The Longhorn players thought their coach was kidding, but on further review, even the meteorologists marveled. As an ominous forecast for heavy rains and dangerous lightning came on Thursday afternoon, head coach Mack Brown told his team, "I've asked Coach Royal to talk to God and he'll get the weather moved north of us in time for the spring game."
Marc Pittman arrived at the stadium with his family to see their son, Chase, play his first spring game and with treasured memories of his late son Cole. When he stepped out of his vehicle, it was raining and he asked, "Cole, what's going on?"
Ten minutes later, the sun came out and so did a record crowd of 34,500 people to see Texas bring its spring drills to a wonderful conclusion. Signees — next year's Longhorns freshmen — came from all over the state, as did recruits who may be Longhorns of the future. Nobody got hurt and there were some exciting and great plays.
Then, folks waited in long lines to get the signatures of Texas players and coaches. The only thing that could have made it a better day would be a formula that would allow more than 100 guys to sign autographs for thousands of Longhorn faithful more quickly. However, you can count on the fact that Brown will be working on that, too.
In his five years, he has transformed the typical spring game into a true happening. John Mackovic, to his credit, tried to make his players and coaches accessible with a Pancake Breakfast before the spring game and gave the money raised to a campus activity that needed it. That event generated interest, but Brown has transformed the day into a festival and turned the weekend into a happening. It all began on Friday morning with a golf tournament that began a gathering of former Longhorns letterwinners.
You could make the case that this weekend's Texas football letterman's reunion was the greatest collection of Longhorns talent ever assembled at one time. More than 500 lettermen — from Wally Scott in the early 1940s to Matthew Anderson, who just finished his career in the Culligan Holiday Bowl — came back for a weekend of memories and a look at the legacy they have created.
Webster's dictionary says legacy means "something that has come from an ancestor or predecessor or the past."
When Brown came to Texas one of his primary objectives was to bring the Longhorns family back together. He did it with the fans, where he brought Burnt Orange into style, but what he has done for those who played the game here has brought something very special.
They say "it is a young fool who cannot cry and it is the old fool who cannot laugh." The events of Saturday had all of them laughing and crying.
In his first year at Texas, Brown envisioned a weekend reunion built around the spring football game. What has evolved is the Mike Campbell Letterman's Golf Tournament for the former players and coaches, a dinner for those alums and their families and a lunch prior to the spring game on Saturday afternoon. Joe and Lee Jamail opened their hearts and pocket books to fund the event. Each year, more and more lettermen have returned, and this year, the turnout reached an all-time high once again.
Almost 250 guys played golf in two shifts, taking both the morning and afternoon at the Circle C Golf Course, with burgers and grilled chicken sandwiched in between the flights. A dinner that night served more than 400, and the Saturday lunch, before the rains came, had reservations for more than 500. There were no prizes, no declared winners, just a day of reminiscences of an earlier time.
In one corner there was Tommy Nobis talking with Phil Harris, who caught two touchdown passes to beat Navy in 1963, the year of the Longhorns' first national championship. Tom Stockton, the fullback who recovered an Aggies fumble to keep alive the drive that saved that national title, was there along with Pat Culpepper and Johnny Treadwell, who had the legendary fumble-causing hit against Arkansas in 1962.
Steve Worster, Billy Dale, Ted Koy, Bob McKay and the Campbell twins were just a few of the players from the 1969 and '70 National Championship teams who were there. Jerry Sisemore, Roosevelt Leaks, Marty Akins and Doug English could have swapped stories from their time at Texas.
Current NFL Longhorns Dan Neil and Phil Dawson, both young fathers with family and future on their minds, chatted up the ever-changing world of professional football. Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray talked of everything from memories to personnel and visited at length with UT defensive coordinator Carl Reese about defensive tactics.
Byron Townsend from 1950, Bobby Gurwitz from 1959, Monte Lee from 1960, James Saxton from 1961, Chris Gilbert from 1968, Randy McEachern, Brad Shearer, Robin Sendlein and Rick Ingraham from 1977, Stephen Braggs and Rob Moerschell from 1983, Dusty Renfro from 1998 … the list could on and on.
Coaches included Darrell Royal, Fred Akers, David McWilliams, and of course, Mack Brown. Every living person who served at the UT helm except for Mackovic who is busy coaching in Arizona, was there. The assistants who came back included T. Jones, who was also a great Longhorns player, Spike Dykes, R. M. Patterson and Willie Zapalac.
The problem with quick lists will be the people I leave out, but this at least gives you an idea of what this reunion was all about. It was not about the stars, even though they were there. It was about the gathering of kindred souls who celebrated their time together and learned about the future of Longhorns football.
Saturday afternoon, the fans saw the same thing. The day that had begun in gloom ended in brilliant sunshine, with a soft breeze signaling spring in Austin as only Texas' capital city can experience. It was a great day — past, present and future — to be a Longhorn.