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Darrell Royal coached the Texas Longhorns, but he was still 'one of us'

The former OU quarterback never forgot his roots in the Sooner state. Royal was proud of his heritage, back to the days as a Hollis High School star.
by Berry Tramel Published: November 7, 2012

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.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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