Steve Worster, the two-time All-American of Texas and the bruised defensive linebacker who inspired the creation of the wishbone attack that dominated college football in the ’70s and ’80s, died Saturday at the age of 73.
Texas announced Worster’s death in a statement issued on Sunday.
Dubbed “Big Woo” or “Woo Woo” by Longhorns fans, Worster signed with Texans in 1967 as a 6-foot, 210-pound high school star who ran for over 5,000 career yards at Bridge City High School in the southeast. Texas, is part of the enlistment class that was announced and once known as “Worster Crowd”. The group would lead the Texans to 30 consecutive victories and the National Championships in 1969 and 1970 behind a fresh attack designed to harness Worster’s strength against a back tandem from Ted Coy and Chris Gilbert.
The wishbone, as Houston sports writer Mickey Herskewitz put it, would become the game-changing crime of its era, which led to the Texans earning those titles and later followed by the rise of the Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma Sooners and the revival of the Bear Bryant in Alabama.
The wishbone was provided by Longhorns Darrell Royal’s offensive coordinator Emory Bellard, who had the enviable task of juggling plenty of talent on the court, including Worster, who raced to 28 straight games from 100 yards in high school, and neither Still the fourth – the longest chain in the history of the state.
In the lineup, there were three linebackers with Worster, the linebacker, just behind the linebacker. Two backs running far back, on either side of the fullback, were positioned in a Y or wishbone shape. Royal acknowledged Worster’s capabilities when Michigan State coach Davi Dougherty called to ask for pointers about the new plan.
“You don’t want my delusion,” Royal said in a 1969 Sports Illustrated article. “You want my back, and you’ve spent another two years with me… He’s the kind of kid who just comes out and makes a wreck, straightens his hood and back to the pool quietly.”
Because freshmen were ineligible at the time, Worster didn’t start until 1968, when Longhorns ranked third in the country. They then went on a history tour over the next two seasons as Worster became a national star, including making the cover of Sports Illustrated with the caption, “Woo Woo Worster is on the rampage.”
The Longhorns went 30-2-1 and won Southwest Conference titles every season Worster started and finished with 2,353 yards and 36 touchdowns in his career, finishing second in Longhorns history at the time. He finished fourth at the 1970 Heisman by voting behind Jim Plunkett of Stanford, Joe Theismann of Notre Dame and Archie Manning of Ole Miss.
Worster is a member of the Texas Longhorn Hall of Fame, Texas High School Hall of Fame and Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame on the strength of his 1970 performance against Notre Dame when he ran for 155 yards in a 20-load in a 21-17 Texan win that decided the national title.
Worster was already a legendary star in high school prior to his arrival in Texas, running for 2,210 yards in his freshman year, including 249 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-7 win against a McKinney who had 10 lockouts in 13 games and only allowed 16. points all season. After Worcester became a college star, Bridge City residents were so proud that they finally voted to incorporate the city after failing twice before, according to former mayor, Kirk Rocaforte. Worster literally put his hometown on the map.
“There has never been a famous high school athlete who has achieved the level of hype in high school,” said fellow Texas Athletics Hall of Honor classmate Bill Zapalak, who was also in the class of 1967.
After the Texas, Worster lost interest in football despite being drafted in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Rams. He played one season in Canada, before returning to his homeland, because he said he grew up in “strong southeast Texas” and was only interested in making a decent living and raising a family.
“Football has given me everything I wanted to give me and everything I promised,” he told Beaumont Enterprise in 2010 when he was honored at Bridge City.
Worster is survived by his daughter Irene and son Scott.