AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Small, tough and determined, James Street for nearly 40 years was the standard of excellence that all Texas quarterbacks were measured by.
A backup who took over the Texas wishbone offense in 1968 and led the Longhorns to the 1969 national title, Street won 20 straight games, including the 15-14 victory over Arkansas in 1969 dubbed the “Game of the Century” followed by a season-capping Cotton Bowl win against Notre Dame. Texas wouldn’t win another national title until Vince Young led the Longhorns to the 2005 season championship.
Street died early Monday at the age of 65, according to Serena Fitchard, a spokeswoman at the James Street Group financial and legal services company that bears his name. A cause of death was not immediately available.
“To be a quarterback who never lost a game, that never happens,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.
Street remained close to the Texas program and often spoke to Brown’s team with a recurring message of “regardless of how big you are, how fast you are, you can still compete and you can still win,” Brown said.
Street was also a baseball standout, posting a 29-8 record pitching for Texas that included a perfect game (1970 vs. Texas Tech) and no-hitter (1969 vs. SMU). He was on three Texas teams that advanced to the College World Series, and his son, San Diego Padres relief pitcher Huston Street, helped Texas win the CWS in 2002.
Bill Hall, a longtime friend and business partner, said Street died at home in Austin after traveling to California over the weekend to watch his son pitch.
“We are sad to lose a Longhorn legend,” Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said. “He started what became a Street family legacy at Texas.”
It was football where James Street made his biggest mark in Texas lore while leading an offense that changed the college football landscape.
In 1968, Texas coach Darrell Royal and assistant Emory Ballard switched to the wishbone, which features a fullback lined up behind the quarterback and a step in front of two other backs. The innovation, new to major college football, nearly flopped. After a tie and a loss in the first two games that season, a frustrated Royal inserted the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Street to take over.
“Coach Royal grabbed me and he looked for a minute as if he were having second thoughts about putting me in. Then he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Hell, you can’t do any worse. Get in there,’” Street said in 2012 when Royal died.
The 1969 Texas-Arkansas games ranks among the greatest ever played.
Arkansas led 7-0 at halftime, then stretched it to 14-0 in the third quarter. Street made it 14-8 with a 42-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion. On a fourth-and-3, Royal stunned even Street by calling for “53 veer pass,” a play that had rarely worked all season.
Street told tight end Randy Peschel to get enough yards for a first down. “But if you can get behind him, run like hell,” Street said, and the pass connected for 44 yards to set up Jim Bertelsen’s winning touchdown.
Although President Richard Nixon declared Texas the national champion after the victory, Texas still had to play and win the Cotton Bowl, a game that whipped up a frenzy of its own. Notre Dame ended its self-imposed 44-year ban on bowl games to play the Longhorns.
Street, who said he was raised Catholic, called his mother to tell her who Texas was going to play.
“When I said Notre Dame, there was complete silence,” Street said told The Associated Press in 2005. “I said, ‘Mom, this is your son. You’re pulling for us.’”
Texas trailed by three points late in the fourth quarter when Street led the winning drive that converted two fourth downs before Billy Dale’s final touchdown won it 21-17. He got a handshake from former President Lyndon B. Johnson after the game in Dallas.
Street later went on to a career in finance and structured settlements, founding a firm in Austin that focuses on working with plaintiffs in legal disputes.
When Royal died in 2012, Texas honored the former coach by lining up in the wishbone on the first play against Iowa State and throwing a pass that conjured memories of the “53 veer” that Street threw against Arkansas.
Texas plays Iowa State on Thursday night and the Longhorns will honor Street with orange and white “JS” helmet stickers.
“(Street and Royal) will be sitting in heaven critiquing our game,” Brown said. “I’ll be feeling that heat.”
Street is survived by his wife, Janie, five sons and several grandchildren. Funeral services were pending Monday.