusingly, Lomax also started The Alcalde, a weekly student journal with the same name (almost, it had that superfluous period, reading “The Alcalde.”) in 1895. The publication date on this particular issue is Tuesday, May 5, 1896, and it’s pretty normal on first glance, except the cover is completely filled with advertisements. There are advertisements all over, for 15 cent dinners at J.A. Miller’s Oyster Parlor, a barbershop that’ll give you a haircut “in the varsity style,” and, curiously, just the word “JOURNEAY” printed diagonally and in a large font.

The barbershop ad is pretty interesting, considering that football only began in 1893 and had only played 16 games before a hairstyle had cropped up popular enough to build an advertisement around. The issue is filled with football content, though. The first page contains a letter from Caspar Whitney, sent from the “editorial rooms” of Harper & Brothers in New York City, dated April 28, 1896. The letter refers to a previous editorial in the journal in which the editor—presumed to be Lomax—railed against rampant dishonesty in college athletics, then largely unregulated. Whitney concludes his letter with a message of hope.

“Nothing has given me so much confidence in the future health in the spirit of Texas’ sports as the tone of your editorial. It shows manliness and sportsmanship, and it is safe to say that if the University of Texas has many such men with a spirit like that which the editor of the ALCALDE has made public, she will not only have wholesome athletics, but winning teams as well.”

Whitney had a vested interest in the success of college athletics, nascent as they were, and supremely unorganized. Just seven years prior, Whitney, an editor at Harper’s Magazine, created the notion of the All-American team, an honorific that has survived today.

What follows Whitney’s letter is a justification for printing the correspondence; mainly, that it serves the public good to see encouraging words from across the country about Texas’ then-three-year-old athletics program. Interim editor Ben F. Hill describes “the proper spirit being inculcated,” especially now that the “captain of the foot-ball  team is negotiating with an excellent coach for the next year, who will stay with us 12 weeks or more.” That line is a reference to the 1895 head coach, Frank Crawford, who, after leading the Longhorns to a 4-0 record, left for Mexico directly following the Thanksgiving game against San Antonio to watch bullfights instead of coaching the final game against a team from Galveston. Texas won anyway, and Crawford only followed the then-tradition of coaches being hired for one fall only, but Hill’s (and Texas’ captain’s) plea for a full-time coach follows the same through-line implied in Whitney’s letter. Stalwarts of college athletics were begging for a steadier, more consistent existence, even if it would take a decade or more for coaches to become full-time employees. To wit, the “excellent coach” to which Hill refers is Harry Robinson, who coached exactly one season, in 1896. Texas would not have a coach stay more than a season until 1900, and even then, S.H. Thompson only hung around for two years. It wasn’t until 1911, with Dave Allerdice’s hiring, that Texas would have a coach stay five years or more.

Hill is pleased to announce, in the following pages, the Constitution of the Southern Athletic Association, an organization which Texas joined shortly before the issue was printed. Joined by Vanderbilt, the University of the South, Cumberland University, Georgia, Alabama A&M, Mississippi A&M (later renamed Mississippi State), Tulane, LSU, and Alabama, Texas athletics was finally part of an organizing body. The rules, formally stated, are pretty simple: no professional athletes, players must be enrolled students, managers have to supply rosters two weeks before games, no professors or instructors on teams unless they’re also students (but no professors of gymnastics or athletics are allowed) and no games against teams that don’t follow the rules as shown in the Constitution.

Thus, before the Big 12, before the Southwest Conference even, which Texas joined in 1915, Texas spent nine years in a proto-SEC with Alabama, Mississippi State, LSU, and Alabama. In light of recent conference realignments, and the rumored 1991 invitation the SEC extended to Texas (which it of course turned down), there’s a sliding doors effect here that opens a world of possibilities. What if Alabama, Texas, and LSU stayed together in a super-conference? It’s hypothetical, and a long-shot that this would have happened, but what does this alignment do for recruiting in Texas? Do smaller schools like Baylor or TCU ever emerge as major players if the Southwest Conference never exists? Does recruiting in the state never veer from complete Texas dominance if every high school kid in the Southwest wants to don burnt orange and take on Alabama?

Speaking of the Crimson Tide, the most dominant college football team this decade, the penultimate (editorial) page of that yellowed issue of The Alcalde contains another letter, from R.M. Hobbie, manager of the Alabama football team. The note offers words of encouragement for Texas joining the Southern Athletic Association, hoping that the application Texas sent in, dated the month prior, meant that Texas would become a full-time member. Then, it asks for a game the following season.

“Can you not give us a date? As to place, I can come to Austin for expenses from New Orleans. But if this is not convenient, you might suggest a place.”

That fall, Texas played LSU in Baton Rouge, but did not schedule a game with Alabama, for reasons that are lost to time. Perhaps Texas already had LSU on its schedule and didn’t feel like spending more travel money for the then-named Crimson White to come down? Maybe Alabama’s 0-4 record in 1895—with only 12 total points scored—made the matchup less than enticing for Texas? What we do know is that the two teams wouldn’t meet until 1902, a 10-0 Texas win. The two powerhouses have only played nine times, with Texas winning seven and the teams tying once. The only Alabama win is the one that hurts the most for Texas fans, the 2010 BCS National Championship game.

Nonetheless, Texas will meet Alabama twice more in the (kind of) distant future, a home-and-home for the 2022 and 2023 seasons in front of 100,000-plus screaming fans, televised on your 80-inch screen or six-inch smartphone, and endlessly screencapped and highlighted on Twitter (or whatever replaces it).

Just like Mr. Hobbie envisioned.

 
 
 

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