Mack Brown said the evening was about good and the sports editor of the Austin American-Statesman dedicated a page usually reserved for controversy as a tribute to something positive.
As former coach and current ESPN commentator Bill Curry spoke to the 39 honorees at the 11th annual Greater Austin Chapter of the College Football Foundation's High School awards banquet, the past and the future formed an interesting blend for the present.
The chapter handed out $18,000 in scholarships and presented certificates to the top scholar-football player from each of 39 area high schools. The special guests included not only the player, but his parents and head football coach. Sponsors purchasing tables at $600 each also were able to reach out to principals and superintendents, as well as just plain folk who wanted to spend a special evening on something that was uplifting.
Curry, who coached at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky and played professionally for and with some of the real legends of the game, was the guest speaker. Weaving his memories of his time as a player with advice for the kids of today, Curry talked about a lot of things, but the lasting memory of the speech really boiled down to two points.
First, he talked about life in America today and the fact that difficult times are not only already with us but still lie ahead.
"The biggest issue in our country today is fear," Curry said.
The room got real quiet.
More than 400 people, with many of the 39 honorees growing up so fast that their sport jackets that were bought for Christmas barely fit, had stood as the program had started with a prayer and a solo National Anthem from one of the young graduates-to-be. Perhaps he had been the best example of Curry's fear factor. He really hadn't planned on it being a solo — he thought folks would sing along, but he made it through, all by himself.
The National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame is an organization that lives on the premise that football is not only a sport. It promotes something that creates the basis for a lot of things that are important in life. From the middle school kids who were praised by the two retiring former coaches who were honored with a Contribution to Amateur Football award to the moms and the dads, it was the second point from Curry that matters.
As Curry talked about playing for legends of the game such as Bobby Dodd, Vince Lombardi and Don Shula, and with guys like Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas and Paul Horning, it was his story of true pioneers of the game such as Willie Davis that really struck home.
For it was Davis, one of the great African-American stars in the early 1960s in the NFL, who helped Curry as a young guy from Alabama see that "team" spanned colors, religions and socio-economic status. At Green Bay, with Davis' help, he was part of the first Super Bowl Champion.
In the audience, along with Brown and his Associate AD for Football Operations Cleve Bryant (who was one of the first African-American head coaches in college football), were a special group of folks who related to Curry's nostalgia. Representing The University of Texas contingent who have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame were Hub Bechtol, a great end from the 1940s, Jim Saxton and Chris Gilbert, running backs from the '60s, and Jerry Sisemore, the latest inductee who played tackle in the '70s.
Then there was Darrell Royal. Over and over again, speakers referred to all that he had meant to the game of football. The people, young and old, stood and applauded, one more time. Royal and the late D.X. Bible are the Longhorns coaches who are in the Hall of Fame.
As Curry talked about "fear," you could see the wheels turning (and perhaps churning) inside the youngsters and their parents. There is that part of us that is uncertain about uncertainty. In fact, we are downright afraid of it. As the passage of high school student to graduate comes, as parents go from car-pooling to an empty nest, everyone in the room, in some form, felt fear.
I recall my son, Bobby, talking to Coach Royal after finishing his degree at Texas and he was struggling to find a job in a tough market several years ago.
"Coach," he said. "I'm afraid."
"Don't ever be afraid," came the reply. "Be concerned, but don't ever be afraid."
I have thought about that a lot since Bobby told me of the conversation and the point was simple. "Afraid" is a state, a place where we can't move. "Concerned" is an active verb, one where you can do something about it.
Curry talked about that when he spoke of the fear that permeates our lives today.
"As Americans, we will live WITH fear," he said. "That doesn't mean we have to live IN fear."
Davis taught Curry a lesson a long time ago. It had to do with fear and with team.
What he learned was that teams can do things individuals, by themselves, can't. What he knows about football is that it is the ultimate team game. On every play, the success or failure will depend on what each and every person does. In football, you win and lose as a team.
The scholar-football players honored Wednesday night understand that. As KTBC-TV's sports director Dave Cody read the accomplishments of the young men, we learned they will be going out to schools such as Texas, Harvard, the Naval Academy, Texas A&M, Trinity, the list went on and on. Just as it should for 39 different guys, all with different memories and dreams.
The foundation for their journey has been cast by supporting parents, coaches, teammates and a game that teaches far more than who scored a touchdown or made a tackle. Wednesday night was about taking lessons and turning them into life. It was about celebrating excellence and the things you believe in.
Most of all, it was about the future and how character, discipline, hard work, compassion can combine with togetherness to form a common bond that will make life better for us all.