Mack Brown and the players were pointing to the sky on the morning of a day of mourning, that turned into a day of celebration.
Nov. 11, 2012
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
Bobby Lackey, who was the quarterback on Darrell Royal's first Southwest Conference Championship team, was touched when he heard the 2012 Longhorns were going to honor the late coach by lining up in the Wishbone formation on offense.
Lackey, who played before the Wishbone days (1957-59), remembers the time when he decided to run a quarterback "bootleg" and scored a touchdown on the play. After the game, Royal asked him to come to his office the next day.
"That was a good play," Darrell had said. "But don't do that again...it is not in our playbook."
Soon, however, Lackey said the play was incorporated into the Longhorns' regular attack.
When the Wishbone offense was getting started in 1968, the Longhorns had a critical home game with SMU in their seventh game of the year. The traditional formation had rolled the Longhorns to four straight victories after Texas had started the year with a tie and a loss.
SMU, coached by Hayden Fry, had the nation's top passer in Chuck Hixson, and were locked in a four-team race for the SWC championship with UT. The game had all the implications of a showdown. That is why, on Thursday after practice, Royal sent running back Chris Gilbert into the locker room to get split end Cotton Speyrer and members of the backfield to come back to the practice field. There, at the end of what was usually just a day of tune-ups, they put in a play called "Sam Reverse."
Never before had Texas done anything out of the Wishbone except runs and an occasional pass. But "Sam" stood for "split end" in the Texas terminology, and that meant Speyrer was going to be involved in something very different.
They practiced the play late that afternoon and worked on it (after the stadium was cleared) on Friday. When Saturday afternoon came, Texas had a 7-0 lead and the ball at its own 18. Reserve running back Billy Dale brought in the play. Quarterback James Street said "I never mess with that one" (meaning a directive from Royal himself), and they snapped the ball and looked to be running the triple option to the right. Speyrer came streaking across - just as you might see a Longhorn on a speed sweep today - took the pitch and ran 81 yards to the one before he was tackled. Texas scored and went on to win, 38-7, eventually claiming the SWC title and winning the 1969 Cotton Bowl game over Tennessee.
It was a stark contrast to Royal's image of relying on a basic attack, and it made him the talk of the football nation. And after the game, he said this: "I was surprised so many people were surprised we ran it."
So there you have it. Of all of the things you should remember about him, know that Darrell Royal was always an innovator, who was always searching for new and better ways to win. Somewhere far beyond the skies, Darrell Royal had his feet propped up, was likely sipping a cold beverage and smiling when the entire football world looked in to see Texas in the Wishbone formation for the first time in almost 40 years. And when current quarterback David Ash flipped to wide receiver Jaxon Shipley who threw it back to Ash who passed downfield to tight end Greg Daniels, James Street stood at the front of his suite and watched. He had already told fellow viewers he might not run from the formation when the Longhorns found themselves backed up to the five yard line. Mack Brown and Bryan Harsin and the offensive staff had had the same thought. But the Longhorn players had practiced all week for this moment, so the coaches decided to go ahead and run the play.
"I watched in silence," said Street. "And when the play was over, I said my little prayer to coach. He would have really liked that call. It could not have been a better day."
On the field, Mack Brown and the players were pointing to the sky on the morning of a day of mourning that turned with the sun and skies into a day of celebration - not only of Royal's life and the tribute paid to all U.S. Military veterans, but for a growing group of young players who have become the hottest team in the Big 12 Conference.
The irony of the final score, 33-7, was not lost on long-time Longhorns. In 1961, when Royal had what he always said was his best offensive team, three of their ten victories were accomplished by scores that were within a point of the exact same score that flashed as the game ended on Saturday.
Royal, who was always quick to defer credit to his players, would be the first in line to deflect praise for him and his legacy toward the outstanding on-the-field performance of the 2012 Longhorns, who extended their record to four straight wins and an 8-2 mark with two regular season games to play. Ash was superb, hitting 25 of 31 passes for 364 yards and two TDs. Shipley caught eight passes for 137 yards, and Mike Davis had a 61-yard TD catch and 113 yards on seven receptions. The run game of which Royal would have been so proud pounded out 222 yards, led by Joe Bergeron with 86 yards on 12 carries and Johnathan Gray with 74 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns.
The defense was outstanding throughout the game, but stiffened even more in the second half, allowing only 18 plays that netted 64 yards after intermission. In all, the Longhorns kept the ball for almost two thirds of the game on offense - a little over 38 minutes compared with a little less than 22 for the Cyclones. Iowa State had the ball for only a bit over six minutes of the final 30 minutes of the game.
Ash, and fellow quarterback Case McCoy, who was perfect with his only pass in the game's final drive which ate up six and a half minutes to close out the `Horns scoring, threw for a collective 26 of 32 for 387 yards, putting Texas over 600 yards in total offense for the game compared with just 277 for ISU. Defensive end Alex Okafor led the team in tackles with nine, followed by linebackers Steve Edmond and Peter Jinkens and safety Adrian Phillips with six each. Cornerback Carrington Byndom and safety Josh Turner each had an interception, and there were seven tackles for lost yardage.
On a day when it was hard to separate Darrell Royal the icon from Darrell Royal the coach, it was interesting to reflect with Street and those other players who played for Royal during his twenty years as head coach between 1957 through 1976. And when you connect the dots to today and this current team, there is one very important message there for all of us.
When I was working on the book, "What It Means To Be A Longhorn," Coach Royal agreed to write one of the forewords. In that message, Royal wrote that being a Longhorn meant "it's a chance." He talked about the honor, and the responsibility to maintain integrity. But then, almost as if he were thinking about this team and every other team or person who played the game, he said this:
"People have often asked me how I would like to be remembered, and my answer is pretty simple. I tell them that, on my tombstone, I don't want it to say that I never made a mistake. I'd like it to say, `He meant well.'"