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James Street, 65; quarterbacked Texas to national title

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson congratulated Mr. Sweet in 1970 after Texas defeated Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

Associated press/file

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson congratulated Mr. Sweet in 1970 after Texas defeated Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

AUSTIN, Texas — Small, tough, and determined, James Street was for nearly 30 years the standard of excellence that all Texas quarterbacks were measured by.

A backup who took over the Texas wishbone offense in 1968 and led the Longhorns to the 1969 national title, Mr. Street won 20 straight games, including the 15-14 victory over Arkansas dubbed by some the ‘‘Game of the Century’’ in 1969 followed by a season-capping win against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. Texas would not win another national title until Vince Young led the Longhorns to the 2005 season championship.

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Mr. Street died Monday at the age of 65, according to Serena Fitchard, a spokeswoman at the James Street Group financial and legal services company that bears his name. She said no other details were immediately available.

‘‘To be a quarterback who never lost a game, that never happens,’’ Texas coach Mack Brown said.

Mr. Street remained close to the Texas program and often spoke to Brown’s team with a recurring message of ‘‘regardless of how big you are, how fast you are, you can still compete and you can still win,’’ Brown said.

Mr. Street was also a baseball standout, posting a 29-8 record pitching for Texas that included a perfect game (1970 vs. Texas Tech) and no-hitter (1969 vs. SMU). He was on three Texas teams that advanced to the College World Series, and his son, San Diego Padres relief pitcher Huston Street, helped Texas win the CWS in 2002.

But it was football where James Street made his biggest mark in Texas lore, leading an offense that changed the college football landscape.

In 1968, Texas coach Darrell Royal introduced the wishbone, which features a fullback lined up behind the quarterback and a step in front of two other backs, to major college football. The innovation nearly flopped. After a tie and a loss in the first two games that season, a frustrated Royal inserted backup Mr. Street to take over.

‘‘Coach Royal grabbed me, and he looked for a minute as if he were having second thoughts about putting me in,’’’ Mr. Street said in 2012 when Royal died. “Then he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Hell, you can’t do any worse. Get in there.’ ”

In the 1969 game against Arkansas, the Razorbacks took a 14-0 lead in the third quarter. Mr. Street made it 14-8 with a 42-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion. On a fourth-and-3, Royal stunned Mr. Street by calling for ‘‘53 veer pass,’’ a play that had rarely worked all season.

Mr. Street told tight end Randy Peschel to get enough yards for a first down. ‘‘But if you can get behind him, run like hell,’’ Mr. Street said, and the pass connected for 44 yards to set up Jim Bertlesen’s winning touchdown.

To be national champions, Texas still had to win the Cotton Bowl, a game that whipped up a frenzy of its own. Notre Dame ended its self-imposed 44-year ban on bowl games to play the Longhorns.

Mr. Street, who was raised Catholic, called his mother to tell her who Texas was going to play.

‘‘When I said Notre Dame, there was complete silence,’’ Mr. Street said. ‘‘I said: ‘Mom, this is your son. You’re pulling for us.’ ’’

Texas trailed by three points late in the fourth quarter when Mr. Street led the winning drive that converted two fourth downs before Billy Dale’s final touchdown won it 21-17.

Mr. Street went on to a career in finance and structured settlements, founding a firm in Austin that focuses on working with plaintiffs in legal disputes.

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