When he was hired in 1937, football coach Dana X. Bible claimed The University of Texas would have a “winner of a football team” in five years. As the 1941 season loomed, the coach’s predictions seemed likely to come true.
Since its start in the late 1800s, the University of Texas football program boasted a lengthy list of regional successes, but had yet to earn respect as a national power. Bible was recruited to change that. Having produced a series of highly touted teams at Mississippi College, LSU, Texas A&M and the University of Nebraska, Bible’s reputation was solid. His arrival in Austin was hailed as the start of a new era for Longhorn football, though it wasn’t without some controversy. The new coach was given a 10-year contract at the unheard of salary of $15,000 per year. (In comparison, the average professor made $3,750, while UT President Harry Benedict earned $8,000.)
The 1941 season opened with a 34-6 victory over the University of Colorado, and continued with decisive wins over LSU, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Rice. When Texas blanked Southern Methodist University (SMU) 34-0, the Longhorns were routinely outscoring their opponents by more than 30 points. For the first time in UT’s history, the Associated Press (AP) ranked the Longhorns as the best in the country. Life Magazine elected to make the team its cover story for the Nov. 17 issue, which would be released just in time for the upcoming Baylor game.
The SMU win came at a price though. Four key Longhorns were injured and would be unable to play the next week. And Baylor, playing at home in Waco, was understandably motivated at the prospect of hosting the No. 1 team in the nation. The Bears fought hard to earn a 7-7 tie with Texas, and as there was no overtime, the score ended UT’s perfect record. That evening, a devastated Texas football squad arrived at the Austin train station at Third Street and Congress Avenue. They were met by thousands of supportive fans who escorted the team to campus with a torchlight parade, but the mood was tainted and somber. In recognition of the tie score, the Tower was floodlit half orange and half white, and when the next AP poll was released, Texas had fallen to No. 2, behind the University of Minnesota.
The next opponent was TCU, and while the Longhorns tried to shrug off their disappointment in Waco, the “curse” of the Life Magazine cover lingered. For most of the game, the score was again tied 7-7, but with eight seconds left in the final period, TCU’s Emory Nix completed a 19-yard pass to Van Hall in the end zone to give the Horned Frogs a 14-7 victory. The hapless Texas team’s rankings dropped eight positions to 10th.
On Thanksgiving Day, UT was to travel to College Station to take on the Texas Aggies. Texas A&M was having a banner season. Undefeated and ranked second in the nation by the AP, the Aggies had already won the Southwest Conference Championship. They also had a jinx on the Longhorns.
Since 1923–for 18 years–the Longhorns had been unable to win a game at Kyle Field. Desperate to break the College Station spell, UT students consulted Madam Augusta Hipple, a local fortune teller. She instructed the students to burn red candles the week before the game as a way of “hexing” the Aggies.
Through the week of Thanksgiving, Austin shops found it difficult to keep red candles in stock. Candles were burned in store windows along the Drag, in the fraternity and sorority houses of west campus, in the lounges of university residence halls, and in the windows of houses of Austin’s neighborhoods. Madam Hipple knew what she was doing. By uniting the football team and its fans with such a visible show of support, how could the Longhorns fail?
They didn’t. Texas went to College Station, defeated the No. 2 ranked Aggies 23-0, ended the 18-year jinx and restored their pride as the AP’s final poll listed Texas as No. 4.
The season wasn’t quite over though. Texas was to host the University of Oregon on Dec. 6, but the major bowls were already extending invitations. The Longhorns were hoping to travel to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl to play Pacific champion Oregon State, but bowl officials were nervous about UT’s upcoming game with the Oregon Ducks. Earlier in the season, Oregon State had eked out a 12-7 win over their cross-state rivals. Suppose Texas was invited to Rose Bowl, but then lost their final regular game to Oregon, a team Oregon State had already defeated? To play it safe, the Rose Bowl invited Duke (then ranked No. 2) instead.
Furious at being snubbed, Coach Bible announced that Texas wouldn’t accept invitations to any bowl games, and was eager to show the Rose Bowl officials what they might have had in Pasadena. Texas defeated a hapless Oregon 71-7.
The celebration was short-lived. The very next day, Dec. 7, 1941, word reached Austin that Japanese forces had bombed Pearl Harbor. Fearing more attacks on the west coast, Rose Bowl officials elected to move the New Year’s game to the visiting team’s stadium, in this case, to the Duke University campus in Durham, N.C.
Had bowl officials invited Texas instead (as they were expected to do), Austin would have hosted the 1942 Rose Bowl.