EL PASO, Texas - El Pasoans who watched Wisconsin beat Western Michigan Monday in the 81st Annual Cotton Bowl game in Dallas may not realize the Borderland has a living connection to the classic bowl game.
85-year-old Laredo native, Richard Ochoa, who has made El paso his home for the past 50 years, was MVP for Texas in the 17th edition of the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day 1953.
"It was quite an honor to be in the Cotton Bowl and representing Texas," Ochoa told ABC-7.
Before Ricky Williams, Priest Holmes and Earl Campbell, Ochoa was the running back at Texas. The retired pharmaceutical rep, who lives in East El Paso with wife Marilyn, finished his career with an MVP performance 64 years ago in the Cotton Bowl, helping the Longhorns avenge an earlier loss to Tennessee with a 16-0 shutout of the powerful Volunteers.
"There I am, see? right here," Ochoa said as he looked at YouTube video of the '53 Cotton Bowl, found by ABC-7, marking the first time the former Texas tri-captain had seen video of the game in 50 years.
Ochoa led a Split-T attack that was All-Southwest Conference in 1952. The humble Ochoa would run 26 times for 108 yards, earning a Cotton Bowl game ball that still sits in the living room of his home.
"Getting the ball that many times was a real privilege," he said, "because normally the Split T fullback was a blocking back."
Ochoa, only the second Hispanic to ever play for Texas in the early 1950's, not only eclipsed a hundred yards, he threw a key block to spring a Cotton Bowl touchdown run.
"Occasionally they'd tease me a little bit," Ochoa said of being Hispanic. "Some of the guys from the redneck country, Lubbock, Amarillo, back in there, would say, 'Hey Mex, you walk in the back!'"
And there was the Texas Exes party on the lake, thrown by a judge to celebrate the Cotton Bowl victory, to which the entire team was invited, except Ochoa.
"They had a list of the players and when I got up there they asked me what's my name," Ochoa said. "Richard Ochoa. He said, 'What? Richard Ochoa. I'm sorry Mr. Ochoa you're not on the list you can't go in.' I told my roommate, Gib Dawson, to go ahead and go in, 'I'll walk back to the dorm.'"
The fact he is Mexican didn't bother beautiful Marilyn Hampton of Dallas, who would marry the attractive Ochoa shortly after the Cotton Bowl victory.
"My parents never taught me to be prejudiced," Marilyn Ochoa told ABC-7. "I said, 'I want to know who that guy is over there' and they said, 'That's Richard Ochoa, he's a football player.' And I said, 'Well I want to meet him.'"
Ochoa, inducted into the Texas Hall of Honor in 2000 and the National Hispanic Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, downplays his football accomplishments.
"It really was a pleasure and an honor to be at Texas and to letter and to play and to get an education," he said.
Meanwhile, his wife, who taught elementary students for 40 years in the El Paso Independent School District, continues to be his biggest fan. "He really was (quite a player)," she said. "I was very impressed."
As much as this is the story of a football star, it's even more of a love story! "She waited for me after every game and many times I was bummed up and bruised and not feeling too good," Ochoa said of his wife of 64 years.
"She'd say, 'Well, you did good. Let's go!'"
"I really liked it when he carried the ball because he looked so good," she said. "A friend of mine said, 'I knew you were marrying a great guy, but I couldn't believe I was going to have to hear Ochoa that many times.'"
64 wonderful years and counting.