With football season kicking into high gear, readers of the sports pages – and even those following economic news – will see the University of Texas stadium name “Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium” pop up frequently.
What about this guy whose name is on a massive facility? Did he give mega-bucks to UT like those whose names you see on most of the buildings around the Austin campus and, in fact, on university campuses nationwide? Nope. Sports fans will tell you he was just a football coach. And they can recite his amazing record.
But you need to understand Darrell to get the full meaning of the stadium name. First of all, he was a small-town country boy (in Oklahoma, of all places). He was “rescued” from Hollis, OK, because as a natural athlete, he earned an education while on a football scholarship at Oklahoma University. He excelled as a player and as a “learner” under one of the nation’s best coaches, Bud Wilkinson.
He moved through mostly-minor coaching ranks as a young man, until one day in 1956 my KTBC-TV news director turned to me and said “Neal, who the hell is Darrell Royal?” I was a part-time reporter and asked “Why?” “Because UT just hired him as its football coach to take over after the Longhorns won only one game last year.”
Turns out, I knew about Darrell Royal because he was in the same fraternity at OU, Delta Upsilon, that I was a member of at UT, and I followed his career in the frat quarterly magazine. That link became the linchpin to a lifelong relationship with Darrell and his wife, Edith, that I write about extensively in my memoir, With the Bark Off.
But that’s another story. Back to the point. Darrell didn’t donate a buncha bucks to get his name on the stadium. His down-home, country-boy, witty personality helped him become enormously popular (signs popped up: “Darrell Royal for Governor”).
So, when UT decided to make another major stadium expansion long after Darrell retired from coaching and was spending his days golfing, the fund-raisers contacted wealthy alums with a pitch like: “Everybody loves Darrell so let’s truly honor one of the greatest guys to impact UT and re-name the stadium in perpetuity for Darrell.” Bingo! The dollar floodgates opened. Darrell’s name was added to the existing Texas Memorial Stadium that honored veterans.
By the way, that’s not a typo at the end of the first sentence. Darrell dropped the period after his middle initial. I don’t know why.
I interviewed Coach Royal in 1969 when the installation of Astroturf was making news.
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