Title Game Recalls When Texas Was 'Royal'

Can there be a national championship for Texas without Darrell Royal? Apparently not, as the legendary coach will travel to California with the team this Wednesday. And, in a very real sense, the 2005 Longhorns are dancing with the one who brung 'em.

Nearly 30 years -- and four UT head coaches -- after he hung up his whistle, Royal remains the standard by which this program is measured. Unlike other coaches who walked away from the game and never looked back, Royal is impassioned as ever about the Burnt Orange and still admits to being nervous -- very nervous -- during tight ballgames. That's why he has booked passage to Pasadena for his second straight year not as a mere observer, but neither as a volunteer consultant. For example, when asked if current Texas coaches had picked his brains about the Rose Bowl title tilt with USC on January 4, Royal replied: "They have enough brains on the staff. They don't need any advice from an old fart."

In fact, he believes it would be out of place for him to speak to the current herd of Horns.

"It would be almost impossible for me to talk to this squad in the lockerroom before they play because I don't know them personally," Royal said. "I'd be afraid that I would say the wrong thing."

It doesn't mean, however, that Royal won't occasionally offer counsel to current Longhorn coaches. Head coach Mack Brown has fully embraced the Royal legacy that a couple of his predecessors ignored all-together and has never hidden the fact that he, indeed, plumbs the wisdom of Royal's years when making critical decisions about the program. Brown's best job of coaching this season has been the manner in which he has improved his relationship with his players, Royal believes. He's also impressed with the efficient manner in which Longhorn coaches conduct drills.

"Players have changed some since my day," he said, "but I couldn't tell you how. The coaching has improved. I've seen drills. I've seen them do things in practice. I've seen a lot of repetitions and I've seen them do some things to get more repetitions. For instance, having the ball right there ready all the time (on the sidelines). Have you seen those managers working? They've got a ball in place faster than you can get out and get to it. We used to have to wait for the ball to get in and get back. It's little things that I see all the time that are time-savers."

Royal will offer advice -- and will continue to offer it -- until he is convinced the point has been well received, Brown noted.

"He kept telling me early, and I didn't hear, is that the bigger the game, the lighter the practices and the lighter the mood," Brown said. "You can ruin a really good team on Tuesday of game-week. I know that I've won some games on Tuesday that we lost on Saturday."

You would not need more than one hand to count the number of Longhorn games bigger than the one on January 4. The program has finished the regular season and headed to a bowl game ranked first or second just five times in school history (1963, 1969, 1970, 1977, 1983). What's more, Texas will be competing for a true national championship (No. 1 versus No. 2) for just the second time in program history.

The last time -- and the first time -- it happened, top-ranked Texas met No. 2 Navy and its Heisman winning quarterback Roger Staubach in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1964. Royal doesn't recall the pregame speech prior to his first national title ("If I could remember that far back, I'd be bragging about it") but vividly recalls the nationally-televised exchange between coaches and announces just before kickoff.

In those days, the UPI (coaches poll) national champ was declared before the bowl games. But Navy coach Wayne Hardin announced, "It's only natural that, if we win, we'll be No. 1."

Then it was Royal's turn to speak.

"The players were out on the field and we were on television when this conversation was going," Royal recalled. "The announcers asked me what I thought of that, and I just said 'We're ready.' That suited me. (Hardin) had already given a prime pep talk. Why should I screw it up?"

The pre-game hype was intense, Royal said. Many pigskin pundits doubted Texas' credentials that day, as the Horns entered the game as just a two-point favorite. One East Coast sportswriter even stated that "Texas is the biggest fraud ever perpetuated on the football public." Staubach was a deft passer but was especially dangerous when he scrambled for extra yardage. But, by the end of the day, Texas held the Midshipmen to minus-14 yards rushing while the Longhorns passed (passed!) for 234 yards on the way to a 28-6 win and the program's first national championship.

There would be a couple more in 1969 and 1970 but, in between, there was a home-and-away series with USC. The No. 9 Trojans upended unranked Texas, 10-6, in Austin in 1966. The Men of Troy produced another four-point win the following season as No. 7 USC got past No. 5 Texas, 17-13.

"John Wayne was on the sideline and they had some kind of introduction with him," Royal recalled. "He was a big football fan."

The biggest on-the-field celebrity that day was Heisman winning tailback O.J. Simpson, who ran for 189 yards as the Trojans went on to claim that year's national title. This season, Texas has obviously hitched its title hopes to QB Vince Young. The Heisman runner-up -- Young is Texas' all-time leader in total offense and led the nation in passing efficiency -- has such a transcendent presence on the field that even Royal, who has been known to coin a phrase or two, finds it difficult to find just the words to describe Young.

"I think (sports novelist) Dan Jenkins probably had the best description of him," Royal said. "He said he was an alien."

But Royal may have said it best when it comes to the national buildup surrounding this year's Rose Bowl, in a day when there are 24-hour news services.

"Too big ain't big enough," Royal concluded, "and too much ain't too much."

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