A memorial service for Bobby Lackey will be held Thursday, September 16 at 7 p.m. at Bobby Lackey Stadium in Weslaco.
Bobby Lackey (1937-2021) – The essence of pride, the eternal spirit of the soul
By Bill Little
The old song says: “The class of 57 had their dreams …”
If you were an adult child in the small town of Winters, Texas, these dreams included dashing football stars who were capable of miraculous feats and performed almost unbeatable deeds. The point was, we needed heroes.
And Bobby Lackey was my hero.
The point is, Lackey’s story would have made a perfect Hallmark movie.
The odyssey begins in the Rio Grande Valley, near the town of Weslaco. When Lackey passed away last Thursday at the age of 83, people there still called him “the valley’s greatest athlete in the last 100 years.”
He was a star of three sports, excelling in soccer, basketball and baseball. He was 6ft 3in tall and packed his overalls even in high school, and when it came time to go to college he chose Texas. He was recruited by many schools. But, a visit to the historic Gregory Gym for the UIL State Boys basketball tournament and the events that followed a few weeks later at Texas Relays and other campus activities sold him out in Austin.
“I loved these things so much,” he said in the book, “What it means to be a Longhorn.” “I said ‘Hey, if they want me, I’m coming.'”
And that was the start of a great relationship.
Bobby Lackey had grown up in poverty. He lived with his parents and siblings in a “farm labor camp,” then moved from rental home to rental home. He was the only one in his family to go to university. After incredible success as a high school athlete, his ticket out of the valley would be that football scholarship that awaited him in Austin.
Lackey came to Texas in 1956 as part of head coach Ed Price’s last promotion. A year later, that would all change for the Longhorns when Price stepped down and sports director DX Bible hired a 32-year-old Oklahoman named Darrell Royal as his football head coach. Even before he met Lackey, Royal knew him. In many ways he had come for miles on the same path.
What Royal knew, and the world would soon find out, is that a person’s worth is not in what they have, but rather in who they are. Locals, like the days of Darrell’s Dust Bowl in southwest Oklahoma and Bobby’s time as a child in labor camps, claim their dignity with their pride and soul. And these things, no one can ever take them away from you.
But before he even left Weslaco, Bobby’s heart would become a huge difference maker.
And that’s where all of us Hallmark movie fans take over. Bobby had noticed (like everyone at Weslaco) that the prettiest girl in school was a cheerleader named Judy McManus. He would notice as she drove by in a nice car and waved to him as he drove to school. The two eventually became friends and even dated, as their son remembers. Then almost tragedy struck. Judy’s younger brother fell from a tree, suffering fatal injuries and was hospitalized.
And it is there, my friends, that we call the heroes.
People say the young boy rallied when the city’s star quarterback walked into his room to cheer him up, and just like in the movies, the pretty girl and quarterback fell in love.
Judy McManus, whose father had an extremely successful production operation in the Rio Grande Valley, came to Texas, as did Bobby Lackey. The two tied the knot after Bobby’s first year at UT.
Royal arrived in December 1956 and in 1957 he split his quarterback duties between Lackey and veteran Walter Fondren. But Lackey was going to find a way to get onto the pitch. At the end of the regular season, Lackey and Fondren teamed up to lead Texas to a stunning 9-7 victory over Texas A&M. Lackey’s 38-yard field goal late in the third quarter ended up providing the deciding points.
A year later, Lackey would be in the spotlight again, this time in the most important game of the time. Oklahoma had beaten Texas six in a row and won nine of the last 10. The 57-team actually challenged the Sooners before losing in a fierce 21-7 game.
Prior to the 1958 game, Royal told a rally of supporters: “I think we can win. I’m not saying we will win, however. I think our players think they can.” And then he added, “Texas need to develop a footballing tradition. They had it once but lost it. When we have one, maybe we can stop that bleeding in Dallas and make it a good one. spectacle.”
Texas had climbed to 16th place nationally (after going unranked for two and a half years in a row just a season ago) and OU came in second.
The Football Rules Committee, despite Royal’s disapproval, had made a major change in the game. That year, teams could choose to aim for two points, rather than the usual single point for a kick, after a. score. So when Texas scored first, Royal shocked the crowded stadium and a nationwide TV audience by getting two points – and scoring. The Longhorns led 8-0.
Oklahoma, however, would not be disheartened. The Sooners came back and took a 14-8 lead early in the fourth quarter. Vince Matthews, who was a passing quarterback, had shared duties with Lackey and took the ‘Horns to the 5-yard line earlier with less than five minutes to go. Texas recovered their practice when they recovered from a fumble on the 7, but when Matthews pitched incomplete, Lackey entered the game.
The play would become known as “The Shot That Sank The Sooners”. Lackey took the snap, jumped into the air and fired a hands-on clap waiting for tight end Bobby Bryant. And then he scored the extra point for a 15-14 lead. After the game, Lackey and Royal were quick to give credit to Matthews, who opened the game with his first competition of the year combined with Lackey and half-back Rene Ramirez for 12 of 17 passes for 153 yards. and two touchdowns.
It could have ended like a Hallmark movie, as after the game Bobby and Judy Lackey were pictured walking together through the famous Cotton Bowl tunnel. When the Longhorns defeated OU a year later, this photo appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine – the first SI cover ever made for Texas Longhorns football.
Lackey’s last chapter with Texas came in the 1959 season, when he and his teammates had Royal on the cup lip of an undefeated regular season before an upset on a frigid day in late November in Austin gave to TCU a superb 14-9 victory over UTAH.
This set the stage for another Lackey miracle, this time during the annual grudge match with Texas A&M at College Station. Despite the loss to TCU, Texas were still ranked No.4 nationally and a big favorite against the Aggies. A win would send UT to the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 1952 and give the Longhorns a share of the SWC Championship.
But at halftime, Texas looked on the wrong side with a 10-0 scoreline, and members of the Aggie Corps of Cadets mockingly threw cotton balls at the Longhorns.
In the dressing room, Royal called Lackey to the side just before the team left for the second half.
“That half is yours,” he said. “Go ahead and take it in your own hands and see if we can score some points.”
Lackey led Texas to a 14-10 lead, but with just 7:55 to go, the Aggies got it back at 17-14. Texas had the ball at 25.
Children, like I said at the beginning, dream. The heroes play. I remember the cold, almost hazy air sitting on those wooden stands on the east side of Kyle Field. I remember Texas driving north, their uniforms a weird mix of mud and grass on what had started the day as pristine white. Lackey would end it, with a 15-yard bootleg pass to Larry Cooper and a final statement on a short quarterback to win 20-17.
“This kid was great,” Royal said after the game. “He was great before, but he was at his best today.”
Texas closed the season with a 23-14 loss in a hotly contested game with No.1 Syracuse in the Cotton Bowl Classic. While in Texas, Bobby Lackey had guided Texas to Darrell Royal’s inaugural Southwestern Conference Championship and started the incredible wave of success that would continue for the next decade. He led the team in passes, punters and twice in scoring. But his contributions to this program, or the lives it touched, cannot be measured in statistics.
When the Mack Brown Longhorns won the national championship after the 2005 season, he told the team to “don’t let this day be the happiest day of your life.” He told them to take what they had learned and apply it to become better fathers, husbands, friends, and people.
In a very special way, he had written the epitaph for Bobby Lackey.
After graduating from Texas, Bobby leaned into professional football and decided it wouldn’t work for him. He returned to Texas, where Judy was expecting their first child. He returned to the Valley and joined Judy’s father, John McManus, with the development of one of the largest production companies in America.
Living in Weslaco, and later in the Houston area, Bobby and Judy remained active in civic and philanthropic efforts and, as one would expect, in their support of the University of Texas and the Longhorns. He was inducted into the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor in 1977. The high school football stadium and one of two school gymnasiums in Weslaco are named after him.
For over 63 years, they were the children who fell in love in the Rio Grande Valley, nurtured that love in college as sweethearts, and then saw the sunset together for the last time when Judy passed away last summer.
When Bobby’s memory started to fade with age, it was Judy who had been there for him. On Thursday, time passed for the quarterback.
But those who knew them swear they’re together, walking up this tunnel, side by side.
Oh, yeah… and like a hat to the Hallmark movies… they kiss at the end.