Rice vs. Texas: a Game, a Speech, and a Lost Football Rivalry

Published on August 6, 2019

The Texas Longhorns and the Rice Owls. One is one of the most prestigious programs in college football history, while the other is a C-USA bottom feeder. Most fans wouldn’t speak of them in the same breath. Yet these two teams share quite a bit of history, and are forever linked by one presidential quote.

Forgotten Rivals

Rice University first clashed with the Longhorns in 1914. In a game that wouldn’t look too out of place today, Texas played host to the Owls and crushed them 41-0. They would finish that season undefeated with eight wins. Rice would get their first win in the series in 1917.

As both teams eventually joined the Southwest Conference the rivalry became more competitive. The Longhorns still held the series lead, but Rice gradually improved and even held streaks over Texas on occasion. The Owls dominance peaked in the ’30s when they won seven out of the ten times they faced Texas that decade. Though that level of play would not last, the rivalry was still fairly even throughout the ’40s and ’50s.

Kennedy’s Speech

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy made his famous “We Shall go to the Moon” speech at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. Just before the namesake quote, he mentioned landmark achievements of the past half century such as Lindbergh flying across the Atlantic, and Hillary climbing Mount Everest. Then he added one statement: “Why does Rice play Texas?”

Given the recent history of the series, many believe that Kennedy was making a joke about Rice’s lack of success. In fact, The Owls and the Longhorns had split their last ten games 5-5 and would go on to tie in that 1962 meeting. Kennedy was naming difficult achievements that succeeded. Rice had been succeeding in defeating a much greater opponent. However, the President’s words would soon jinx the Owls in the coming years.

Recent Past and Present

Since that fateful day, Rice has only defeated Texas twice in fifty seven years.  The Owls won a close victory in 1965, and most thought the status-quo would continue. Then Rice lost. And they lost again. And they kept losing until 1994. That game has been called the biggest win in the history of Rice University football. On ESPN, in the waning days of the Southwest Conference, Rice. Beat. Texas.

Unfortunately for the Owls, their success was short lived. The Southwest Conference fell. Texas formed the Big 12, while Rice drifted to the WAC and later the C-USA. All the while, Texas continued to beat up on Rice.

The last meeting between the two was a 42-28 Longhorn victory in 2015. After a brief hiatus, the series is set to return this year, this time in Houston. Rice and Texas will play at NRG stadium on September 14, 2019. Texas will look to continue their success, while Rice will try to rebound from a poor 2018 season.

2019 may be just another year with another Texas victory. But with the game in Houston fifty years after the Apollo moon landing, and almost exactly fifty seven years to the day after the speech, it would almost seem fitting for Rice to finally turn it around.

Maybe Texas will continue the streak, or maybe the Owls can summon some upset magic and pull the shocker. We’ll all find out on September 14.

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Ian Curtis is a Sports Columnist at Grit Daily. A sports and history buff, he has a penchant for memorizing useless trivia. He is based out of College Station, Texas.

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