The fingers are crooked now because arthritis has taken its toll. The voice is still resolute, even if the years have reduced some of the volume. Could it really have been 26 years since he talked to his last freshman class and 45 since he addressed his first?
As Darrell Royal stood surrounded by the newest Texas Longhorns, time, in that moment, stood still and the young men listened as they tightened the circle around him to get closer to his words.
His first order of business was to talk about team — about the fraternity of UT football. Then he talked about protecting the honor of that team. His ongoing theme was about reputation and its value — now and in life after football.
Reputation runs deep as a creed for the former Longhorns head coach whose team won three National Championships and 11 conference championships in his 20 years at Texas. Royal comes from an era far beyond the age of the Internet and the video games. He is of the land and of a time when all a man had was his reputation. When you had nothing but the clothes on your back and the best square meal your grandmother could manage, the only thing anybody could take away from you was your reputation. That is part of Royal's fiber and it is part of his soul.
He told them about how important it was for each player to uphold their own reputation, lest it reflect on the team. He spoke on their level, about knowing what was right and wrong and acting accordingly.
Then, he told them the story of "Hook'em 'Horns," and how a cheerleader named Harley Clark (who went on to become a judge) tried to find something to help promote spirit and with his hands raised and the two middle fingers pulled down, he formed a steer head. That's how one man started a tradition that is unique in all of college football.
Royal's steel blue eyes glistened in the evening sun as he told them the final story, about how a group of students almost 100 years ago created a parody on a saying of University President Lambdin Prather.
Prather used to finish his speeches with the words, "And remember, 'The Eyes of Texas' are upon you." The song stuck, and after Prather passed away in 1905, the song became the school's alma mater. As Royal talked to the freshmen, it wasn't about the song, it was about the words.
In everything you do, good or bad, he said, "The Eyes of Texas" are, in fact upon you. They are always watching. In the right places and the wrong places, they see you. Do something well, they see it. Do something poorly, they notice.
As Royal spoke, there was pride but not pressure in his message. What he told the freshmen was that they had entered a world of college football like none other. Visibility is high and so are the rewards.
Most of all, he told them how proud he was going to be to watch them play, to watch them grow, to watch them get an education and graduate and go out and make a difference in the world.
When he finished, head coach Mack Brown asked all of the young freshmen to come and meet him and with each who had time before Royal left, he took a moment to link the names he had heard before with the faces and the uniforms. It was then that the youngsters learned a really important thing about Coach Royal.
When you meet him, he will absolutely lock on to you with those eyes. As generations of Longhorns football players have learned, those "Eyes" are caring, concerned and proud. Proud of what has been and even prouder of those who have come to carry it on.