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Former Texas coach Royal dies at age 88
“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” was another.
“He was a guy who was so strong and so determined and so direct about things,” said former Texas quarterback James Street. “He was that way to the very end.”
Royal and assistant Emory Ballard changed the football landscape in 1968 with the development of the wishbone, which features a fullback lined up behind the quarterback and a step in front of two other backs.
The innovation nearly flopped. After a tie and loss in the first two games that season, a frustrated Royal inserted backup Street to take over.
“Coach Royal grabbed me and he looked for a minute as if he were having second thoughts about putting me in. Then he looked me straight in the eye and said, `Hell, you can’t do any worse. Get in there,’” Street said
Texas won its next 30 games. Soon, rival Oklahoma and other schools started using the wishbone as well.
“The University of Oklahoma joins the rest of the nation in celebrating the life’s work of Darrell Royal,” said Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione. “We’ve truly lost an icon _ a champion, an innovator and an educator.”
The national title season in 1969 included what was dubbed the “Game of the Century,” a come-from-behind, 15-14 victory by the top-ranked Longhorns over No. 2 Arkansas to cap the regular season.
In Texas lore, it ranks as the greatest game ever played. President Richard Nixon, an avid football fan, flew in by helicopter to watch. Afterward, Nixon greeted Royal with a plaque in the Texas locker room proclaiming Texas the national champion.
The Longhorns also were named national champions by United Press International in 1970, a year in which Texas lost its final game to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl and finished 10-1.
Royal faced criticism over the lack of black players on his first 13 Texas teams, although he had coached black players at Washington and in the Canadian football league.
At the 1960 Cotton Bowl, Syracuse accused Texas of hurling racial barbs at Syracuse’s black players, which Royal denied. Texas became the first SWC school to announce it would fully integrate the athletic program in 1963, but the football team didn’t have a black letterman until Julius Whittier in 1970.
Royal, who acknowledged being unconcerned about racial discrimination for much of his life, credited former President Lyndon B. Johnson with turning around his viewpoint. Johnson, who attended Texas football games after his presidency ended, was close friends with Royal.
“I’m not a football fan,” Johnson once said. “But I am a fan of people, and I am a Darrell Royal fan because he is the rarest of human beings.”
In 1972, former Texas lineman Gary Shaw published “Meat on the Hoof,” a searing critique of the Texas program that accused the coaches of having a class system within the program and of devising sadistic drills to drive off unwanted players. Royal tried to distance himself from the claims, saying in interviews he had “never heard” of the drills Shaw described.
By Tom Fitton
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