Fans of the Texas Longhorns woke up to some somber news on Wednesday, when Darrell K. Royal passed away after his fight with Alzheimer’s. Royal was 88 and was full of the same life and wit that so many fell in love with until the last few months of his battle with the disease.
It’s tough for people around my age (24) to fully understand the impact he had on not only the University of Texas, but to the evolution of the game as well. What we can do is read about the man who brought Longhorns’ football to a level no other coach has been able to duplicate.
We read about the “Game of the Century” and can only picture what the scene was like, but without being around during the era, we can only appreciate the history from a college football junkie standpoint. We can only appreciate the three national titles, 11 Southwestern Conference championships, the 20 years without a losing season and admire the sheer dominance Texas pinned their opponents with.
We hadn’t been around when Royal was among the first to institute an academic counselor so his players would get their education and graduate. He also set aside a special fund to be awarded to graduating players.
We read about the alleged Oklahoma Sooners‘ spy from 1976. Darrell Royal accused then OU head coach Barry Switzer of sending a spy to Texas practices, he even challenged Switzer to take a lie detector test. If Switzer was able to pass the test, Royal said he would resign as head coach. Switzer refused in what would become just another chapter in the rivalry between the Horns and Sooners.
The man is a great story and had so much influence in Austin off the field, but on the field he was the most successful coach in Texas history. After Royal and assistant coach Emory Ballard installed one of the most innovative offenses to form on the gridiron, the Wishbone, the Longhorns went on to win 30 straight games and six straight SWC championships. Royal was a man of the running game and didn’t want to change to an offense focused on the pass, he was even quoted as saying: “Three things can happen when you pass and two of ‘em are bad.”
The origin of the Wishbone can be traced back to a junior high coach by the name of Spud Cason in Fort Worth, TX, according to Barry Switzer’s auto biography, “Bootlegger’s Boy”.
The “pulley bone”, as Houston Chronicle sportswriter Mickey Herskowitz referred to it as, was designed to run the Triple Option with a lead blocker. It essentially eliminates a defender without having to use a man to block him. The offensive scheme is based on deception. It forces a defender to choose one of two offensive players who can possibly run the ball, which then allows the other offensive player to carry the ball, making the choice a defender has to make the wrong choice.
There are many variations of the Wishbone and modern teams such as the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Air Force Falcons have had success basing their system off some form of the scheme. No matter who runs the offense now, it’s hard not to think about the man who dominated the college football world with it for so long.
A man who will always be remembered every time the Longhorns play a game in Austin. No man deserves to have the Horns’ home stadium named after him more than Royal.
Longhorn players can honor him every Saturday in front of 100,000 plus fans, but this Saturday will especially be appealing as Texas head coach Mack Brown said the team will line up in the Wishbone formation on their first offensive play to honor Darrell Royal.
This will be one of the most memorable sights younger college football fans will be able to witness and share as a piece of history with the generation that saw Royal’s teams in real-time.
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