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Darrell Royal: The Transcendent Figure in A Classic Rivalry

This weekend means so much to so many people on both sides that sometimes you can lose track of the history of just how the Texas-OU game became such a vital part of College Football.

There is one individual who encompasses all the emotions, all the passion, and yes all the hate, that this game engenders.

There is also one game in his history of the series that, for me, put all of this on display more than any other -- and it was a game that ended in a tie.

I am of course talking of Darrell Royal.

Royal is the only man who truly understands both ends of this bitter rivalry. His boyhood home was Hollis, OK, just five miles from the Texas border. Raised during the Dust Bowl Era, Royal was a HS star at Hollis who dreamed of playing at OU. However after graduating High School in 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Force instead.

In 1946, when Royal was leaving the Air Force, he had a buddy of his, Kenny Baker, who had played freshman ball at Texas, write a letter of recommendation to the Longhorn coaches. Royal never heard from UT and went to OU, where he was an All-Ameircan and led OU to an unbeaten season and a Sugar Bowl win over LSU in 1948.

While At OU, Darrell Royal went 2-2 against Texas.

There are many reasons as to why Royal is the unique figure in this raging battle. Having played for one side, and then coaching for other is an obvious one.

He is the winningest coach in series history (12-7-1). In fact he is the only coach to win at least ten games in the series. Bud Wilkinson was 9-8, while Barry Switzer went 9-5-2 for the Sooners.

The numbers hardly reflect the visceral feelings generated, or how Royal was such a lightening rod for both sides. One game during Royal's tenure is a virtual autopsy of the rivalry, both on and off the field. It was his last game in Dallas.


There is no other way to describe the week leading up to the game and the contest itself. This time it wasn't about national rankings. This time it was two teams led by coaches who were spitting venom at each other in public.

The perception in 1976 was that Texas was faltering while OU was dominating the national scene. Actually since the 1971 season, Texas was 44-13 which is a 77% winning rate. But five of the losses had been to the Sooners, and OU was coming off back-to-back national championships. Royal hadn't beaten Oklahoma since Chuck Fairbanks got his version of the Wishbone rolling in 1971. Fairbanks had been replaced by Barry Switzer in 1973 and he revved up the 'bone until it ran like a Lamborghini in cleats.

But it is what was happening off the field that week that held the nation's attention.


Royal had been convinced for over 4 years that OU was spying on its opponents. He specifically believed that they knew beforehand that Texas was going to the quick kick in the 1972 contest. Royal had installed the quick kick into the playbook for the first time in four years the week leading up to the game.

With OU holding on to a slim 3-0 lead late in the 3rd quarter, Texas was pinned inside its own 10-yard line. There was only one sub for the play – center Greg Dahlberg – and when he went in, OU players immediately began to yell "quick kick, quick kick." Texas didn't change out of the play, and it was blocked. Lucious Selmon fell on it in the end zone and OU went on to win 27-0.

Royal was convinced that someone had entered Memorial Stadium disguised as a construction worker during stadium renovations and had spied on their practices. The charges all came to a head the week of the 1976 game. Royal had found out the name of the alleged spy. He was Lonnie Williams, who had ties to OU coaches Switzer and Larry Lacewell.

Royal went public with his accusations and even went so far as to offer to pay $10,000 to the favorite charities of Switzer and Lacewell if they took and passed lie detector tests. They of course denied all allegations.

When accused of spying, Barry Switzer replied by saying Royal was hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Switzer added that, "Some coaches would rather listen to guitar pickers than work hard," taking a shot at Royal's love of country music.

Royal gave an interview to Robert Heard of AP, where among other things he said he hoped Switzer and Lacewell would sue him for slander, so he could get them into court. Thinking the interview was over, Royal added, "Why those sorry bastards, I don't trust 'em on anything."

When that quote hit print, the stakes were raised even higher.

I was a sports reporter in Austin in 1976 and spent the day of the game on the floor of the Cotton Bowl. It is easily the most bizarre, brutal and vicious athletic event I have ever witnessed. Anyone who has been in the Cotton Bowl for a Texas-OU contest knows that the intensity level is special, for the fans as well as the players.

This one was different.

This one was personal.

This one was "Eat Shit and Die."

The pre-game warm up was tense. Hell, even the Texas fans showed up early to boo the opponent. The atmosphere was ugly. When Royal came out for pre-game, students and fans of his alma mater serenaded him with chants of "Sorry Bastards, Sorry Bastards."

Then there was the pre-game coin toss. President Gerald Ford was on hand, and he was escorted out to the middle of the field by the two coaches. One OU fan yelled, "Who are the two assholes with Barry?"

Neither coach would acknowledge the existence of the other.

Even Pres. Ford knew that the boos cascading down from the Cotton Bowl were not for him.

The talent level at Texas was improving going into 1976. Royal recruited well that year getting Johnny "Lam" Jones, an Olympic gold medalist in the summer of '76. The class included other top talent such as LB Lance Taylor, defensive linemen Steve McMichael and Henry Williams, along with DB's Johnnie Johnson and Derrick Hatchett. Alfred Jackson was a deep threat at WR.

Earl Campbell was going into his junior season, as was Johnny "Ham" Jones. Royal relished the idea of Campbell at fullback with "Lam" and "Ham" supplying speed at the halfback positions and Jackson putting pressure on the opposing defenses from the wideout. The one glaring hole in the offense was at QB.

The season did not start out well. Texas would eventually settle on a walk-on, Mike Cordaro at Quarterback. Earl Campbell pulled a hamstring in the opening game against Boston College and it would haunt him the entire season. Injuries racked the team.

follow Scipio's timeline to the letter leading up to kickoff.

Saturday cannot get here soon enough.