than sixty years later, the story can be told. Again. It's a story
that won't go away because in the annals of college football there
has never been another one quite like it. Not surprisingly, it happened
in Texas. There's a zealot in the story, but he's not a Texan
he is from Alabama, a state every bit as football-mad as Texas.
It happened on January 1 in the 1954 Cotton Bowl. Rice shared the
Southwest Conference crown with the University of Texas that season
and won the right to play the Southeastern Conference champion, Alabama,
in the Cotton Bowl. Rice won the game easily, 28-6.
The result wasn't as surprising then as it would be now. Rice, led
by running back Dickie Maegle, was among the nation's college football
elite for a short time, while Alabama was four years away from the
arrival on campus of legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Fullback
Tommy Lewis, who scored 'Bama's only touchdown in the first quarter
on a two-yard run, was the Crimson Tide's star player.
Maegle and Lewis would have their names inextricably linked for the
rest of their respective lives because of what Lewis did to Maegle
in the second quarter of that game. Rice was backed up at its own
five-yard line when quarterback Leroy Fenstemaker handed the ball
to Maegle, who took off on an end sweep and broke free down the Alabama
sideline. Lewis, sans helmet, watched the play unfold from the sideline.
As Maegle got close to midfield, Lewis suddenly dashed onto the field
and tackled him. Just like that. Just jumped out there bare-headed
and knocked him down. Seventy-thousand-plus fans gasped as one.
"I saw him start off the bench and thought his helmet had rolled onto
the field and he was coming to get it," Maegle recalled later. "I
gave ground to my left, but then he was right in front of me, and
down I went."
There was no instant replay, of course, and the officials huddled
for a time to confirm what they thought they saw. Ultimately, they
awarded Maegle a touchdown and no doubt shook their heads at Lewis,
who recognized right away the dastardly nature of the deed he did.
As the teams left the field at halftime, he jogged up to Maegle with
tears streaming down his face. He apologized again and again. "I don't
know what got into me," he said. "I hope they don't string me up on
The play, alternately called the "12th Man Tackle" and "The Stupidest
Tackle of the Century," was an instant media sensation. As such, When
Maegle and Lewis were invited to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show
that Sunday night, the perils of sudden fame soon became apparent
to both perpetrator and victim.
For his part, Maegle was none too happy when he found out he would
be sharing a room with Lewis. "He might have a nightmare and try to
throw me out the window," he protested to Sullivan.
The line that Lewis delivered on the show has become as much a part
of the story as the play that inspired it. When Sullivan asked Lewis
why he did it, Lewis replied, "I guess I was just too full of Alabama."
Both supporters and detractors of Alabama football still throw that
line around. The thing is, Lewis claims the line wasn't his. He said
years later that Sullivan urged him to say it. "That's not something
that would normally come out of my mouth."
The play turned out to be an albatross for both men. Lewis, of course,
never completely lived it down. "I'm reminded of the play frequently,"
he told the San Antonio Express-News in 2006. "But anyone who
knows me, and all my old teammates, would never dare bring it up.
They know that play devastated me, and I have to live with it. I can't
take it away."
For Maegle, the play overshadowed one of the most sensational performances
in Cotton Bowl history. Maegle ran for 265 yards on just eleven carries
that New Year's Day, or 24.1 yards per attempt, and scored three touchdowns.
But all anybody remembers is a 95-yard touchdown he scored after Lewis
tackled him at midfield.