Oct. 10, 2008
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
There is a great chance not many of you will remember a singing group known as, "The Four Lads," although a few will recall their nostalgic song "Moments to Remember."
But somehow, as the Texas-Oklahoma game approaches in Dallas, the haunting phrasing of "The New Year's Eve we did the town...the day we tore the goal posts down..." filters back through a lot of memories and a lot of years.
Darrell Royal sat at Longhorn football practice on Wednesday, and he remembered.
Sixty-two years ago, a young freshman from Hollis, Okla., fresh from World War II, made his first appearance in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas as a player for the Oklahoma Sooners. Twelve years later, in 1958, he would coach the rival Texas Longhorns to victory over a Big Red team which had been the scourge of college football, posting a 47-game winning streak, which had been ended just a year before.
Texas had not defeated the Sooners for six straight years. It was a streak typical of the series. In the early 2000s, Oklahoma won five straight over Texas. Now, the Longhorns enter the game having won two of the last three.
But 50 years ago, Royal was a young coach in his second season at Texas. Bud Wilkinson, his old coach, was the dominant figure in college football. In his first season at Texas in 1957, Royal's Longhorns had put up a fight, losing 21-7 to the Sooner juggernaut.
As the game in 1958 approached, Royal had shown the fire of a young coach determined to change the landscape.
"The only way anybody's going to beat Oklahoma is go out there and whip `em, jaw to jaw," he had said. "I think we can win. I'm not saying we will win, though. I believe our players actually think they can. A lot of them don't give a flip for Oklahoma."
And then he added: "Texas has to develop a football tradition. It had one once but lost it. When we get one, maybe we can stop that blood-letting up at Dallas and turn it into a good show."
The season of 1958 was the first year that college football employed the two-point conversion after touchdowns, and Royal was one of a number of purists of the college game who distained the change in the rule.
But when Texas scored first in the game against the Sooners, Royal surprised everybody by going for two.
"We ran a straight handoff," Royal said of the play. "The way they aligned their defense, I knew that their tackle and end could not get there fast enough to stop the play. If our guard could block their linebacker, it was a walk-in."
So Texas gave the ball to fullback Don Allen, and guard H. G. Anderson went after the linebacker.
"I was really relieved when I saw their formation," Royal said.
His offensive line coach, Jim Pittman, summed up the play this way: "H. G. just stuck his hat in the Oklahoma player's belly so that only the ear flaps were showing."
Royal, as he would do in a famous game in Fayetteville, Ark., 11 years later, made the decision to go for two points the day before the game.
"We decided on Friday to try for the two points if we scored first. We felt in this ball game one touchdown wouldn't hold up, and we were shooting for the win," he said. The play worked, and Texas led, 8-0.
When Oklahoma scored its first touchdown, the Sooners failed on a two-point try, leaving the Longhorns ahead, 8-6. Following a second score, Oklahoma made the two points, putting them ahead, 14-8.
But in the waning minutes of the game, Texas scored again, and kicked the extra point, going on to win, 15-14.
The day was October 11, 1958 - exactly 50 years ago Saturday.
The victory was significant historically for two reasons. First, it was the first game in NCAA history to be decided by a two-point conversion. Second, it started a Texas streak where Royal would win 12-of-13 games against his old school.
None, however, were more important than the meeting 45 years ago in 1963, when the No. 1-ranked Oklahoma Sooners met the No. 2-ranked Longhorns.
For two years Texas had flirted with the prospect of its first National Championship in college football. The 1961 team had carried its hopes all the way to the next-to-last game of the season when TCU upset the Horns, 6-0. In 1962, a 14-14 tie with Rice had again knocked a No. 1 Longhorn team from the ranks of the unbeaten and untied.
Now, in 1963, it appeared that Wilkinson, Royal's old coach, had once again assembled a powerhouse. The Sooners had crushed Southern Cal, and entered the game with an all-American tackle in Ralph Neely and a Heisman Trophy candidate running back named Joe Don Looney.
Texas, in a sense, was reeling a bit coming into the game. Ernie Koy, a powerful running back and the team's outstanding punter, was lost to a staph infection.
The confident Sooners dominated the pre-game hype.
Looney, speaking of Longhorn all-American tackle Scott Appleton, said, "Appleton's tough, but he ain't met the Big Red yet." Neeley, a 245 pounder, told UT center David McWilliams (who weighed in at 188) "What are you doing out here kid. You're too little. You're gonna get hurt."
The night before in the Cotton Bowl, No. 3 Navy had played SMU, so all of the national media was on hand for the Saturday showdown.
It did not go well for Oklahoma.
With quarterback Duke Carlisle directing the Texas winged T offense to perfection and Appleton and sophomore Tommy Nobis leading the defense, Texas decisively whipped the Sooners, 28-7. Looney gained a net four yards, and by the end of the next week had been dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons.
Texas would go on to win that first National Championship, finishing the season with a 28-6 victory over Roger Staubach and Navy (which had lost to SMU that night in October) in the Cotton Bowl game.
All of those things Royal remembered as he looked out at Mack Brown's young football team on Wednesday. In their eyes, he could see the hopes and the dreams of teams past. In the fire of the coaching staff, he was reminded of another time, and another place.
Most of all, however, there was one burning image Royal recalled.
Of all of the grand and not-so-grand moments he had experienced in the stadium, of all of the historic pieces of college football in which he was involved, Royal remembered something else of that day in Dallas.
Texas was decidedly No. 1 now, and they headed to Love Field to fly back to a hero's welcome in Austin.
Oklahoma was waiting for its plane, too.
And sitting on a tow tractor, all alone, was Royal's old coach, Bud Wilkinson.
"I remember thinking," Royal said Wednesday, "that there was the man who had been like a father to me, and the man from who I had learned everything I had ever known about the game of football. And there he was, slumped in the tractor, with his head in his hands."
In fact, it was over for one of college football's giants. Bud Wilkinson resigned after that season, choosing to run an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate. He would retain a connection to the game as a TV analyst, but would never coach college football again.
When the Longhorns won the BCS National Championship in 2005, Mack Brown and DeLoss Dodds were given permission by the Football Coaches Association to purchase identical crystal ball trophies honoring Royal's national championships from 1963, 1969 and 1970. They reside today in the trophy room of the Moncrief-Neuhaus complex at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
It would be easy for Royal to be exceedingly proud of that 1963 championship - the one that broke the long drought for the Longhorns, and for The University of Texas, and his staff and players, he certainly is.
But the burning memory of his mentor slumped over the steering wheel of that tow tractor remains - a reminder that this is a game that brings both joy and sadness. And if you ever quit thinking about the people who play it, and those who coach it, you have forgotten what it truly is all about.