AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) - The Texas players say they don’t remember anything about the rout. How could they? They were hardly in grade school at the time.
Texas fans won’t ever forget it.
In 1997, a winless UCLA team rolled into Austin on a steamy September afternoon and flattened the No. 11 Longhorns 66-3 in the most humiliating home loss in Texas history.
The Bruins (1-2) will be back in Austin for the first time since then on Saturday. And while the No. 7 Longhorns (3-0) are heavy favorites, the memories of the game 13 years ago promise to make it a pulsing, passionate affair for about 98,000 Texas fans still looking for revenge.
“They sat here and watched them beat us to death in 1997,” said Texas coach Mack Brown, who was still at North Carolina at the time.
It wasn’t long before Brown was on a plane to Texas.
The UCLA game, infamously dubbed “Rout 66,” began a season-long implosion for a Texas team that won the Big 12 championship in 1996. Texas finished 4-7 in what became known as the “Tear Down the Goalposts Tour” _ teams that hadn’t beaten Texas in a while were ripping down their uprights seemingly every week.
Texas fired coach John Mackovic the day after the season ended and hired Brown, who 13 seasons later has Texas a national title contender every year.
For current Longhorns players, a game 13 years ago might as well have been 100 years ago.
“Looking at the numbers alone (66-3), we have an idea what it was like,” Texas senior wide receiver James Kirkendoll said. “But that was then. This is now.”
The win in 1997 started a 20-game win streak for the Bruins but the program hasn’t been the same since with just four winning seasons since 2000. Second-year coach Rick Neuheisel is 5-10 with the Bruins.
Texas, meanwhile, has been on a decade-long long run of success, winning the national championship in 2005 and playing for another last season. The Longhorns are 28-2 over their last 30 games.
But this Longhorns team is missing something from previous seasons: offensive firepower.
After rolling up big scores behind quarterbacks Vince Young and Colt McCoy the last six seasons, Texas is having trouble finding the end zone through the first three games of 2010. The newly emphasized running game has stalled and sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert has thrown just two touchdown passes.
The Texas rushing attack, the focus of attention through spring drills and fall training camp, has been a disappointment. The Longhorns have changed starting tailbacks three times in three games and Texas averaged just 2.2 yards on 43 carries in a 24-14 win last week at Texas Tech.
“Our offense is a work in progress. That’s not an excuse. That’s a fact,” Brown said.
Even with those struggles, Gilbert is undefeated as a starter after taking over for McCoy and the Longhorns defense is ranked No. 2. The Longhorns gave up less than 150 total yards against the Red Raiders.
UCLA comes to Austin on a roll after an impressive win over then-No. 23 Houston last week. The Bruins defense knocked out the Cougars’ top two quarterbacks and their new pistol offense finally showed some life.
After a 35-0 loss to Pac-10 rival Stanford, the Bruins cranked up a rushing attack powered by 158 yards and three touchdowns from Johnathan Franklin.
“There was a measure of confidence when we took the field and we played fast,” Neuheisel said. “That’s what we have to do.”
Thirteen years ago, the Bruins hit the field so fast the Longhorns fans were stunned by the string of touchdowns. UCLA led 38-0 by halftime. Many Texas fans left in disgust and the stadium was practically empty at the end of the game.
This week, Brown asked one of his staff members who was at Texas back then what it was like that day. He asked him how many fans stuck around to the bitter end.
“Turn around and look out there right now,” the assistant told Brown, pointing to an empty stadium. “It was about the same.”