I was with my son-in-law, John Crabb, a huge Texas fan several years ago at a Longhorns’ home football game. Before kickoff, I gazed at the crowd of close to 90,000 or whatever the stadium size was then, and said to John: “You owe all this to Darrell Royal.”
That was probably only a slight exaggeration.
The greatest coach in UT history died November 7. He was a victim of Alzheimer’s. Darrell Royal was 88-years-old.
“His impact on the hundreds and hundreds of young men who played for him,” said former Arkansas head coach Frank Broyles, “is impossible to measure.” The two mentors were lifetime friends much more so than sideline adversaries.
Royal arrived in Austin in 1957, one year after the ‘Horns went 1-9. He changed that tally to 6-4-1, was 10-1 in 1961 with maybe his greatest squad, and won the national championship with an 11-0 record in 1963.
That ’63 season concluded with a 28-6 whipping of Roger Staubach and Navy in the Cotton Bowl. Duke Carlisle fired two long touchdown passes to Phil Harris in that win. Passing? On a Royal team?
“Every big ballgame we won, we won throwing,” DKR told me in 1998.
Yes, but what about when you said…?
“I was asked why we don’t throw more,” the coach continued, “and I flippantly said, ‘When you pass, three things can happen, and two are bad.’ I was playing with the press, but that’s the way I was quoted. They didn’t say I robbed a bank; they just said I was anti-pass, which I wasn’t.” But he didn’t argue.
And no one argued with him on December 6, 1969, when Texas faced a fourth-and-three from its 43 and trailing Arkansas (and Broyles), 14-8, in the fourth quarter. Both teams were unbeaten in this regular-season finale.
“I felt we had to gamble,” Royal recalled. “Randy Peschel had told me at halftime he thought he could get behind a defensive back. We had to throw a haymaker and hope it landed.”
Oh, did it ever! The throw of the century in Texas lore in the Game of the Century. James Street threw an absolutely perfect aerial, and Peschel, absolutely perfectly covered by two Razorbacks, caught the ball at the Arkansas 13.
Two plays later it was 15-14, and a Tom Campbell interception preserved the win.
“College football lost maybe its best ever,” Mack Brown declared, “and the world lost a great man.”
It was on to the Cotton Bowl after the Arkansas game in 1969 and a tremendous struggle with Notre Dame, playing in its first bowl in more than four decades.
“We were fourth-and-two at their 10,” Royal explained. The Irish led 17-14 with 2:26 to play. This was the second fourth down of the 76-yard drive.
“No, a field goal wouldn’t do,” Royal responded to the obvious question. “That would be a death knell.
“James Street rolled out for a sprint-out pass. Cotton Speyrer made a great leaping catch at the two. Billy Dale got the TD, and Campbell again made a game-saving interception.”
1969 was national championship number two, and the third one followed in ’70. The Longhorns, using the Wishbone offense constructed by assistant coach, the late Emory Bellard, claimed 30 consecutive games—early 1968 to the end of the regular season in ’70.
“I especially appreciate the fact,” Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops said, “coach Royal never had a losing season in 23 years as a head coach.”
OU is where DKR played in college in the mid-to-late-1940s. He was a fine quarterback for future foe Bud Wilkinson after growing up in Hollis, Oklahoma.
Two of the seasons Stoops mentioned I know well. My dad and I were big Mississippi State fans. I was born 19 miles from the campus. Royal’s first collegiate, head-coaching job was at State in 1954. He was 6-4 in ’54 and ’55. The Maroons, as they were called then, were a definite second-tier SEC team. I got to tell the coach I thought 6-4 was pretty good. He said: “I thought it was good, too.”
Marty Akins was a QB for Royal, 1973-75, and he had this memory. “We were playing in the 1975 Bluebonnet Bowl and losing to Colorado 21-7 at the half. The coach said to us in the locker room: ‘It’s all right if you want to embarrass yourselves, that’s okay, but you’re embarrassing your girlfriends and moms and dads. Is that what you want?’ He added a few more thoughts, and we went out and scored 24 points in the third quarter and won 38-21.”
That was Royal’s last bowl game. He beat Arkansas and Broyles—in both coaches’ last contest—29-12 in 1976.
At Texas, Darrell Royal won 167 games, 1957-‘76, most in school history. He retired and never coached again, but his time and record needed no postscript, no revised editions. The legacy of Coach Royal, Burnt into the gridiron fabric like those two decades of glorious autumn Saturdays, is secure.