Texas and football would not be synonymous without Darrell K Royal. The most successful coach in Longhorns history, Royal led the team to three national championships, pioneered the wishbone offense and never suffered a losing season. He died on Nov. 7 at age 88 after a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease. A remembrance from his finest recruit:
I had six brothers and four sisters, and my father died when I was in the fifth grade. My mother raised all of us in a three-bedroom house in Tyler, Texas. A lot of people thought it was a shack, but it was our home. We were proud of it. When I was in high school and Coach Royal first came to visit, my mother told him: "This is my house. It's not much, but it's the best I can afford." He said, "Ann, I'm from Oklahoma, and it's a hell of a lot better than where I grew up. Don't worry about a thing."
Back then schools were known for buying great black athletes, and I'd heard from so many of them that they were going to give me this and that. So when I met Coach Royal, I told him right away: "Hey, if you're here to buy another black athlete, I'm not for sale. My people have sold themselves long enough." He said, "Son, we need to sit down and talk." That was his way of telling me I was the kind of guy he was looking for.
He recruited me as a running back, but I wanted to play linebacker. Our defensive coordinator was Mike Campbell, and he used me a few times in practice, but that was as far as it went. Then, in 1974, we were getting ready to play Arkansas, and Coach Campbell asked if he could put me on the punt team. Coach Royal told me, "I'll let you do it, but just once." I blocked a punt that day.
I'm one of the only players who really got close to him. After practice once, he told us he had this friend who was going to be picking his guitar in the T-Room, where we went to hang out and shoot pool. I don't know why I went. How could you go from Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross to a man picking his guitar? But I went up there, and that man was Willie Nelson. I was the only black player who showed up. I think that started our relationship. It also started my love for country music.
When Coach Royal retired, I'd go over to his house, and it would be me and him with Willie and Merle Haggard. Coach Royal gave me my first set of golf clubs, and we played every day for 10 years at Barton Creek Country Club. We were the best of partners. I'd drive and he'd ride. You learn a lot about a person in a round of golf. He had such a great memory. I asked him once, "Coach, how do you remember all them people's names?" He said, "It's my business to remember."
The last time I saw him was a month ago. I picked him up at his house and took him to a bar in Austin called the Broken Spoke, where they play country. He had a great time. He took pictures with the waitresses. He had two Budweisers, and after the second one he said, "Earl, I'm ready to go."
I got the news last Wednesday from Rick Ingraham, my left guard, who came in with me. I was back in Tyler, in the house I built for my mom. It's on the same property where I grew up. I was in the bedroom getting up to start my day, and so many things crossed my mind. I lost my mom three years ago. Now I've lost a father figure, one of the best friends I've ever had in my life and the man who taught me how to be a man. He taught me that when you shake somebody's hand, you better look him in the eye.
On Saturday the Longhorns came out in that old wishbone, and I had to look at them real close. For a second, I thought, Hey, that's me at fullback.