Remembering Darrell Royal at the Stadium Bearing His Name
Video courtesy of Longhorn Network and TSTV
By The Reporting Texas Sports Staff
The Longhorn band finished “Texas Our Texas,” but no one cheered. The announced attendance of 100,018 stood quietly Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
How do you honor a legend? For Royal, the stadium’s namesake and iconic University of Texas head football coach who died Wednesday at the age of 88, it was a moment of silence at a time when the home crowd is often loudest. It was every flag in the stadium at half-staff. It was the initials “DKR” painted freshly on the field, in blazing orange and white.
Announcer Bob Cole recited the Royal’s eulogy over the loudspeakers: the 167-45-5 record at Texas from 1957 to 1976, the 11 Southwest Conference titles, the three national championships. One by one, students raised their hands in salute until the entire lower deck was standing in appreciation.
Grandparents leaned in close to their young grandchildren to whisper about how it was when Royal was in charge. The magic lived on in memories — and the stories still to be told.
Chants of “D-K-R, D-K-R, D-K-R” rose. Spreading like wildfire, fans made sure Royal could hear them all the way up in football heaven.
The Longhorns won the coin toss but let Iowa State receive the kick. Texas head coach Mack Brown knew that Royal, who coached at Texas for 20 seasons, rarely took the ball first. The Cyclones punted after three downs, and the Longhorns took over at their own 6-yard line. The offense assembled. From the high seats, it resembled 1968.
“Uh oh,” an Iowa State fan said. “This formation scares me. It’s a little weird.”
“No, no, no. What are they doing?”
“It’s the wishbone,” another fan said. “Darrell Royal invented it.”
Texas paid tribute to the late football coach by running the first play in the famous formation Royal helped to create.
Royal and his offensive coordinator, Emory Bellard, debuted the run-based wishbone in ’68, long before college football became a passing game. Brown wanted to honor his friend and mentor by using the alignment, one that his players and coaches had no experience with, on Saturday against the Cyclones.
Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin came up with a creative way to run the wishbone, rolling out a play that his team practiced only a few times before the game.
The noise was deafening.
Texas fullback Ryan Roberson shifted to the right. Quarterback David Ash pitched back to Jaxon Shipley, a receiver who’d lined up behind Ash, on the left wing of the formation.
The traditional wishbone was a power running formation not known for its trickery. On Saturday, Shipley lateraled the ball across the end zone and back to Ash, who threw downfield to tight end Greg Daniels. Daniels hauled it in and ran past the “DKR” at midfield for a 47-yard gain.
The team and fans went wild. Everyone thought there could not have been a better way to honor Royal than with such success on an old-school formation. For a generation who grew up only hearing tales of the legendary wishbone, students felt what it might have been like to be in those seats 50 years before.
It was only a play. But it set the tone for the rest of the game and contributed to Royal’s memory with a small, but perfect, gesture.
With Texas leading 20-7 at halftime, the band marched onto the field. The bleachers remained full. Almost no one walked in the aisles, foregoing the routine of getting a snack.
The performance began with a Veterans Day tribute to each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. The band formed an emblem for the Marines, a boat for the Coast Guard, a submarine for the Navy, a tank for the Army and an airplane for the Air Force, the branch that Royal served in during World War II.
The tribute then shifted. The 390-piece band moved across the field, each step bringing the word T-E-X-A-S into view.
Out of the letters that spelled T-E-X-A-S emerged the name R-O-Y-A-L. Everyone rose. The sudden roar drowned out the rest of “Texas Fight.”
The chant “Give ‘em hell! Give ‘em hell! D-K-R!” echoed through the stadium.
A video played on the scoreboard. It included highlights from Royal’s career. Brown, whom Royal convinced to come to Texas from North Carolina in 1998, spoke as the narrator and interviewee, documenting the successes Royal enjoyed at Texas. The program ended with a rousing ovation.
“Coach Royal rose, not only to become one of the greatest victors in college sports, but also a transformational leader in the life of the University of Texas,” said Cole, the stadium announcer.
“Coach Royal was joined in his tireless work by his wife of 68 years, Edith. We acknowledge that honor, that remarkable collaboration. Thank you Edith, and thank you coach, for all you’ve given to the University of Texas. You’re both treasures to our great university.”
Texas scored three more times in its 10th game of the season. The Longhorn defense held the Cyclones to nothing in the second half.
During the fourth quarter, a band member in her uniform stood in the restroom, putting her jacket back on, waiting for a friend. As she was pulling the jacket over her shoulders, an older woman stopped on her way out and said, “Thank you for doing that. It was a really great thing.”
The band member smiled, and told her the band was happy to do it. Neither specified exactly what she was talking about, but on a day that was meant to honor a great coach, it was understood.
Texas won, 33-7.
Smokey the cannon fired. A black-and-white picture of a younger Royal, hoisted on the shoulders of his players, appeared on the screen in the south end zone.
The band played “The Eyes of Texas,” as it has since long before Royal ran the wishbone. As it will now that he’s gone.
This story, video and audio slideshow were reported, written and produced by the Reporting Texas Sports Staff: Sydney Bottoms, Allison Brown, Jordan Cannon, Ann Carroll, Christian Corona, Noe Gonzalez, Garrett Greene, Lauren Jette, Amy Johnson, Brittany Lamas, Darren Mitchell, Kaleigh Schneider and Bayley Zarrehparvar.