The papers landed with something between a thud and a flutter on the old wooden desk inside the office on the second floor of Bellmont Hall. All night, I had thought about it, and now, with a certain cockiness, I had determined to refine a creation.
It was the summer of 1996, and a good portion of it had been consumed by the production of a tribute video honoring Darrell Royal. In September, at a gala at the Austin Convention Center, they would officially join him with those honored veterans on the name of the soon-to-be-remodeled complex that is now Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
My charge was to tell the story, in pictures and words of a legend and a friend. To do it, I had chosen to add two verses to a hit song by Garth Brooks titled "The River," which was written by Brooks and Victoria Shaw. To sing the revised version, I had chosen an incredibly talented student named Emilie Williams, a former cheerleader who was working as a summer intern in our Media Relations Office.
I had spent many sleepless nights with the words and had given Emilie what I thought was a finished version three days before. However, as I tried my best to write beautifully, I was frustrated with one particular phrase which I had created.
"Orange Towers, earned with effort, are all lessons in the stream."
All night, I had repeated that verse.
"Earned with effort?" I thought. "Lessons?"
Nothing about the line was lyrical. Earned and effort and lessons are not very poetic.
Some time in the night, it had come to me.
"Orange Towers etched in sunsets are all memories in the stream."
"Darn‚" I thought. "Now that is really good. That sounds beautiful."
So with the flick of an edit key on the computer, I rewrote the words and delivered the new version to Emilie as I walked in the office the next morning.
"What's that?" she asked.
"Those are your new lyrics," I said. "I changed that second verse."
She looked at the paper and then looked back at me.
"You can't do that,‰ she said.
The determination flashing in her light brown eyes kept me from saying, "wait a minute, kid, I'm the writer here."
"Well," I said. "I just thought those words didn't sound very pretty and this is a lot more."
She stopped me in mid-sentence.
"But they were lessons and they were earned with effort," she said with a tone of defiance.
And so, when "the little song bird," as Coach Royal would come to call her, sang the song, both verses were there.
Thursday night in Orlando, the college football world paused through the sunsets to remember the Orange Towers, the lessons and the effort. The National College Football Awards Association and ESPN presented Coach Royal with the inaugural Contributions to College Football Award.
In the presentation, they used footage included in producer Rich Hull's award- winning documentary on Royal's life, poignantly telling the story of the boy from the Dust Bowl Days of Oklahoma who became a larger-than-life Legend of the Fall, for it is in autumn when college football spins its magic.
No man living today has walked, as has Royal, with the giants of the game. Bud Wilkinson coached him at Oklahoma, D.X. Bible hired him at Texas. His friends and contemporaries include Bear Bryant, Frank Broyles, Johnny Vaught, Paul Dietzel, Jess Neeley, Hayden Fry, Woody Hayes, Eddie Robinson, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Bobby Dodds, John McKay, Joe Paterno — the list could go on and on. Each day that he comes to the practice field to see the Longhorns of today is a reminder that Mack Brown has cherished his friendship and his advice and counsel. From dressing rooms in places like Lincoln and San Diego, when he hasn't been able to make the trip, Brown, and at times, players, have spoken with him on a cell phone.
"His spirit is with us, even when he can't make the trip," Brown said.
In his 20 years at Texas, Royal's teams won 11 conference championships and three National Championships. He hired the nation's first academic counselor for athletics and was responsible for game-changing innovations such as the flip-flop offense in the early 1960s and the Wishbone, which became one of the most copied offenses in the country during the '70s.
His teams won more games than any in Southwest Conference history, and since he left the game at the young age of 52 in 1976, he and his wife, Edith, have devoted the next 26 years to helping people. Through hundreds of personal appearances, speaking engagements and golf tournaments, he has helped raise millions of dollars for charity, much of it going to help the under-privileged youth of East Austin.
Thursday night, with a fitting tribute and surprise video from President George W. Bush, the nation remembered Darrell Royal.
Because of the death of Edith's mother, Coach Royal had to miss the induction into the College Football Hall of Fame Tuesday night of Jerry Sisemore, who became the fifth Royal-coached player to enter the Hall. When Dan Marino, who accepted on behalf of this year's class, asked Sisemore who was the greatest influence in his life, his answer was simple: Darrell Royal.
Mack Brown said it in "One Heartbeat" and it is true today — in fact, somebody even said it at the Hall of Fame banquet. The media and some of the fans may remember the records and the championships, but the players remember what great coaches teach them about life. When the pads are put away and the cheering is a memory, that is the gift that remains.
As James Street stood at the podium, presenting the award to Coach Royal, I couldn't help but think back to a conversation we had after he listened to the finished tape of the song we used on the video. He said that of all the phrases in the song, there was one that mattered most to him.
"Orange Towers, earned with effort, were all lessons in the stream."
Emilie was right. That was, after all, what it was all about.