Wishbone returns for a day

Darrell Royal's innovation became a cherished memorial for the Longhorns

Updated: November 10, 2012, 11:14 PM ET
By Max Olson | HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- There are dozens of Darrell K Royal quotes -- "Royalisms," they're called -- that have endured and will continue to after his passing.

Like this one, on why the legendary Texas coach was never fond of giving fiery speeches to his team: "You can't invent a feeling."

Mack Brown knows how Royal would've felt as he watched the Longhorns pay their tribute to him Saturday morning to start off a 33-7 win over Iowa State.

When Brown's offensive coaches came up with what they called a double-reverse pass, Texas' coach had to chuckle.

"I said, 'You are kidding. That would make him madder than anything if we did that,'" Brown said.

Darrell K Royal statue
Max Olson/ESPN.comFans left flowers and took pictures at the Darrell Royal statue to pay tribute to the legendary coach.
That's because Brown hadn't forgotten another Royalism: "Three things can happen when you pass, and two of 'em are bad."

Brown admits he lost a "huge part of my life" when Royal passed away on Wednesday at the age of 88 due to complications of cardiovascular disease and a long bout with Alzheimer's. Brown wasn't alone.

The public memorial is officially scheduled for Tuesday, but 100,018 showed up Saturday at the stadium named for Royal to honor the coach who built this Texas program.

A large group of them gathered around Royal's statue before kickoff. They took turns snapping photos with the bronze statue as flowers continued to pile up at its base.

For Texas fan John Fields, a photo will always mean something. The day Royal passed away fell on Fields' 51st birthday.

"He was the coach when I started becoming a fan here," Fields said. "He's the legend that I remember. He's what made me love Texas football."

The Longhorns rolled out all the standard ways of honoring a legend. They put his initials on their helmets and their midfield logo. A memoriam played on the video board. The Longhorn Band arranged in a "ROYAL" formation at halftime.

Those were nice. But the people paid to see the Wishbone.

"I can't wait," season ticket holder Roy Bocanegra said before kickoff. "I hope they run it 10 times. Seriously."

The current Longhorns didn't exactly run it like Royal first did in 1968, back when he and offensive coordinator Emory Bellard first devised the scheme that would go on to dominate college football.

When Brown first told his coaching staff they had to honor one of Royal's great legacies and contributions to the game, his coaches were a bit baffled. It's Wednesday, they told him. There's no Wishbone in this playbook.

So Brown let them get creative. What they came up with surely would've elicited one of Royal's typical sharp quips.

"I don't think Coach Royal would have run that play down in the end zone," former Texas coach David McWilliams said. "As he would say, four things could've gone wrong. I'm not sure he would ever let that play happen."

McWilliams played for Royal at UT from 1961 to 1963. He watched offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's take on the Wishbone from the press box and couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"But one saying he always did have was, a mistake is not a mistake until the play is over," McWilliams said.

Harsin and his coaches devised the play this week but ran it in practice no more than three times. Texas came up with no rushing plays for the run-heavy formation. It was pass or bust.

When Texas' offense first took the field with 10:51 left in the first quarter, bust looked like a legitimate possibility. An Iowa State punt had pinned UT at its own 5 yard line.

Harsin asked Brown if they were still going through with the plan. He didn't hesitate.

"I said, heck, run it. What the heck," Brown said. "He's watching. He'll like the fact that we're taking a shot here."

And what a shot it was. Applause rained down as the Longhorns took the field with running back Joe Bergeron, fullback Ryan Roberson and receiver Jaxon Shipley in the backfield.

David Ash tossed right to Shipley, who caught the ball 2 yards into his own end zone. He stopped, turned and floated a pass back to Ash.

Texas' quarterback planted and fired a throw downfield to wide-open tight end Greg Daniels for a 47-yard gain and the stadium roared with ovations.

"I'm glad it worked out," Daniels said. "They didn't see it coming."

It was just one play, sure, but it gave Texas fans an indelible memory of the day and served as a fond farewell for a coach whose fingerprints will always be all over this program.

Edith Royal, his wife of more than 65 years, watched it all unfold from a suite. She wore a burnt orange scarf and a smile, and accepted hugs from any fan who offered.

Brown said Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and longtime media relations staffer Bill Little planned to deliver Saturday's game ball to her. He hopes he made his old friend and mentor proud.

"Bless his heart. We miss him," Brown said. "A lot of people in that stadium will have good memories for coach. I thought it was a fitting way to honor him. Today was special."

Royal might not have loved Brown's take on his famed innovation, but Texas did get a much-needed victory and improved to 8-2 in relatively easy fashion. That by itself would've been enough to please the departed legend.

After all, it was Royal who once said, "The best thing a coach can hope for is to please the majority. And the only way to please the majority is to win."

Max Olson | email

Big 12 reporter

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