The twilight had been spectacular and the massive steaks had given way to a little fishing, swimming, tennis and ranch-road touring. As the Longhorns football team gathered on the tennis court, a cool Hill Country breeze gently moved the cow bells in the distance.
The team was 45 miles removed from the 6,000 people who waited for four hours for autographs at Fan Appreciation Day, but as Mack Brown spoke, his players had a chance to understand the spirit of being part of The University of Texas.
"Nobody else in America is sitting on a ranch this nice tonight," Brown said, as he reflected on the RM Ranch owned by their hosts, Red and Charlene McCombs. "We had a great day with our fans at the stadium, and tonight, we are really blessed to have friends like this. Here's a guy who just gave $50 million to our business school, who owns the Minnesota Vikings and has invited us here."
McCombs had gone out of his way to make the late afternoon and evening visit special for the Longhorns players. He personally prepared the 200 or so steaks (some guys actually ate two) with his secret seasoning recipe and hired Rudy's Barbecue to cater chicken and the side dishes.
The 4,000-acre ranch is filled partly with Texas longhorn cattle. Half of the ranch, however, is dedicated to exotic animals from giraffes to gazelles. McCombs also raises animals for some of the nation's leading zoos.
When McCombs spoke, he talked of the value of an education from The University of Texas and he talked about all that the football team had done for its school.
"You should be proud of what you have done," McCombs said. "You have brought football back to where it belongs, at the top. In doing so, you have brought the whole university along with you. Your accomplishments echo throughout the whole university and that is positive."
McCombs talked about the thousands of people who are behind the team and he used the perfect night on the prairie as an example.
"Look at that beautiful moon," he said. "Understand that once this whole nation pulled together to put a man on it. Only a few could really go there, but there were all kinds of people working and believing it could happen."
He talked about words like commitment and focus and pointed out that every single play is an opportunity.
It would have been easy, between the reflection of success from the land and the fishing holes and the rare animals and the well-done steaks, to miss the story of McCombs.
McCombs wasn't always rich, at least not with worldly possessions.
From life as an auto mechanic's son on the wind-swept plains of West Texas, he has risen to become one of America's most successful businessmen, with varied interests in auto dealerships, oil, ranching, communications and professional sports.
Born Billy Joe "Red" McCombs in 1927 in Spur, Texas, his passion for sports took him at 17-years old on a hitch-hiking tour of schools of the old Southwest Conference as he tried to find a place to play football, the game he loved.
When that didn't work, the young man played junior college ball at Corpus Christi Junior College, and after a stint as a student at The University of Texas, he took his talents to a smaller university, Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where he finally realized his dream of playing on a college team.
Beginning his business career as a used-car dealer in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1950, McCombs bought his first new car dealership in San Antonio in 1958 at the age of 29. From there, he built an auto dealership empire which is the largest in Texas, and the sixth largest in the country, with nearly 40 franchises in more than 25 locations.
He parlayed his first dollars into a parallel career as a breeder of registered cattle and is co-founder of Clear Channel Communications, co-founder of Forney-McCombs Oil and now, as head of McCombs Enterprises, he also is active in a variety of other business activities.
In 1998, the man who as a young car salesman once splurged $5,000 to buy a minor league baseball team, spent nearly $200 million to become the owner of the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL. The former owner of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets who, as a collegian, struggled to make a team, had bought his own.
Along with his wife, Charlene, McCombs has contributed millions to the two universities he attended, Texas and Southwestern. His recent gifts include $3 million to The University of Texas to build the Red and Charlene McCombs Softball Complex for UT women, and $5 million to Southwestern as part of the university's $75 million capital campaign.
Their center for charitable contributionsthe McCombs Foundation contributes up to $8 million each year to more than 400 charities, colleges and universities across Texas.
In the late 1990s, McCombs — who studied business and law at The University of Texas at Austin 50 years before — donated $50 million to UT's internationally renown business school, which then became the Red McCombs School of Business.
Athletics, and the competition it nurtures, have been major factors in McComb's adult life.
As a used car salesman in 1950, he was selling 35 cars a month when his fellow workers were averaging 10. Today, McCombs still maintains an office in his flagship dealership in San Antonio.
"I wake up each day and work on my offense, keeping an eye open for opportunities and acting on them," he said. "Offense is fun. I don't like playing defense, just concentrating on problems that try to drag you down."
Once, in a session with the senior athletics staff at The University of Texas, McCombs, who is an ardent supporter of Longhorns sports programs, summed up the secret of his success thusly — "make decisions, take chances." Today, McCombs figures he spends about 35 percent of his time working on opportunities, about 35 percent on existing operations and 30 percent on community interests.
In San Antonio, he was instrumental in founding the Texas Research Park, in helping create Sea World of Texas and launching the campaign to build the 60,000-seat Alamodome. He also has been dedicated to education at all levels, from his participation with the universities to funding programs that aid students K-12 and a prison halfway house to help released inmates. In 1977, McCombs, then 50, clung to life in a Houston hospital, with non-functioning kidneys and liver. Close to death, some hospital personnel had all but written him off, but he survived due to what he calls "a miracle."
"God willed me to recovery," McCombs said in a recent article. "He told me there was more to do on this earth."
That "extra life" has been one of giving for Red MeCombs. For a comparison to a familiar figure associated with the old West, he's a real-life John Wayne. He is a big, fair man with a big heart.
On Sunday night, at his comfortable ranch home, he opened his arms to a group of young men who hold a special place in that heart.