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Pre – Game Wyoming

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Mack Darrell and Hub

August 29, 2009

The last few years of my father’s life were spent drifting away from away us and himself in the fog of Alzheimer’s disease.  During those years it would make my day when the real Hub Frink briefly flashed before our eyes with a prescient observation, or a wry quip, often at my expense, delivered with his “leading man smile.”

One such moment was during the Rose Bowl national championship game that he watched with Helen, Molly, and me at our house.  For the first time in two or three years, he was awake for four plus hours during one of his visits.  At half-time, with Texas in the lead and clearly having out played USC, Dad said, “it’s our game to win.”  When Pete Carroll decided to go for it rather than punt on fourth and one with 2:38 remaining, he questioned, “Why is he doing this?”  As I drove like a crazed 18 year-old to the “Drag,” with Helen, Molly, and Bob, who had joined us to celebrate, wedged in the back seat, my father, sitting next to me in the front seat, pondered, “Do we think that Mack Brown has now surpassed Darrell Royal as the best coach Texas has ever had?” At the time, flushed with the pure joy and excitement of the Longhorns’ victory and first National Championship in 35 years, I thought about my father’s question for about two seconds and didn’t offer an opinion. In the 16 months between that incredible night and his death, my father asked me similar questions always phrased the same way as the Mack—Darrell question.  “Do we think Paul McCartney was a great talent?”  “Do we think Frank Sinatra was a great talent?”

Now, you may think the answers to those questions are ridiculously obvious but my father and I considered ourselves iconoclasts. Part of that was the probing and testing of conventional wisdom.  My father posed the questions about McCartney and Sinatra on separate occasions while driving in my car listening to those icons from our respective generations.

Iconoclastic as I would like to consider myself it didn’t take me long to answer, yes they’re great talents, and then go on to support my opinion with an emphatic, passionate, detailed analysis supporting my viewpoint.   As I delivered these strongly held opinions he would smile.  Since I was old enough to have strong opinions he greatly enjoyed seeing and hearing me express them whether or not he agreed.

Since I’m excited about the 2009 season now upon us, but not excited by preseason chatter and certainly not excited about the Longhorns’ first game, I thought it would be fun to ponder my father’s question and I hope you’ll play along.  I don’t think you can really compare players, coaches, or teams from different eras but sometimes it’s fun to try.

Has Mack Brown surpassed Darrell Royal as Texas’ greatest football coach?

Willie Earl’s Metrics

1. National Championships: Royal has two (63, 69) and in my mind one with an asterisk (70).  Brown has one (05). To be fair to Brown I think you have to discount Royal’s 1970 championship because it was awarded by the UPI which didn’t take into account bowl games. Texas lost the 1971 Cotton Bowl to Notre Dame and Nebraska was awarded the AP championship. I consider Nebraska the bona fide 1970 National Champion.

So by my methodology score criterion #1:  Royal 2, Brown 1.

But wait. Royal won his second national championship in his 13th year. The 2009 season will be Mack Brown’s 12th season.

 Willie Earl scores #1 a push.

Do you think Brown will have two by the end of his 13th year?

2. Conference Championships:  Royal has 11.  Mack has… ahem 1.  In Brown’s defense he’s faced much stiffer competition than Royal did. Just one example is that OU is now a conference foe. They weren’t during Royal’s era.   If Mack won the conference every year from 2009, until he had coached the Longhorns 20 years, as Royal did, he would have eight.

Royal wins.

3. Winning percentage as the Longhorn Head Coach: Royal (.762).  Brown (.805)

Brown wins.

4.  Final Ranking in the top five: Royal, 9. Brown 4.

 Royal wins.  My father told me that I wouldn’t break 80 in golf the first time until I had been in position to break 80 several times.  Royal was within striking distance of National Championships in 1961, 62, and 64.  Brown was within striking distance in 2001, 2004 and 2008.  Mack Brown is definitely headed towards winning another National Title.

5.  Bringing glory to U.T.:  This obviously is totally subjective.  Royal put Texas on the map in college football. Brown put U.T. back on the map.

Willie Earl scores #5 a push.

Final score, standings or whatever: Royal 2-1-2. Brown 1-2-2.

Darrell Royal commenting on the Longhorn quarterback controversy of 1974 between Marty Akins and Mike Presley said, “If I had to choose one of ‘em to go ‘fisin with I wouldn’t pick either one.” If I had to choose between Mack Brown and Darrell Royal for a beer drinking buddy I’d choose Royal.  That’s a very qualified preference since I don’t know either one of them personally. I’m basing my opinion on their public images and Royal’s understated persona is more appealing to me than Brown’s always sunny salesman’s persona.

I must add a very personal qualifier to this very personal measure.  When my father and I wrote a letter to Darrell Royal congratulating him on the 1972 season and the Longhorns’ victory over Alabama in the 1973 Cotton Bowl, Royal sent us a personally signed short but personal reply, which I keep in my top dresser drawer.  When my wife Helen wrote a letter to Mack Brown suggesting that I should be included as a speaker at career day for the football players, she received a long boiler plate response with Mack’s signature.

I think my father’s question is akin to asking who was the greater U.S. President, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.  For my money they’re equal. Without George Washington there wouldn’t be the United States of America as we know it.  Without Darrell Royal there wouldn’t be a Texas Football they way we know it. Abraham Lincoln saved the Union.  Mack Brown saved Texas Football.

HooK eM

W. E.

 

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October 1970

One evening early in September, 1970, I was in our den watching television with my father when he announced that we were going on a trip in October to visit my recently married, older brother, Clayton in Austin. The amazingly cool thing about this was that we were going to incorporate into the visit an excursion to Houston to attend the Texas – Rice game. Not only that. While we were in Austin I was going to stay with my other brother David, a sophomore at U.T., in his west campus apartment.  The announcement was an incredible surprise to me. A family trip during the school year was way out of normal operating procedure for our family and indeed for just about any regular middle class American family in 1970.  The stated practical reason for the trip was for my father and Clayton to swap cars.  A few months earlier my father had given Clayton a new 1970 Pontiac Firebird as combination graduation present and wedding gift.  My father had partially facilitated the gift by trading in his Pontiac Lemans when be purchased the Firebird.  He ended up with Clayton’s Corvair Monza.  My father was a helluva guy and they were swapping cars not because he had decided he didn’t like the deal anymore but because the Firebird didn’t have air-conditioning—go figure—which wasn’t so great if you lived in Austin.  The way my father told me we were taking the trip let on to me that there was more to this trip than the car swap.  He said, “We’re going to go see your brother Clayton next month.”  Then he started crying and added, “I’ve screwed up his life so.”  I knew this was not quite accurate but it was the beginning of my understanding that being a parent was not as easy as it looked.

When my mother, father and I set out early on a Wednesday morning, in the Corvair Monza, on the 1,800 mile drive from Vestal to Austin, the Longhorns were the defending National champions riding a 24 game win streak and ranked # 2.  I was to miss six days of school but my parents considered the trip to Texas to visit my older brothers and attend the Texas-Rice game in Houston worthy of my lengthy absence from school on educational and cultural grounds. They really did. As Chris Farley would say, “That was awesome.”

We arrived in Austin about noon on Friday. My parents dropped me off outside Memorial Stadium, where I was meeting David.  We were meeting there to watch the freshmen game between Rice and Texas. Those were the days when freshman weren’t eligible for varsity competition.  At age 15, being dropped off alone on a huge college campus, 1,800 miles from home, and walking into a big-time college football stadium, I realized how extremely cool my parents were.  There couldn’t have been more than 200 spectators but walking into the stadium that Friday afternoon was just as exhilarating for me as walking into the Cotton Bowl would be four years later for my first Texas-OU game. This was the home of the defending National Champions, where James Street had performed and where Steve Wooster, Cotton Speyer, and Jim Bertlesen still did. Just a few weeks earlier, in this stadium, Speyer had caught a 50-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left in the game to beat U.C.L. A.  The game hadn’t been televised in Vestal but I had seen the play on a Sunday college football highlight show. As I sat in the stadium I tried to determine in which end-zone Speyer had scored.  That Friday afternoon in October, 1970, watching the Shorthorns warming up, I was anxious to see David but I was content to be there alone and independent for a little while. I remember I was wearing jeans, an orange UT t-shirt and low cut black Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars. It was the first time that I smelled that distinctive odor under the stadium that I later learned was bat dung. I took seat on the 50 yard line about 20 rows up on the west side. There was bright sunshine and it was about 80 degrees. And the most unforgettable moment that afternoon was when I spotted David about 100 feet away striding purposely towards me with the biggest grin on his face I’d ever seen.  We watched the first half and we were especially interested in seeing our old friend and neighbor Dan Adams, from our Wycliffe Drive days in Houston, playing linebacker for the Shorthorns.

We then left the stadium and walked to David’s English class in Parlin. Coming and going I saw “The Tower” up close for the first time. I spotted the flagpole and its concrete base barely large enough for that college girl to crouch behind in hiding from Whitman’s gunfire. I was captivated

I spent Friday night with the college boys, David and his roommates. Lots of laughing, belching, farting and college guy repartee. In other words, I was in heaven. A belated thanks to my bother Clayton, who entertained my parents that night.

Saturday morning David and I got in his 67 Mustang and headed to Houston for the game. The drive from South First St. and Riverside to the Memorial drive area in Houston took about an hour and 45 minutes. I’ll let you do the math. Our first stop in Houston was the Adam’s house on Wycliffe where we visited with Dan Adams Sr. and where I got a wistful look at our old house across the street.

At about 6 o’clock we picked up David’s date and headed to Rice Stadium. Traffic was heavy. This was the first time I witnessed the uniquely Texas tradition of impatient drivers cutting across the grassy areas between the freeway and the service roads creating their own exits.  It was a bit shocking to me. We were a little late for the game and we heard a large roar from the crowd inside the stadium as we hurried in from the parking lot. Rice had returned the opening kick-off for a touchdown. We hurried through the turnstiles and up the ramp to the top of end zone section in Rice Stadium.

I had to have been the most ardent Longhorn fan residing outside the state of Texas. I had been to just one Texas game prior to that night, in 1965 when the Horns were down and before I much cared. I was able to see Texas play on television maybe 3 times a year. There were no Longhorn highlights shown on television in Vestal, and no ESPN.  So on that spectacular October Texas evening in a sold out Rice stadium when I first laid my eyes on the field and the game in progress and saw Texas in their gleaming white uniforms my senses were over whelmed. I had to blink away tears because I didn’t want David and his date to notice. The offense was on the field and at the line of scrimmage. There was the wishbone with Wooster, Bertlesen and Terry Collins lined up behind the quarterback Eddie Phillips. From the end zone and behind the action it looked like the straight t-formation my little league team the Rummel Creek Raiders had used.

We watched the first half from our end zone seats. At half time we rendezvoused with my parents who were sitting on the 50 yard line about 40 rows up. David had scored these choice seats from Mike Janda a reserve split end for the Longhorns whom he knew through his girlfriend Annette. My mother and I swapped seats and I sat down on the 50 with my father. He was in high spirits and had bonded with man next to him whose son was on the team. When Wooster carried the ball my father’s new friend didn’t shout but implored in a classic Texas drawl, “go big Woo.” It was delightful.

About midway through the third quarter there was a buzz in the  crowd behind us. Lyndon Johnson, twenty-one months out of office, had arrived and was now sitting about ten rows behind us. I don’t think he had had a haircut since he left office and his hair fell and curled up over his collar. My father bounded up the steps and got in a short line to greet the president. I had followed my father and though I was too shy to shake the president’s hand I heard my father speak to Johnson as he shook his hand.  “I still believe in you.”

“Thank you,” replied the president.

Texas over came the early 7-0 deficit to win 42-14.

 

On Sunday back in Austin my brother Clayton took me to Memorial Stadium to throw the football. It was my first time on Astroturf.  Pretty special.

Tuesday morning my father picked up a newspaper in the lobby of the Holiday Day in Nashville on our way back to Vestal. According to the UPI and AP College football polls Texas was #1 again.

 

Mission accomplished.

 

Thanks David. Thanks Clayton.

 

Especially thanks Mom and Dad wherever you are.

 

Beat those “Pesky Owls”

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Ho Hum Holiday Bowl

Berkeley-Pre-Game

I was hanging out at the kitchen table with my parents who were having their after dinner coffee early on a Thursday evening in late May of 1968. My mother asked me if I was going to the ice cream social at my school, Vestal Hills Elementary. I told her I that I was thinking of not going. I was surprised when my father voiced a strong opinion on what seemed like a minor matter. He advised me that I should go and explained that skipping little activities here and there could become a habit that could lead to a slow withdrawal from an active and engaged life style. My Dad’s sales pitch for the ice cream social was convincing and while I was enjoying the company of my friends at the “Social,” especially that of Sue Lasky and Cindy Cable with whom I took turns chasing or being chased around the school yard, threatening or being threatened with the weapon of choice for the evening—an ice cream treat—I realized what sound advice my father had given me. It turns out that it was sound advice not only for a 12 year old but for everybody at every age. I’ve taken that solid advice into account countless times since it was delivered, more than 40 years ago, when I’ve been ambivalent about attending or taking part in some event or activity.

I don’t think my father would have had a strong opinion on whether or not I should make the trip to San Diego for The Holiday Bowl this year unless it was, “Don’t waste your time and money on that.” Evidently that is the prevailing attitude among Texas fans regarding Texas’ final game of the 2011 season. The Austin-American-Statesman reports that Texas didn’t come close to selling out its ticket allotment and in conversations at holiday gatherings I have been asked several times what day and time the game was. I was having trouble myself remembering whether the game was on the 29th or 30th. Turns out it’s actually the on the 28th. Which is tomorrow! So lets see if we can gin up some focus and enthusiasm for this Holiday Bowl game with Cal-Berkeley.

**********

The vibe I’ve been getting from the 40 acres the past couple of weeks is that this game is more about the extra practice for next year than it is about winning the game. Through one of my wife Helen’s teaching associates I met Wes this past September. Wes is a clear eyed, earnest, bright, twenty something Longhorn Football Geek and blog writer who has impressed me with his knowledge and insight about Texas Football. I talked with Wes at a McNeil High School teachers Christmas party and here are some of the things of note he told me.

1. He and others in and around the program still think David Ash can be a good quarterback. He told me that Ash was one of the premier pro-style Texas high school quarterbacks in 2010 and the reason he wasn’t more highly recruited was due to his early commitment to Texas. The Missouri game killed Ash’s confidence and Wes blames that on Bryan Harsin for calling all those deep fade routes that you may recall.

2. Case McCoy’s throwing mechanics and footwork are so bad that it’s hard to believe that his father was a football coach. Wes follows McCoy on Twitter and a couple of weeks ago McCoy tweeted that he was bored. Wes told me it took every fiber of his self restraint not to reply, “Why don’t you go work on your mechanics!” Wes and the people he talks to don’t take McCoy seriously as a possible long term U.T. quarterback.

3. Joe Bergeron wasn’t participating in contact drills in practice and Malcolm Brown was “limited” in his participation. This conversation did take place 12 days ago so we’ll see.

4. The Juco offensive lineman transfer that just signed with Texas—whatever his name is—will allow Trey Hopkins to move from right-tackle to his natural right-guard position thus vastly improving the offensive line next year. Again…we’ll see.

Wes is very optimistic about Texas Football for 2012. Wes is no sunshine pumper and I respect his opinions. I hope he’s right.

I am less optimistic than Wes for a couple of reasons.

1. The Texas program seems pretty self congratulatory over their 2012 recruiting class which, according to several recruiting services, ranks number one or two in the country. Big deal. We’ve heard it all before. It’s like they’re relived that the season is over and they don’t have to worry about wins and loses. Now they can bask in the glowing reviews of their recruiting class.

2. I keep hearing how much the new coaches like each other and how comfortable they’re getting here in Austin. Great, that’s all we need. A bunch of highly paid coaches who feel comfortable. I even read in the paper this morning that DeLoss Dodds wants Mack Brown to be comfortable so he’s working on a contract extension. Dodds and his group have the tinniest of tin ears and I really do wonder if they have their eyes on the same ball as we do. That is winning more than seven or eight games and eventually competing for a conference and dare I say a national championship again soon.

Given their current attitudes and priorities I will be pleasantly surprised if Texas comes out tomorrow night looking like they really want to win this game. Whether they do or they don’t we’ll always have………..

 

Willie Earl’s Over/Under Contest

Remember that the winner this week will be awarded double the points awarded for first place during the regular season. So this is for all the marbles…the whole enchilada…there is no tomorrow…it’s all on the line. So without further adieu…

[contact-form 1 “Holiday Bowl 2012”]

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