September 23, 2016
Any discussion of “The Game of the Century” is incomplete without mention of The Wheat Ridge boys- Longhorns Freddie Steinmark and Bobby Mitchell, whose lives were forever changed in 1969 for reasons well beyond football.
The Big Shootout: Steinmark and Mitchell
November 19, 2014
In the absence of a foolproof recipe for building a championship team, we rely on the genius of coaches to know which ingredients will come together to reach destiny.
For Darrell Royal, two of the most important components of his 1969 title team came from one of the least-likely places: tiny Wheat Ridge, Colorado.
Freddie Steinmark and Bobby Mitchell were the talk of the Greater Denver area once they teamed up in the Wheat Ridge backfield after Mitchell’s family moved in from California. Their running styles complemented each other perfectly, turning the boys into stars whose local popularity was once compared to The Beatles by author Jim Dent, who wrote a book about Steinmark that is being developed into a movie.
Their arrival at the University of Texas in 1967 found the Longhorns in a quagmire of piling up four losses or more in three consecutive seasons. Royal moved the high school backfield mates to opposite sides of the ball- Steinmark to safety, Mitchell to the offensive line- where both would become major contributors.
After a sophomore year in 1968 that saw Steinmark become one of the resurgent Longhorns’ defensive stars by intercepting five passes, the Wheat Ridge boys had high aspirations for 1969- a year that would mark great triumph and great tragedy for both.
In January, Bobby received word that his older brother, Mark, an Army helicopter pilot, had been killed in action in Vietnam. Though the loss stung mightily both then and today for Mitchell, he was comforted by Steinmark and channeled his energy into winning a starting job at offensive guard that spring.
As the 1969 season began, Steinmark began to feel an increasing amount of pain in his left leg. Though noticeably hobbled, he continued to play through the pain as the Longhorns claimed victory after victory in their march toward a championship.
With the approach of the showdown with Arkansas, both players had reason to be nervous beyond the usual big-game jitters. With President Nixon attending the game, Vietnam War protesters made sure their voice would be heard among the hoopla of the game- providing a chilling reminder to Mitchell of his recent loss. He would also be playing in front of his girlfriend, Honor Franklin, an Arkansas student. Steinmark, on the other hand, just wanted to be able to endure the pain in his leg for one more game.
While Texas’ 15-14 victory was the beginning of the legendary status of many of the people involved with the game, it would mark the final football game in the life of Freddie Steinmark. Late in the game, he finally succumbed to the pain he’d played through all year and came out of the contest. Six days later, it was discovered he had bone cancer. His left leg was amputated, and he stood on the sideline using crutches when the Longhorns defeated Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day, 1970. Just over a year later, in June of 1971, Steinmark passed away at the age of 22.
Mitchell, who would earn all-SWC honors for the Longhorns in 1970, went on to marry his Razorback girlfriend and become a successful dentist in Dallas.