The gentle breeze stirred the few surrounding trees and the little brass band brought a memory of Dixieland to the festivities, as the phantoms of the plaza in front of the historic Cotton Bowl stadium paused to honor heroes.
In the distance, school kids looked in wonder at the now-vacant grounds of the State Fair of Texas. Only a worker on the giant tower far to the south of the assemblage served as a distraction to history.
The SBC Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame was busy inducting its fifth class on Tuesday, and for the fifth consecutive year, the ceremony included a Texas Longhorn. Darrell Royal was in the first class, along with Bobby Layne. James Street went in the next year, followed by Duke Carlisle in 2001 and Scott Appleton and Cotton Speyrer in 2002.
It was a basically serene morning, but as Master of Ceremonies Brad Sham elevated the level of his voice for the introduction of the final honoree, it wasn't hard to take a mind trip, up the main stairs and into the stadium, into the roar of the crowd.
Suddenly, the man in the snappy suit was young again. As they handed him his trophy, it was time to remember.
The year was 1967 and Royal had just completed the most successful recruiting haul in Southwest Conference history. The linchpin of the group was a powerful running back from Bridge City named Steve Worster and the recruiting class would forever be known as "The Worster Crowd."
Now, as he stepped to the microphone, Worster was back at the site of some of his greatest moments and some of the most significant moments in not only Texas football history, but the history of college football.
It was in the Cotton Bowl in 1968 that Worster burst up the middle on a draw play in the final minute of play for a touchdown that beat Oklahoma, 26-20. It was a game that solidified Royal's new-fangled offense called "the wishbone." It also was the second — and most significant early victory — in the 30-game winning streak that would end in a loss to Notre Dame in the 1971 Cotton Bowl.
In between, however, Worster became the most feared running back of his time. Running at fullback in the wishbone, he thundered to All-America honors in 1969 and '70 and was a three-time All-SWC selection.
To climax his sophomore season in 1968, he returned to Dallas and helped UT beat a good Tennessee team, 36-13, in the 1969 Classic. He averaged 8.5 yards on 10 carries and scored one touchdown before he coming out after the game was out of hand.
One year later, as the Longhorns powered to an unbeaten season and the first of back-to-back National Championships, Worster and his "crowd" bulled to two regular season wins in the stadium. The first was against Oklahoma and second was a record-setting victory against SMU in which he, halfbacks Ted Koy and Jim Bertelsen and quarterback James Street all rushed for more than 100 yards as the UT running game set a then-NCAA record with 611 rushing yards.
However, the game for the ages was the 1970 Cotton Bowl. Notre Dame, the most famous name in college football, agreed to play in a postseason bowl game for the first time in 45 years.
The historic match-up followed Texas' 15-14 victory at Arkansas that had clinched a National Championship, but the first meeting between the two college football titans since the early 1950s still ranks as the most famous game in the history of what is now the SBC Cotton Bowl Classic.
On that stage, in the arena he visited on Tuesday, Worster pounded the Fighting Irish defense for 155 yards on 20 carries as the Longhorns came from behind to win, 21-17.
As the next season stretched the winning streak to 30 games, it also took its toll on Worster. Battered and bruised, he played his final game in the stadium in a 24-11 Notre Dame victory that ended a winning streak that stood from 1957 until last season as the longest in modern NCAA Division I-A history.
Joe Theismann, who was the Notre Dame quarterback in both games, joined Worster, Mississippi's Eagle Day, Georgia's Kent Lawrence, and three deceased legends — Dallas businessman Robert B. Cullum, LSU head coach Charlie McClendon and SMU star Kyle Rote — as the 2003 inductees.
While there was some good-natured ribbing between Theismann and Worster, the former Notre Dame quarterback spoke in total admiration of him.
"He was a true warrior," Theismann said. "I remember after our last game, we flew together to an all-star game. He had tape on his nose, was limping from injuries and his whole body was sore. I remember thinking, 'I wouldn't want to be him.'"
But while Theismann remembered the battered and beaten Worster, he also recalled the famous 1970 game.
"I came to admire him then as a courageous warrior and what he did that day should be legendary because I know how good that Notre Dame defense was," he said.
After Theismann's eloquent speech, Worster stepped to the stage, and humbly replied, "Geez, Joe, you expect me to follow that?"
Then he thanked his family and the crowd and sat down. As was his custom. He never was much for long speeches.
The legacy that he left was in the stadium behind him on the green grass of the field on which he had run.
There would be a lot of "might have beens" in Steve's pathway to that stage on the Plaza on Tuesday. His battered body didn't recover in time for his first crack at the NFL and ended his football career perhaps too soon.
As he hugged his kids and was surrounded by a number of friends, former teammates and his head coach on Tuesday, Worster was not to be mourned as a person of missed opportunity. He seems comfortable with the hand he was dealt, and in a world where people and not things will ultimately matter, he seems rich indeed.
It is impossible to compare players and it serves us all well to leave each in his proper place in his era. In his time, Worster was the best. Theismann was right. He was a warrior, a raging bull of a runner. As he took his place with the greats of the Cotton Bowl, it was a good thing.