In 1956, Rene “The Galloping Gaucho” Ramirez, a Mexican-American, who was valedictorian from his high school in the tiny south Texas town of Hebbronville — population of around 5,000 today– enrolled at the University of Texas. That year, the Longhorn footbal team, made a coaching switch after ending a season with a dismal 1-9 record.
A year later, as a sophomore receiver for UT, Ramirez was instrumental in turning the team around and the Horns ended the 1958 season with a 7-3 record; Ramirez scored three touchdowns in the season finale — a 27-0 win over bitter in-state rival Texas A&M. In 1959, the Galloping Gaucho was first team All-Southwest Conference and the Longhorns not only finished the regular season 9-1, they were ranked fourth in the nation and played Syracuse in the 1960 Cotton Bowl.
On Friday, Ramirez, now in his 70s, is among four former football players and eight other individuals to be inducted into the UT Men’s Athletics Hall of Honor.
“It was very rare to have a Mexican-American on the team back then,” says David McWilliams, director of the Longhorn Association which organizes the Hall of Honor. “To my knowledge he was the only one at the time.”
McWilliams explains this is one of the reasons Ramirez was chosen for the honor.
“We look for people out 40 years or more and overlooked for some reason,” says McWilliams. “He was very instrumental in getting the team to start winning, and he was a tremendous athlete with a lot of speed.”
McWilliams says Ramirez’ speed is what got him his nickname.
“I think some sportswriter put that name on him, because he could run, and it stuck,” he says.
Ramirez’ career after football included having a successful insurance business in Austin and in the Rio Grande Valley, and even opening a barbecue restaurant.
“We’re proud to have him in the Hall of Honor,” says McWilliams. “Now you find more Mexican-Americans playing — Texas has Espinosa on the team now — not only at UT, but in the state of Texas and across the nation.”