The University of Texas and the nation entered the decade of the 1950s filled with optimism about the rapidly expanding economy and a renewed focus on family and social issues. By 1950, Austin could truly be called a city, having reached 130,000 residents, while UT had grown to more than 15,000 students. Although it was a struggle, the first African-American students were admitted to UT’s law school in the summer of 1950, following the Supreme Court decision of Sweat v. Painter and four years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.
The football team also appeared to be heading in a positive direction in the first half of the decade. Although fans and university officials were stunned by Blair Cherry’s 1951 decision to step down as head coach, the appointment of Ed Price, Cherry’s main assistant, was a popular decision. In his first three years, Price’s team went 7-3, 9-2, and 7-3. During those years, he won the conference title twice and beat Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl in 1953. Price’s 1952 team was even the first to be televised when KTBC aired the A&M game on Thanksgiving Day. But then a malaise seemed to strike the team. The 1954 squad went only 4-5-1, and did little better in 1956 when they finished even at 5-5. Even Price’s popularity with teammates and University officials couldn’t bear up under the 1-9 record of his final season, and so citing “the good of the team,” Price resigned as football coach in December. Athletic Director D.X. Bible began searching for a new head coach.The Longhorns’ fall from grace in the early Fifties mirrored a decline in confidence in America itself. Stalin’s rise in the Soviet Union and fears about Communist expansion into Korea and parts of Europe made Americans unsure about their future in the new Cold War. Ever competitive, Americans responded to the growth of Communism by sending American troops to defend Korea and by beginning a competition with the Soviets in technology and infrastructure that gave rise to the to the expansion of television, the birth of the interstate highway system, and the launching of the first satellite in space.
The Longhorns decided to be competitive, too. Athletic Director D.X. Bible searched the nation to find the right head coach, finally settling on Darryl Royal, who was working at the University of Washington when Bible offered him the job. Although he didn’t have much to work with in 1957, Royal magically gave the Texas fans a 6-4-1 winning season and a trip to the Sugar Bowl.
Although a few football program covers continued to rely on syndicated art in the 1950s, the majority of the programs featured the captivating artwork of New Orleans editorial cartoonist John Churchill Chase, who created a new, smart image for the Longhorns.
John Churchill Chase
For almost twenty years, Chase's witty Bevo cartoons graced the covers of UT's football programs and those of many UT opponents. Born in 1905, Chase graduated from high school in New Orleans and then attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Following graduation, he worked for a time as an assistant to Frank King, of "Gasoline Alley" fame, at the Chicago Tribune. Then in 1927, Chase returned to New Orleans and began working as an editorial cartoonist for the New Orleans Item. He also did freelance work, ultimately deciding to leave the paper in 1964 to focus more time on his art and his other interests. In 1967, Chase began working for WDSU-TV, where he drew editorial cartoons for the evening news and designed storyboards. Chase was an expert on the history of New Orleans and lectured at Tulane University on that topic. His biggest commercial project was the creation of the historical mural at the New Orleans Public Library, considered a city treasure. Chase authored several books, including Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children and Other Streets of New Orleans, Louisiana Purchase: An American Story, and Today's Cartoons. He also served as president of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists. The city of New Orleans honored him in 1990 by naming a downtown street in his honor. He died in 1986.
Although the first Chase cover we’ve included here is the September 16, 1953 program for the Villanova Game, Chase’s covers may have been used even earlier by UT, as no covers were unearthed for the 1951 or 1952 seasons. Whenever he began, Chase’s covers are now treasured keepsakes, for his vision of Bevo as the canny trickster brought smiles to the fans that filled Memorial Stadium in the 1950s and continue to amuse modern viewers who often remark that they remind them of the Roadrunner & Coyote cartoons. Chase’s drawings linger in the memory because of their sly wit. You can’t look at the 1954 Washington State program, for instance, and not chuckle at Bevo’s supposed innocence as he sets his clever trap for the Washington Cougar who’s wary…but intrigued. Or consider the 1956 Homecoming program when Texas played SMU. In one humorous tableau, Chase has managed to convey the Longhorn’s hopes to beat the Mustangs and the fact that the game was also “Dad’s Day,” Homecoming and Armed Forces Day all rolled into one.
By creating covers specifically for the Texas football games, Chase was able to integrate local storylines and national news events into his covers and make them unique and truly memorable. The Tulane cover in 1957, for example, refers to the heavy rains that hit Austin that previous spring (ending a long drought); the 1955 Texas Tech program marked the installation of lights on Memorial Stadium allowing for night games; the launch of Sputnik prompted Chase’s 1958 Georgia cover; and when the Longhorns played California in 1959 as NBC’s “game of the day,” Chase found just the right formula to mark the milestone.
Some events happened repeatedly, of course, but Chase’s covers were always fresh, always amusing. Band Day, for instance, was the Saturday each fall when local high school bands (sometimes more than 70) attended the game and participated in pre-game and half-time activities. The high school bands marched down Congress Avenue in the morning as judges scored their play; winners were announced at halftime. Dad’s Day began in 1948, following the formation of the University of Texas Dad’s Association. At a home football game each year, UT honored the contributions of fathers to the University and remembered the founding of the organization. Boy Scout Day was also an annual affair. On this Saturday, the Athletic Council honored boys who’d earned the rank of Eagle Scout over the past year during the halftime show. And then there was the matter of the “bronze hat.” The annual game between UT and Oklahoma was played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, a site chosen because of its equal distance between the two campuses. Because of the unique nature of this rivalry, a special trophy went to the winner—a bronze cowboy hat mounted on a base of wood. Here, in these Oklahoma programs from 1955, 1957 and 1959, we see Chase at his best, with wily Bevo again getting the last laugh.