Robert Brewer Recalls 1982 Cotton Bowl vs. ‘Bama

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By Michael Pearle, Co-Publisher
Posted Jan 5, 2010
Copyright © 2019

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Robert Brewer (Texas Sports Photography)

It’s been over almost 30 years since Robert Brewer led Texas to a stunning come from behind win over Bear Bryant’s Alabama in the 1982 Cotton Bowl, but Longhorn fans, many of whom were barely in grade school at the time, haven’t forgotten.

Maybe it’s because of the fairy-tale nature of the story, almost like a UT version of Rudy -- only better.

Brewer, the son of a Longhorn QB from the 50s, grew up watching grainy 16-mm movies of his dad’s games on the wall of the family living room in Dallas. All his young life he dreamed of putting on the burnt orange. Never offered a scholarship by the school he loved, Brewer walked-on at Texas and toiled for almost three years in the shadows of highly-recruited athletes like Donnie Little and Rick McIvor, running scout team and wondering if Fred Akers would ever give him a shot.

Brewer wasn’t big and he wasn’t particularly fast, and his arm would remind nobody of Chris Simms, but he had an almost scary passion for playing football, and for winning. Brewer kept grinding, and when his time came mid-way through his junior year in 1981, he grabbed the reins of the Texas offense and never let go. 

Coming on for an injured McIvor against Houston in the Astrodome, Brewer engineered 14 second-half points to give Texas a 14-14 tie with the Coogs. The job he’d worked towards since he was old enough to walk was now his. Wins over TCU, Baylor, and A&M followed, giving Texas the SWC championship and the right to meet Bryant and the Tide in Dallas on New Year’s Day.

Texas entered that game ranked No. 6 in the nation, but ‘Bama came in ranked No. 3, and the game played out like a heavyweight bout between two sluggers. With the Horns trailing 10-0 in the fourth quarter, Brewer scored on a 30-yard quarterback draw in one of the most thrilling plays in UT history. With ‘mo now firmly wearing orange, Brewer then led Texas on the winning drive a series later, connecting on at least three third-and-long, heart-stopping throws to keep the drive alive. The 14-12 victory over the Bear gave UT a final AP ranking of No.2.

In ‘82, Brewer routinely hooked up with receiver Herkie Walls in a record setting season. Brewer threw for 12 TDs and set UT records for attempts and yardage, and tied the mark for completions. Texas finished 9-3 that year as the Horns fell in the Sun Bowl, but Brewer’s career had ended five days before with a broken thumb suffered in a passing drill.

But what a career it was. Brewer’s 13-2 record as a starter is still in the Texas record books. His 15 career TD passes ties him for ninth all-time at Texas, and his 80-yard TD toss to Walls against Baylor in ‘82 is the 8th longest ever by a Texas quarterback.

Today, Brewer is the proud father of three children, two boys (one of whom is Lake Travis 2011 QB prospect Michael Brewer) and a girl, and is married to the former Laura Moerschell, sister of another UT quarterback from the 80s, Rob Moerschell. After serving as an Assistant Athletic Director at UT for seven years, Brewer now works as a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch in Austin. While driving the family through Mississippi recently for a vacation in Florida, Brewer talked to me via cell phone about the [1982] Cotton Bowl… 

What do you remember most about the Cotton Bowl game?

What I remember the most is just being completely calm. The night before the game we had had a team Bible study and me and a lot of the other guys got kind of emotional, but after that, I just had complete calm and I just felt I was gonna do the best I could and the Lord was gonna be with me. It wasn’t about winning, but I was a little scared, to be honest, about going into that lion’s den on national TV with my five-point-oh forty yard dash and Bear Bryant over on the other sideline....

But I know that growing up you had been to the Cotton Bowl a bunch of times. Didn’t that give you a sense of “hey, this is the house that I grew up in, I’m gonna be fine...”

Yes. Well said. I had been up almost all night with coaches coming into my room and some other stuff and so on the bus ride to the stadium, I fell asleep sitting next to Michael Brown from Lake Highlands High School in the back of the bus with my head on his shoulder, and I remember waking up just right there in front of the Cotton Bowl. I could hear the bus give that kinda exhaust sound and I thought exactly what you’re saying -- man, I’ve been coming here all my life, watching Don Meredith and Bob Hayes, James Street, all of that came into my mind. I wasn’t nervous, I was just thinking, this is neat.  I was just looking forward to it. When I did get a little nervous was when we first got the ball, it was our time to go and I started jogging on that field and I did feel some butterflies. The refs called a TV timeout, and Michael, I will never forget this -- the Bama band starts up with this really jazzy, up-tempo song and I look over and their All-American tackle, a guy named Warren Lyles, number 91, is standing there with his back to me facing his defensive guys and he’s doing this little jig where he moves his butt to the left and then to the right, getting in a groove, and he’s clapping his hands, and it scared the -- out of me. You know why? This guy has been starting for four or five years and he was out there going “it’s time to party!” And we were like inside our own 10-yard line and I am worrying about protecting the ball and all that and so I was kinda freakin’ when I look over and Lyles is looking like he’s out there for his first dance on a Friday night with his best girl. And I am just going, man, I just wanna get the snap!  I felt like a steak being thrown out on the platter for that guy to eat. And during those timeouts, when you’re out there on the field all strapped up and you look up at the press box with those cameras staring down at you, that one minute is about 15 minutes. That’s what I remember. But I think we hit a pass and made a couple of first downs and got it out of there OK and then it all settled down.

But Bama had a tough defense, they were on you all day -- even with that 30 yard run, the official stats had you down for negative yards rushing on the day...

Yeah, they had a great secondary -- Jeremiah Castille and another guy who played in the NFL who was fast as a rabbit and those guys just out-guessed us all day on third and long. It took us until the fourth quarter to get something going. Give credit to Alabama for figuring out our plain vanilla offense.

So on the draw play -- did you make that call or did coach Akers?

What happened was, after about my fifth sack of the day, coach (Ron) Toman and coach Ronnie Thompson were up in the press box and they were saying “run the draw,” and I was saying the same thing, but coach Akers ignored us -- it was gonna be his call, so we don’t try it the next two series and we pay for it -- another sack, another incompletion. Then in the fourth quarter, I had to call a timeout because I was about to get sacked for about the eight time because I saw (Bama safety) Tommy Wilcox was coming from the left side and we were already into the snap count and I couldn’t audible, so I called a time out. Go over to the sideline, get the play, come back and we make a first down. Then we drive down to their 30 with a third-and-10 and we get in another situation where we don’t have the right blocking scheme for it and I called timeout again, and when I did that -- calling a second timeout down 10-zip with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter -- I could hear the boos. And to coach Akers’ credit he looked at me and said “go tell the offense line we’re running “One” -- the play was called “One” -- and we had not run that play since I had been QB. That was a play they had in for Donnie Little. Against OU in ‘80, we literally beat OU with that play in the fourth quarter. They called it 12 times against OU. JC Watts was the Sooner QB and we won 20-13. That’s why we had that play, but the reason they had stuffed it down inside the treasure chest was because I was the quarterback, and I couldn’t run! And to Fred’s credit -- I think the coaches up in the box and me were thinking, let’s run Jam Jones on a sprint draw, and Akers said “no! we’re gonna run the quarterback draw!” So I called the timeout wanting to run a draw, but coach Akers called the QB draw.


And that thing blew wide open. I remember reading in the paper the next day, one of the Dallas scribes said you could have run all the way to your boyhood home in North Dallas and nobody would have touched you....

But here’s another funny sidenote -- all this is happening in about two minutes, right? They tell me, “go in there and tell (center) Mike (Baab) and the other guys, if they have a question, block out,  as if pass blocking. So I went in and I said “Mike, we’re running “One,” and when I said that, his face just dropped, and he goes, “Oh, [no]” like that, and he looked down and Joe Shearin or somebody kinda elbowed him, and I said, “Mike, that’s fine if you feel that way, but Fred made the call,” and (Bryan) Millard wasn't sure what to do so Shearin told him, and Doug Dawson knew, but point is, conversation like that is going on and the ref comes over and says “play ball!” He blew the whistle and the clock started. (RB) Rodney Tate is grabbing me going “what are we doin’?!” and I said “Rodney, sprint for the sideline, over to Alabama’s bench,” and whoever the other guy was, sprint for our bench so just go sideways. And what was beautiful about it was, Bama later said that they were gambling that we were gonna use the same pass play that we had first drawn up, so they had called the same blitz that they had originally called, thinking we would think they would change after the timeout. So when I walked up to the line and I looked over at Wilcox about to blitz I thought oh my gosh, if I catch the snap and make a good fake and Baab takes care of Lyles, I knew it was gonna be a touchdown. The other safety had to take Herkie and all their other guys were instructed to veer to the outside, so I am ten yards down field before they even turned around to see what was going on. And I am so slow, they still almost caught me at the goalline!

Naw, man, it wasn’t even close. You looked fast on that play!

I was running just as fast as I could. What little memory I have of that, there was just no sound. I didn’t hear anything until we were all bear-hugging eachother and then I heard everybody going crazy...

And then you realized you’re still down 10-7 with about eight minutes or something and you gotta go back and do it again.

The thing about that is, and I know this sounds bad, but at that point, there was no doubt, in any of our minds -- zero doubt -- that we were gonna win that game. It was like the crowd had picked us up about 10 feet off the floor of that Cotton Bowl.

I was there that day and I remember that after you scored that TD, that was the most electric feeling I have ever felt in a stadium. It was amazing to me the intensity and the emotion in the stadium that day. It was exhilirating.

Yes, we felt it and it gave us the feeling that, the game was over. It was just a question of how and when. But one thing I would like you to put in this article: the TV cameras caught me pointing my finger in coach Akers’ face and making a comment, and a lot of people have asked me about that....

Yeah, it looked like kinda like you were putting it in his face or something....

It looked like that -- I got way too cocky, but what I was saying was, “that was a great call.” I was complimenting coach Akers, and I have always felt bad about that because people have come up to me and misunderstood that. I was complimenting coach Akers because he made the great call. I was so fired up, it looked like I was doing one thing when I really was doing another, and I kinda regret that because I was a little bit cocky about how I did that, but I was just so excited about what we had accomplished and wanted to compliment him.

That game was torture. After Terry Orr scored the go-ahead TD, the Bama guy returned the kickoff into Texas territory and it looked like he might break it. But then they threw the INT to William Graham and you guys held on...

Exactly. But what really made that game special was that Alabama was ranked third and had been ranked first that year, and Bear Bryant was just coming off that big victory. Their game before we played them was against Auburn and it was his 315th win to break the all time win record (held by Amos Alonzo Stagg), so it was all on the heels of that. He was such a legend at that time that it just made it a little icing on the cake.

[Editor's note: This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in the Inside Texas magazine.]

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