From the archives: What was the 1940 Florida-Texas game like?

A high school boy smoked a pipe on the train ride from St. Petersburg to Gainesville to see the last meeting between the Gators and Longhorns.
Texas mascot Bevo runs through smoke before of an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas mascot Bevo runs through smoke before of an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Published May 23

The Florida Gators’ upcoming home-and-home football series with Texas will be the first meeting between the power programs since 1940.

Which got me thinking: What was that 1940 game like?

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Texas Eleven Crushes Florida Gators, 26 To 0, read the headline in the Dec. 8, 1940 edition of the St. Petersburg Times. That final score would have been tighter, according to the Tampa Tribune, “had the men with the whistle been a little more vigilant.”

The Associated Press story that ran in the Times notes that Texas (which finished 8-2) was not invited to a bowl game, despite knocking off “Texas A. and M.” on Thanksgiving. Apparently that game was some sort of tradition at the time. The Tribune also referenced the Longhorns’ recent upset of “the mighty Texas Aggies.” I’m sure the message boards loved that one … or would have, if TexAgs or Orangebloods had been around yet.

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The front page of the Times’ sports section includes photos of a train trip to Gainesville — 875 people across 14 train cars. One of the pictures shows a high school boy smoking a pipe next to two girls holding their noses. “And a big time was had by all on the Texas game special to Gainesville,” according to the all-caps headline.

We’ll see what sort of big time is had by whom when the Gators and Longhorns meet a mere 11 years from now. In the meantime, here are some excerpts from the Tribune’s game story (written by sports editor Pete Norton) from that 1940 contest. It includes a review of the marching band’s show, gripes about officiating and a shout out to the ticket prices (a quarter for students):

"The University of Texas Longhorns, good enough to upset the mighty Texas Aggies 10 days ago, were good enough to overpower the Florida Gators, 26 to 0, here this afternoon.

"A colorful crowd of 14,000 the biggest to watch a home game in the Gator stadium this year, saw Southwest conference football at its best as the Longhorns paced by Pete Layden and Cowboy Jack Crain, a couple of galloping backs, rolled to four touchdowns.

"There was some loud grumbling among the fans over decisions by the officials and there is no doubt that Florida would have held the Longhorns to a closer score had the men with the whistle been a little more vigilant.

"But there was no question that Texas, ranked among the top 10 teams in the country, was far and away a better football team than Florida. Their record of 22 first downs to four for the Gators speaks for itself. The Longhorns slammed their way across the Gator goal line once in each of the first two periods, coasted scoreless through the third period then racked up a couple of touchdowns in the final quarter. Florida pushed to the eight-yard stripe late in the game but an intercepted pass over the goal line cut short the only real chance the Gators had to get on the score board.

"Every nook and corner of the state was represented in the crowd. Dozens of high school coaches brought their squads to Gainesville and took them in as guests of the university. Thousands of school kids from all parts of Florida took advantage of the twenty-five cents admission charge to students.

"Special trains operated by the Atlantic Coast Line railroad brought 800 fans from Tampa and St. Petersburg and the West Coast delegation arriving enmaasse whooped it up for the Gators before, during and after the game.

"The Gator band, resplendent in orange and blue uniforms, turned in their usual fine halftime performance, forming the letters “T” and “F” and playing the alma mater songs of both schools in front of the rival cheering sections.

"The university grounds and the surrounding fraternity houses, were decorated for the visit of the Texas team and for the influx of the students’ best girls, as guests at the annual fall frolics, the big social event of the football season here.

"Coach Tom Lieb of the Gators offered no excuses for his team. “We were beaten by a better ball club,” he said, “the Texas team is one of the best in the country. I think they compare favorably with either Tennessee, which goes to the Sugar bowl this year, or Mississippi State, the southern half of the Orange bowl game.”

"The Florida coach would not comment on the officiating, other than to admit that a few of the close ones went against the Gator squad….

"From there the Longhorns rolled to a touchdown with Pete Layden leading a vicious attack off the tackles.

"The scoring play from the five-yard line was something of a freak and the referee’s decision drew booes from the crowd. Layden dropped back and shot a pass to Flanagan on the line of scrimmage who tried to lateral to Crain. The ball bounded off a Florida man and Crain recovered it and raced across the goal line.

"Crain added the point to give Texas a 7-0 lead.

"There was no question as to the legality of the Texas touchdown, however, as the offensive team is always entitled to move forward with the ball.…

"Three other decisions by the officials, all against the Gators, aroused the crowd in the second period. One concerned an interference play on a long Florida pass, in which the receiver, Forest Ferguson, was cut down by two Texas men and nothing was done about it. Another came when a Texas man was two feet across the scrimmage line and no offside penalty was called. Had a penalty been called it would have given Florida a first down. The third came when Harkins, Texas back, tried a pass after being tackled. It looked like intentional grounding from the press box but the officials ruled the passers forward progress had been stopped and did not call a penalty.

“It was a rough and tumble battle through the first half of the third period, with neither team able to dent the rugged defense thrown up by hard-hitting lines….”

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