March 5, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
Two nights...two celebrations...one theme.
On Tuesday night at a banquet in Austin, Longhorns football coach Mack Brown received the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award from the Dodd Foundation of Atlanta.
And then on Wednesday in Waco, two more Longhorns football players -- Bill Bradley and Steve Worster -- were inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Bradley and Worster were joined by the late Abe Lemons, a former Longhorn basketball coach, along with NFL star LaDanian Tomlinson, former Dallas Cowboy LeRoy Jordan, former Dallas Maverick Rolando Blackmon and soccer player Kyle Rote, Jr.
Brown had emphasized that the Bobby Dodd award was a "team award," and he included his football staff and the 2008 Longhorns in the event. Colt McCoy gave the invocation. Quan Cosby spoke about Mack and Sally Brown on behalf of the team, and the representatives of the Dodd Foundation painted a picture of life with Dodd, the legendary coach at Georgia Tech.
And the fact was, the similarities were striking between his program and that of the Brown era at Texas. Where Dodd graduated 90 percent of his players, the numbers for Longhorns who have played for Brown are now over 75 percent. As a testimony to that, former players from beyond the limit included in the NCAA statistics -- such as Cory Redding (who finished his eligibility in 2002) are regularly back on campus pursuing their degrees.
All of that we knew, and all of that was underscored on an evening that was a celebration about all that is good in college football.
The night also included a special irony. When Dodd was at the peak of his career at Georgia Tech, in 1956, Texas made a strong run to hire him as its head coach after Ed Price resigned at mid-season. Those who were in a position to know said that it might well have happened, had a story not broken prematurely in an Austin paper that he was the leading candidate, and likely to be the next Texas coach.
Dodd's integrity, and his love for his alma mater, caused him to remove his name from the Texas search, but he left the Longhorns a gift--he called and wrote his old friend D. X. Bible, the Texas athletics director, about a young coach in Washington named Darrell Royal. Years later, after Royal had returned the Longhorns program to excellence, he was asked to be part of a "blue ribbon" advisory committee to Tulane University.
There he met a young coach and athletics director who was just beginning his career. His name was Mack Brown. When Texas was looking for a coach in 1997, Royal was the first to strongly recommend Brown for the job.
That celebration of the full circle of family carried over to Wednesday at the Ferrell Center in Waco, where three people with Texas ties -- Bradley, Worster and Lemons -- were all inducted into the prestigious Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
Coach Royal, former coaches Fred Akers, David McWilliams, Emory Bellard and Russell Coffee, and HOF member herself Jody Conradt were a part of the crowd of almost 1,000 who attended the banquet.
Bradley, who played for the Longhorns from 1966 through 1968, had his own reunion of sorts. Not only had he played at Texas and many of his teammates from UT and Palestine High School were there to join him, he had coached at Baylor and at San Diego, where Tomlinson is playing.
Master of Ceremonies Brad Sham introduced the many members of the Hall of Fame who were there, and urged the crowd to look beyond the videos, to the images in their minds when each name was called. It worked. You could see James Street running the wishbone offense, and once again the stars of yesteryear made many in the crowd somehow feel young again.
Blackmon had flown 18 hours from an appearance in the Middle East to be there. Tomlinson, a Waco native, had come home. But it was Worster's poignant story that captured the crowd, and took it from the celebration of stars of games to the reality of life.
Speaking last, and dressed in a snappy new suit, he stood as the leader of that Wishbone offense that Street directed. He had been the most sought after high school player of his time, and he had been a two-time All-American at Texas.
The Hall of Fame had been thrilled to include in its memorabilia one of Steve's "tear away" jerseys, a relic from a time when the fabric was made to tear when somebody grabbed. They grabbed Worster a lot, but seldom stopped him as he ran like a raging bull from the fullback position in the new offense that changed college football for a quarter of a century.
The jersey is proudly displayed, but only by a twist of fate.
Worster stood as a reminder of the game, but even more as a testament to the reality of life. His hometown of Bridge City was devastated by Hurricane Ike last fall, and while Steve's two-story house survived, it was ravaged -- just like the rest of the town -- by the storm. Everything he owned was damaged or destroyed, but the jersey survived because it was in the trunk of his car.
Several weeks from now, he will move back into his house, which had to be stripped to the studs after five feet of water inundated the first floor, and winds hammered the upstairs.
He looked out over the audience, and saw dozens of former Longhorns who had come to celebrate both him and Bradley, who played together for the season of 1968 when Steve was a sophomore and Bill was a senior.
"I had nothing left, except for my son and his family, and they let me stay with them," he said. "But it was then that my teammates began to call. Guys I hadn't seen in 40 years came back into my life. You never know how much it all means until something like that happens."
So in the end, as it was in the beginning, the two days were about family. The power of team carries beyond the arena, as it did for Steve Worster, just when he needed it the most.
Jim Krivacs, who was an All-American for Abe Lemons when the Longhorns won the NIT Championship (in a time when the NCAA only took 32 teams), wrote a letter about Abe, and this piece of that message seems to fit particularly well right here: "By creating an unselfish attitude where each player understood his role, talents and abilities, Coach Lemons instilled the strong team concept."
And then came a bullet, just like those baskets he used to pour in:
"This team unity became our greatest strength."
You play games and you coach for many reasons. There are those who play to win, and those who play for themselves. You play to be the best, and you play to beat a mark. But those who are blessed the most are those who play for each other.
Because when the wins and losses are tallied and the ability of the gifted athlete has faded, all we will actually have is each other, just when you need it the most.