Darrell Royal died Tuesday. Died a Texas football icon. Not just a Texas Longhorn legend. A state of Texas legend.
Let's see. Darrell Royal. Tom Landry. Earl Campbell. Maybe Roger Staubach. There's your Rushmore of Lone Star State football.
Not bad for an Okie.
But the tragedy, for us not, not Royal, is that this native son was not embraced in his native state the last 40 years of his life.
Too many OU-Texas games wearing burnt orange, which made him an enemy of the state. Too many feuds with Barry Switzer, an adopted son whose popularity knows no bounds.
But before DKR — Texans like their acronyms, like Royal's pal LBJ — is buried, there are a few things you should know about this man.
* Royal was a ball-playing fool. One of the greatest all-around Sooners ever.
“Darrell, he was a great one,” said Ed Lisak, Royal's teammate in 1948-49. “Only thing that ever disturbed me was he was head coach at Texas. Other than that, I'll forgive him.”
Let's see. Royal quarterbacked perhaps OU's greatest team, the wondrous 1949 Sooners who went 11-0. He completed 34 of 63 passes, 54 percent completion rate, for 509 yards that season, with just one interception. That's a great game today, but it was a great season in '49, when few QBs completed half their passes.
He was a cunning defensive back. The OU career interception leader, with 17, remains Darrell Royal.
He also was a punter extraordinaire (once had an 81-yarder against OSU) and in 1948 returned two punts for touchdowns, of 73 and 95 yards. Think Joe Washington, with a bunch of interceptions.
* Royal was an Okie. An against the grain Okie. He went to California during the Dust Bowl migration, but unlike most, he came back. Royal was just a teenager, missed his hometown of Hollis down in Harmon County and returned home.
More than 60 years later, he returned to Hollis, which renamed its field in his honor. I sat in J.C.'s Grille with Royal that afternoon and he reeled off name after name of Hollis teachers and coaches who impacted his life. Let me promise you. From Cotton Bowls to White House visits to those music sessions with country music stars, Royal took Hollis with him.
“He became imbued with being a Texan,” said Claude Arnold, Royal's backup quarterback in 1949, OU's national-title QB in 1950 and a lifelong Royal friend. “He was very strong down there. But he still thought of himself as an Okie.”
* Here's what kind of man Royal was. When OU famously implemented the wishbone in mid-season 1970, and the Longhorns thrashed the Sooners 41-9 in its debut, Oklahoma coach Chuck Fairbanks called Royal and asked if Switzer, OU's offensive coordinator, could chat with UT offensive coordinator Emory Bellard about the offense Texas had made famous.
Imagine that today. Mack Brown asking Bob Stoops to share trade secrets. Or Les Miles asking Nick Saban.
Imagine them saying yes. That's what Royal did.
“Darrell allowed that to happen,” Switzer said. “He was that kind of guy.”
The next year, the OU wishbone ran wild on Texas, 48-27, and Royal's coaching career began a slow decline that led to his retirement in 1976, at age 52.
* Switzer has regrets. Regrets that he and Royal feuded, sometimes publicly, with Royal challenging Switzer to take a lie-detector test over recruiting violations (Switzer did, and passed), and Switzer stinging Royal with a quote that lives on to this day.
“Some coaches don't want to coach anymore. They would rather sit home and listen to guitar pickers. They want us to make it where you can't outwork anybody.”
Nobody wondered who Switzer was talking about.
“I've got a lot of regrets,” Switzer said. He says he wished he could have had a better relationship with Royal.
In Switzer's biography, he wrote that Royal “more than anyone else saw to it that I was branded a cheater … when they throw dirt on Darrell's box, he'll still believe it, I guess. It's a pity, because I respect Darrell Royal.”
After Royal retired, he and Switzer would occasionally see each other at functions.
“Every time I was around him, I tried to be gracious,” Switzer said. “We got along socially. He was always a gentleman. But without a doubt, those things caused such a chasm.”
* Royal was a great coach. A great coach.
Rebuilt a downtrodden Texas program. Won two outright national titles and placed in the AP top five nine times in 14 years, 1959-72.
The Longhorns eventually because of their delay in recruiting black athletes, a decision made above Royal's head.
“He really knew his stuff,” said Arnold, who quarterbacked the 1953 Edmonton Eskimos, a team coached by a 29-year-old Royal. “He dictated very well.”
The Longhorns made sure Royal never will be forgotten. His name adorns their stadium in Austin.
But the Oklahomans who knew him won't forget him, either.
“All I can say he was a great one,” Lisak said. “I always appreciated being around him.”
Lisak was from Kalamazoo, Mich. Came to OU after the war, played some football and returned home. Still lives in Kalamazoo. Still calls the Sooners “we” and still cheers on Bob Stoops' team.
And he's got a little memento from his days in Norman. In 1949, Lisak picked up Royal's warmup jacket off a pile, by accident. He didn't give it back. He's kept it all these years.
“He was still a true Okie and one of us,” Lisak said. “Nothing but great memories and he was a great person.”
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.