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The Unfinished Odyssey of Mack Brown

In 1996 the Astroturf which had applied countless world-class strawberries to the Longhorns’ finest since 1969 was replaced by natural grass in Texas Memorial Stadium. Also in 96, the first generation of our beloved Jumbotron was installed.  The seating structure and amenities remained basically the same way they had been since the early seventies with a seating capacity of approximately 80,000. There was one other change to the stadium though 1996. It was re-christened Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. That’s quite a mouthful and leads me to wonder: the next time they rename the stadium how are they going to do it? I think I prefer Darrell-Mack Brown Royal-Memorial Stadium to Darrell K Royal Mack Brown-Texas Memorial Stadium but I’m open to suggestions.

The readers of these pages know that no one is about to nominate me for the presidency of the Mack Brown Fan Club. And in the wake of the unmitigated disaster of the 2010 season: a season where, if you add up all his comments during and after, you have to conclude that Mack Brown took the year off feeling sorry for himself, I have spent much time reflecting on Mac Brown’ s career at Texas.  And even after 2010, if you compare the accomplishments and the contributions of Darrell Royal and Mack Brown I have concluded that Brown should be held in as high a regard as Royal in the history of Texas Football.  Brown is to Royal as Lincoln is to Washington. Lincoln preserved the Union, Brown not only preserved but resurrected and enhanced the glorious winning Hook Em tradition of Texas Football. 

It seems so obvious now but it really was the unique genius of Mack Brown that—unlike Fred Akers and John Mackovic before him—he figured out the way to start re-building Texas football was to bathe himself, the players, alumni, and fans in the rich glorious tradition of Darrell Royal’s Texas Football.  Mack reminded everyone of the great history and tradition of Texas Football and made the Texas faithful proud and excited about the Longhorns after a 4-7 season and before the first snap had been taken in 1998.  Whereas Akers and Mackovic were compelled by the ego to distance themselves from the Darrell Royal legacy, Brown saw Royal’s legacy as something to embrace, as shoulders he could stand on top off.  He recognized that the magic of Royal’s legacy could be leveraged for rebuilding the image of the program in the hearts and minds of the fans, the media and most importantly for recruiting. 

Ricky William’s Heisman Trophy in 1998 was a sublime climax to the first year of Brown’s campaign to re-build Texas Football. I use the word campaign purposely as 1998 would showcase Mack Brown as the best marketing and public relations professional in college football.  Ricky Williams certainly deserved to win the Heisman Trophy but it was Brown who convinced him to stay at Texas for a senior year when it was expected that he would go to the NFL and it was Brown who put the ball in his hands 30 times a game or more seven times in 98 including 44 times against A&M the last game before the final votes were in.  Most importantly it was Brown the charismatic salesman who was the frontman and campaign manager for Ricky Williams the Heisman candidate and he was not the least bit coy about promoting Williams as the player most deserving the award. Brown’s skill in marketing and public relations is his greatest strength as a coach and he has used it to stock his football teams with a top-five talent for the past 10 years. It also landed Texas a controversial bid to the Rose Bowl in 2005 which was Brown’s and Texas’ first BCS Bowl bid and was a springboard to the school’s first National Championship in 35 years.

It wasn’t always a bed of roses for Brown between 1998 and the National Championship 2005 season.  The very first game of the 1999 season exposed some of Brown’s greatest weaknesses as a coach.  North Carolinas St. blocked three Texas punts, returning two of them for touchdowns and upset a Texas in their home opener 23-20.  Special teams have always seemed like an afterthought for Brown. Every year he’s been at Texas there has been glaring weaknesses in the kicking game.  Lack of a kicker who consistently produces touchbacks and terrible kick-off coverage have been a hallmarks of Brown’s Texas teams. Game planning and game-day adjustments have also been average at best and it showed in that first game of 1999.  How could you not make adjustments to prevent more than one blocked punt in a game? 

Then there was the Chris Simms era which highlighted Brown’s tendency to coddle players and earned Texas a reputation of having a country club atmosphere and for being a soft team.  Remember the infamous press conference where Brown curtly answered a question that was directed to Chris Simms.  This coddling reached a climax in the 2001 Big 12 Championship game when Brown didn’t yank Simms in favor of Major Applewhite until he had thrown 3 interceptions and fumbled once all in the first half digging to deep a hole for Texas to climb out of.  A win would have put Texas in the National Championship game. Then there was Brown’s phone call to the Texas season ticket holder rebuking him for publicly criticizing Brown in comments to a New York Times reporter revealing his over-sensitivity to criticism.

Another thorny issue for Brown was a five-game losing streak against Oklahoma with two especially humiliating losses, in 2000, 63-14 and in 2003, 65-13. Critics said the game plans were too conservative, unimaginative and looked like Brown was playing not lose instead of playing to win.  In 20001 freshmen Cedric Benson didn’t see the field in a game where Texas failed to score a touchdown. Evidently Brown thought the Oklahoma game was too big a stage for a freshman.  Benson started the next game and as they say, the rest is history.  Amazingly Cedric Benson, Roy Williams, and B.J. Johnson never scored a touchdown and never tasted victory in a Texas-OU game.

Entwined in all of Brown’s controversies at Texas was Greg Davis.  I think the calls for the firing of Greg Davis started all the way back in 2000.  I found it ironic to hear people screaming at Greg Davis during games in Memorial Stadium. I didn’t know who Greg Davis was until fans started calling for his head.  When I found fault with coaches I was thinking Mack Brown while most others were thinking Greg Davis.  I guess people just couldn’t bring themselves to be directly critical of the charismatic Mack Brown.  Brown was steadfast in defending Greg Davis no matter how many sideways passes were thrown time and time again calling Davis the best in the country.  Davis survived long enough to have Vince Young run his offense winning Texas a National Championship and an Offensive Coordinator of the year award for Davis in 2005.

Despite these issues, the first six years of Brown’s tenure at Texas produced 60 wins and the beginning of a streak of nine seasons with 10 or more wins unmatched by any other team in the country during that time span. During those first six years, Brown laid the foundation for Texas to become one of the elite programs in college football in a class that only includes Florida, USC, Alabama, Oklahoma and LSU in my opinion. It’s getting boring and repetitive but I will mention that because of Brown’s football program Texas is number one in revenue generated by a college athletic program.  Voila, the Longhorn Network.

How ironic for the Longhorn Network to premiere on the heels of a 5-7 season, Brown’s nadir at Texas.  I think the 2010 team was the perfect storm of all the weaknesses of Brown’s program. The team was soft, there was little accountability for players or coaches and the game plans were bland, to say the least.  The first three offensive plays for Texas in the Oklahoma game encapsulated almost all of the criticisms heaped on Brown during his career at Texas.  First down, sideways pass completed for a loss of two yards. Second down, a sideways pass completed for a loss of 2 yards. Third down and 14 to go, a 7-yard completion to the tight end.  Soft, unimaginative, afraid and playing not to lose against Oklahoma. 

Mack Brown cleaned house after the 2010 season and rightfully so. The house cleaning swept away Greg Davis, Browns running mate since his days at North Carolina, the lightning rod for criticism of the program and the man who Brown called the best offensive coordinator right up until the time he fired him.  Brown has never publicly said a word about the end of his coaching relationship with Greg Davis. 

2011 is critical year not only for the Texas Football program but for Mack Brown’s career, his legacy at Texas and how he will be remembered. Will 2011 be the beginning of another run of 10 win seasons, BSC Bowls and possibly Brown’s second National Championship?  Or will it be the beginning of the last chapter of his career-ending like Bobby Bowden’s at Florida St. where he stayed too long, ending sadly and without dignity.  There’s an old vaudeville expression. – A good performer knows when to leave the stage, satisfying them and then departing with them wanting just a little bit more. 

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Why I Love OU Weekend

By the second Saturday in October of my freshman year: I had gone through Rush week and pledged a decent fraternity (thank you Mark Adams), taken my first round of tests as a college student, thrown up outside of the Sig Ep house in front of my first match date after drinking too much hurricane punch (no wonder I never got another good match date the rest of my frat career), and watched my first Texas game in Memorial Stadium as a college student.  Those were defining experiences but the most defining life altering experience of that fall was the Texas-Oklahoma game and OU weekend.

I was in my seat in the first row of the upper deck of the Cotton Bowl an hour before kick-off for that Texas-OU game in 1974.  I love the Cotton Bowl. The first time I was there was in early December 1963 to watch the New York Giants play the Dallas Cowboys.  My family had moved to Houston from upstate New York by way of Kensington, Maryland in January 1963 and we were Giants fans. The crowd was relatively small and we were able to move freely about the lower deck angling for better vantage points.  It was a great time and we were lucky to see the Giants of Tittle, Gifford and Shofner who went on to win their third straight Eastern Conference Championship in 63–just prior to their steep demise. The trip to Dallas for the game had been planned months ahead of time but a few days before the game my older brother Clayton was worried that the trip would be cancelled.  He was worried because the assassination of President Kennedy had occurred just nine days prior to the game and he thought my parents might cancel a trip to Dallas for a football game out of deference and respect for the mourning of Kennedy.  We went to the game as planned and just before the National Anthem the P.A. announcer asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence for, “Our late President John F. Kennedy.  At eight years old I was stunned by the solemnity of the moment.

My second game at the Cotton Bowl was the 1972 Cotton Bowl game between Texas and Penn St. The Cotton Bowl had been upgraded; most notably, the seats were now aluminum with backs in place of the wooden bleachers we’d sat on in 1963.  Throughout the game that New Year’s day, I was thinking, “If these seats could talk.”  It was the Cotton Bowl where the Cowboys had lost that dramatic, heart breaking 1966 NFL Championship game to the Packers and James Street and the Longhorns had pulled out the last second victory over Notre Dame in the 1970 Cotton Bowl to preserve a National Championship.  I felt a reverence for the stadium and considered myself lucky to be there even though the Longhorns took it on the chin to Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell that day 30-6.

I hadn’t seen nuthin yet.


In the stadium and hour early I watched Texas and Oklahoma warm up. It was sunny and hot, a trade mark of the OU game.  Oklahoma looked bigger than Texas and almost invincible in their crimson and white uniforms. I hated them already. Although the stadium was less than half full when I got to my seat, it was 75 % full by the time warm ups were over and The Longhorn band took the field.  As I mentioned I had been to a Texas games that fall at Memorial Stadium. But this was different.  Oklahoma was our most formidable opponent, the rivalry was our most intense and we were sharing Cotton Bowl with about 36,000 Okies. And they were louder than our 36,000 when they cheered for their team. They were louder still when they booed the Longhorns. I loved every minute of it.

It was during the 1974 OU game when I first appreciated that there was something special about watching a game in the Cotton Bowl.  I couldn’t put my finger on it right away.  It slowly dawned on me how excellent the view of the game was for me even though I was sitting on the goal line. The seats were angled toward the 50 yard-line and were closer to the field than in any other stadium I had been in including small high school stadiums.  And the 72,000 spectators were in close proximity to one another. At Memorial Stadium in Austin, the field and the opposite side of the stadium seem off in the distance. In the Cotton Bowl you were right on top of the field and you could actually make out familiar faces on the other side of the stadium. The cozy Cotton Bowl.  And during the OU game beyond the stadium you can see the State Fair’s midway rides running.  The Texas-Oklahoma game actually is played in a carnival atmosphere.

When the Longhorn Band played Texas Fight and March Grandioso the Texas fans cheered and my heart was reaching capacity as I blinked back tears and tried to clear the frog in my throat—and we had even gotten to the Eyes yet. I was glad that in the excitement my Sig Ep pledge brothers I was sitting with didn’t notice my condition.  I don’t know why I react to these events this way but my reactions have been the same all 31 times have been to this game.

In 1974 Texas was a 17 point underdog to Oklahoma who went on to win the National Championship that year.  As the game went on and the Longhorns hung tough with Oklahoma the intensity of the game became wonderfully unbearable.  When Earl Campbell rumbled seven yards untouched into the end zone right in front of me, the Longhorns took the lead late in the third quarter.  My Sig Ep pledge brother, David Crawford, sitting next to me repeated several times, “We’re going to win this game Frink.”  I didn’t say anything but I wished he would quit saying that out loud.  Ultimately we didn’t win the game losing a heart breaker 16-13.

For the first couple of hours of the aftermath I was devastated.  My devastation slowly numbed into disappointment.  I didn’t appreciate the Fair before or after the game in 1974 as I have come to appreciate it, win or lose, in all the years since.

The Texas-Oklahoma game: with the traditions so rich, the rivalry so intense, the teams perennially so excellent, could stand on it’s own without the neutral site of the Cotton Bowl, the parties, and the fair.  But with all those elements and more such as the drive up I-35 on Friday shared with all the other Texas fans on the road, the Texas-Oklahoma game and OU weekend stands alone among all the many sports traditions I have celebrated.

For me there was much at stake in the Texas-Oklahoma game in 1974 and the loss was tough to take.  I didn’t experience a victory in the OU game until my fourth trip to Dallas in 1977.  There was much more at stake in 77 and in many other years than there was in 1974. And there have been many glorious victories unmatched by others in their pure joy and there several disappointing defeats.  But since 1974 the sting of the losses to Oklahoma only last for a few minutes.  How can you be down for very long engulfed in Longhorn camaraderie, surrounded by close friends and family, while drinking beer from paper cups at the State Fair of Texas?  That’s the real beauty of this thing.


P.S to Bob, Molly, and others to whom this may apply,

Some October after I’m gone and you’re ambivalent about going to the OU game.  Go and soak up every glorious moment of OU weekend.  I don’t know where I’ll be then kids, but I’ll know about it and I’ll be happy.

Okay Okay I’m just kidding….sort of.

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OU Weekend 1977

   Things don’t always work out the way you want them to.

Friday October 7, 1977

9am Sigma Phi Epsilon house, Austin, Texas

I dropped by the Sig Ep house for a Lone Star donut. I hadn’t been at the house this early in the morning since I had lived there my sophomore year.  Now I was a senior and I had perhaps the best job I’ve ever had. I was an advertising sales rep. for The Daily Texan and I’d been on a sales call that morning at 8am at Love Tire on Burnet road.  That was a pretty early call time for me but OU weekend had officially begun the night before and I wouldn’t have slept very late that morning anyway.  When I first got there I was the only one in the main part of the house.  I was eating my donut and was soon joined by Jerry who had clearly not been home the night before.  He wasn’t hung over or anything, in fact he looked like the proverbial cat that had swallowed the canary.  We were chatting about the big weekend ahead of us, “who you going with, where are you staying …” when Philip “Beaver” or “The Beave” Jordan walked in, back from an 8am class.  Philip bore a striking resemblance to Jerry Mathers hence “Beaver.”

“Beave do you have an 8 o’clock class?” I asked.

“Yea I got fucked.” Beaver lamented.

“I got a blow job.” cracked Jerry.

Ah youth.

I stopped by The Daily Texan office briefly on my way to the only class I was attending that day, “The Cuban Missile Crisis,” at 11am in the RLM.  During class I watched the clock and day dreamed about the impending weekend.  I was really exited.  I had a date for the entire OU weekend for the first time.  That meant Tanya was riding with me to Dallas, going to the Sig Ep party with me in a suite at the Adolphus hotel Friday night, going to the big semi-formal Sig Ep party in the ballroom of a downtown hotel Saturday night and riding back to Austin with me Sunday.   Oh yeah and she was going to the game with me. The OU game, Oklahoma ranked #2 and our beloved Longhorns #5. Both teams undefeated.  “Holy hoopla and pageantry Batman!”

Some, if not most, Longhorn fans weren’t exactly sanguine about the Horns’ chance of winning.  Despite the closeness in ranking Oklahoma was a 13 point favorite to beat Texas for the seventh time in eight years.  The previous year Texas had managed to tie the Sooners.  Darrel Royal had retired after that season mainly because of his frustration in not being able to compete in recruiting and on the field with Barry Switzer the coach of Oklahoma.  I myself, the eternal optimist believed “we” could win.  In fact I had lectured a few of the doubters that “we” could finally win this year. We had the best defense in the country and we had Earl.

I get very emotional about Earl. We arrived at the University at the same time, the fall semester of 1974. We lived in the same dorm, Jester, where I encountered him frequently my freshman year.  The coke machines were in the basement of Jester. Often there was a long wait for the lone elevator that went to the basement after you scored your Coke, Dr. Pepper or whatever.  One night Earl stepped out of the elevator as I was stepping on to go back upstairs. Knowing that he might be in for the long wait Earl asked me if I would hold the elevator for him while he got his drink. Yes, yes of course I told him, I couldn’t believe this was happening. But while I was answering the humble Earl Campbell demurred, “No, no,” he said in his thick rural east Texas accent, “don’t worry about it.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s not a problem.” I answered obsequiously.

“Nah” he said, “go ahead.”

Damn. That would have been great.

Anyway the thing about Earl Campbell is that there has never been anyone who ran with the football the way he did.  Of course there have been many running backs with the combination size and speed that Earl possessed. Hershel Walker and Bo Jackson and our own Ricky Williams come to mind and they were certainly great backs. But Earl, my god the way he ran; moving the pile, pile driving would be tacklers, dragging multiple defenders, absorbing a big hit, spinning around and then hurdling another tackler you were sure had him. And the speed, when there was a hole he shot through it faster than anyone ever had before and suddenly there was this big mass barreling down the field and in these instances this huge running back didn’t run over tacklers, he set them up and faked them out of their jocks.  Sometimes I think the defenders wanted to be faked out rather than dealing with Earl head on.

1pm, The Delta Gamma sorority house.   

Sporting a white Izod and with a styrofoam cooler wedged between the bucket seats of my 76 Mustang I picked up Tanya and we headed north on I35 to big D.  Even though we had been dating since the weekend before classes started that fall until I called her from the lobby of the DG house and she answered that she was on her way out, I was worried that the whole thing wouldn’t actually happen.  That Tanya would tell me that something had come up and wouldn’t be going with me after all. I had been cancelled on a few times before. Six months earlier a girl I had been out with a few times broke our date to “Round Up” one of the big Sig Ep soirees of the spring semester.  Until this moment I considered myself a loser with women.

Tanya was warm, had great smile, laughed easily, she was unpretentious–she drove what had been her father’s five year old Dodge pick up truck, and she left little notes under the windshield wiper of my car when it was parked on campus at The Daily Texan office. Apparently she liked me.  And she was really pretty.  I had been asked a few times that semester, “Frink, whooo was your date last night?” She was Miss San Antonio 1976. You can look it up.  For me, dating Tanya was like moving from the “outhouse” to the “penthouse” in one fell swoop.

The drive was as good as the drive from Austin to Dallas can get. We engaged in non stop conversation and Tanya laughed as I feigned incredulity when she insisted that we listen to Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, by Crystal Gale every time it came on the radio, at least 3 times, on one top 40 station after another as drove from Austin to Temple to Waco and on to Dallas.  The usually boring drive had never gone by so quickly.

Dallas 5pm

As we pulled up to Tanya’s brother’s apartment in Dallas she wanted to sit in the car to listen to the end another song on the radio, Midnight Blue by Melissa Manchester…. “And I think we can make it one more time if we try…” Tanya had lost her father to cancer just a few months earlier and this song reminded her of him and the struggles they shared as he battled the disease to his death.  I knew about her father but this was the first time she had confided in me about him. She was heart broken. I couldn’t imagine the pain I would feel if one of my parents had died. We sat in the car as she talked about her Dad and she cried a little.  I listened.  I was totally there and I was moved but I didn’t say much which was just the right thing to say.  I liked her a lot. I admit I calculated that maybe she liked me even more than I had suspected after she opened up that part of herself to me.

The Adolphus Hotel, downtown Dallas, 8pm

Accompanied by Tanya and my good friend Rick Mosher, I painstakingly navigated my Mustang through bumper to bumper downtown traffic and hundreds Texas-OU pedestrian revelers to the Adolphus Hotel.  At one point while stopped dead, one of the spirited pedestrians came right up to my open window and asked if me we were from Texas or Oklahoma.  “SMU,” I cleverly answered hoping to avoid a confrontation.  Tanya thought I was funny. Rick, not so much.

Still looking in the window, our new acquaintance said, “That’s a beautiful girl” before he disappeared into the crowd.

Embarrassed, Tanya asked me, “Why did he say that?”

I answered succinctly, “Because you are.”

If ever there was a place to be in a given circumstance — a suite, about 7 stories up in the old Adolphus hotel, in downtown Dallas, the Friday night of Texas-OU weekend with: your fraternity brothers, a really good date and other assorted “beautiful people”– was the place to be.  The windows in the suite were thrown wide open and you could lean out and watch the hordes of rowdy Texas-OU revelers parading up and down the street below.  It was absolutely sublime.  Tanya and I held court while sitting on one of the beds; she sipped white wine, I drank scotch.  An interesting thing about dating Tanya was that we often found ourselves unintentionally holding court at parties and gatherings. We were mainly interested in talking with each other but I think my fraternity brothers wanted to figure out how I could possibly be dating Tanya.

Saturday, October 8, 1977

12 noon, The Cotton Bowl

Finally the game. We had great seats, row 35 of the lower section, west side of the stadium on the north 30 yard line.  This was the first year the University distributed the student tickets via a lottery instead of on a first come first serve basis. It was the end of the traditional camp out at the ticket office which for a really big OU game would begin on the Monday night before the Wednesday morning draw. For an upperclassman in a fraternity this was a great system because we made the pledges do the camping out and we could force them to get in line really early.  I think the University changed the system to eliminate this advantage for the frat rats.  I did not get the tickets I applied for through the lottery. Many students didn’t.  Crap!  What now?  As in many times over the previous 3 years that I had been in Austin, one of my brothers came to my rescue. I mean one of my real brothers as in Clayton and David. Clayton had season tickets and had 4 seats on the 30 yard line.  For some reason which is totally foreign to me Clayton wasn’t hot to attend the game. The tickets though were quite valuable and I couldn’t afford the market rate. I called Clayton.  His wife said he was expecting my call but I needed to call him at some poker game where ever that was. Clayton was willing to part with the 4 tickets that had a face value of $35 for around $250. This was generous, tickets as good as these had a street value of about $150 to $175 each.  He must have been winning.  I’m kidding of course he has always been willing to give me the shirt off his back.  I sold two of the tickets to a couple of Sig Ep fifth year seniors who never had dates, Jim Huey and Don Heckman.  They paid me $120 each.  Clayton accepted $240 as payment in full leaving me with a total outlay for tickets of… I’ll let you do the arithmetic.

On one of Texas’ first possessions Earl threw a really bad half back pass and it was intercepted at about “our” own 35 yard line. Oklahoma hadn’t been the least bit fooled. Maybe Switzer was still spying on our practices. The defense held Oklahoma to a field goal.  On Texas’ next possession starting quarterback Mark McBath broke his ankle on an option keeper. Okay we can deal with this because he was replaced by Jon Aune who we considered not the #2 quarterback but quarterback #1A.  Still in the first quarter Aune blows out his ACL. We’re in big trouble. Who the heck is going to play quarterback now?  Randy McEachern. At about 5’ 9” he looked like a junior high player as he ran out on to the field.  Well at least I liked my date. So I had that going for me–which was nice.

I shouldn’t have sold McEachern short. On his second series early in the second quarter he and Earl got the Horns in to position for Russell Erxleben to attempt, ahem, a 64 yard field goal. It would have been good from 74. To give you a little perspective, college kickers were kicking off tees in those days and the wind was at his back. Still, 64 yards, it was a clutch kick to say the least.  So now were tied up 3-3. Did we have a chance?  With “our” defense the answer was a definite maybe.

With about 5 minutes remaining in the first half the game still tied 3-3, Randy McEachern and Earl Campbell led Texas on the most important drive in Texas football history from that time going forward not to be surpassed for 28 years and 3 months.  It was of the 80 yard variety. McEachern threw darts over the middle to Alfred Jackson. Earl bulled and clawed for 3, 4 and 5 yards gains.  Post game film study revealed that of the 124 yards Earl gained that day, 114 came after an initial contact by an OU defender. Again, you can look it up.  The touchdown came on a 24 yard run by Earl behind a down field clearing block from second team tight end Steve Hall from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Earl avoided the last defender with one of his classic hurdles with a form that any low hurdler would be proud of. When Earl hurdled his head didn’t bob. Texas fans felt like they had been to the gates of hell and back and now “we” had the halftime lead 10-3. Incredible.

Oklahoma kicked a field goal in the third quarter to bring the score to 10-6. Erxleben hit a “chip shot” 58 yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, extending the lead to 13-6. It was the most exciting 13-6 game that you’re ever going to see. Jim Huey one of my SiG-Ep brothers I had sold the tickets to was going crazy, dying a thousand deaths, physically trying to run, block and tackle for the Horns.  Oklahoma hadn’t sustained a serious offensive drive the entire day when they got the ball on their own 20 yard line with about 8 minutes left in the game. For the first time in the game they methodically marched the ball down the field mixing in a half back reverse pass with some Thomas Lott passes and the OU offensive line finally opened up a few holes for Billy Simms and company. Oklahoma was good. Oklahoma was clutch. I hate Oklahoma.  Now I’m dying along with brother Huey.  It all came down to forth and less than a yard from “our” 4 yard line. Thomas Lott takes the snap and starts to his left on the option play.  He sees a seam and cuts up field hard between the left tackle and the tight end. The seam is immediately filled by Johnny Johnson who smashes Lott head on. No gain. Johnson had knocked himself unconscious. Ecstasy, Huey and I had moved about 8 rows down the isle as if we could help the Horns by getting closer to the field. Huey and I are jumping around like mad men. I don’t know how we didn’t fall and injure ourselves.  McEachern took a knee three times and Erxleben boomed a 69 yard punt to seal the biggest win of my college career.  Tanya and I embraced.  A lady sitting behind us told Jim Huey that he had played a wonderful game.

After the game I wandered around the fair with Tanya in a euphoric haze for about an hour before we headed to the car.

Now it was time for reunions with close friends and a phone call home to my parents. The first reunion was with one of my best friends, Rick Mosher. I was staying at his house in Richardson.  Rick, an RTF major had watched the game from the press box as an assistant producer. His dad had been the PR guy for the Cowboys for years and now was the GM for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  When I got to the house Rick was in his room trying to catch a nap before the night’s Sig Ep party downtown.  He was lying down but he wasn’t a sleep when I came into his room.  We exchanged a warm, vigorous celebratory soul hand shake. There were big smiles but we didn’t say much at first. I think both of us needed a second to collect our emotions.  We briefly talked about the game and then I went to make a collect phone call to my parents in Virginia. Again it was hard to say much. My mother was the most effusive, “Billy I’m so happy for you”

I managed to say, “I know”.

The game hadn’t been televised in Virginia and I recounted as best I could the details of the victory to my father. He hung on every word.

I picked up Tanya and we drove downtown to the party.  I was standing in a circle of guys talking about the game when I spotted a good friend, John Scott standing at the bar about 30 feet away. We made eye contact and smiled knowingly almost like the Texas victory was ours alone.

You know I had to distribute a few “I told you we could wins” to the biggest doubters. The party of course was big fun. Tanya and I danced, she wore my suit coat over her party dress and we held hands most of the evening. I don’t know what led to her remarking to me at one point late in the evening, “things don’t always turn out the way you want them to.” I heard her but I pretended to myself that I didn’t understand the significance of the comment.  Some time after the remark pointed she out to me that I had dropped her hand which I hadn’t been consciously aware of. I grabbed her hand and compartmentalized that brief part of the evening.

Dallas Sunday1130a.m.

I met Tanya and her brother for lunch on Greenville Avenue. I hoped he would offer to pay since I had about $6 on me and no other visible means of support.  He paid.  After lunch the three of us went downtown to see his new office in a Dallas office tower. His office had a great view.  He introduced Tanya and me to a co-worker who was the only other person at the office early Sunday afternoon, “This is my sister and her ‘friend’ Bill from Austin.”  Friend ?  I sensed trouble on the horizon.

We weren’t far south of Dallas on the drive back to Austin when I asked Tanya to go to a Rusty Weir concert the following weekend.  I was sure it was just a pro-forma request. We were dating after all and what else would she be doing on Saturday night other than going out with me. Wrong again. Tanya decided it was time to let me know she didn’t think it was a good idea that we continued dating because of her serious relationship with a guy in San Antonio.  I knew about the guy in San Antonio, Craig, a 25 year old officer in the Air Force.  In fact Andy Garrod, my roommate who had known Tanya for over a year because his fiancé was in Tanya’s sorority, had warned me from the beginning that there was no long term future for Tanya and me.

For the next two and a half hours I grilled Tanya like a prosecuting attorney along the lines of, there’s no way we are going to have a serious, exclusive, long term relationship?


“There’s no way you’re going to change your mind.”


“But how–but why – but what if,” I pleaded fourteen ways from Sunday.

“No.” and “I’m so sorry”, she replied over and over again.

I was dumfounded but mostly I was heart broken. The drive back to Austin was in stark contrast to the drive to Dallas 48 hours earlier.  It wasn’t wonderful.

I dropped her off at the DG house at about 6pm.  There was no kiss good bye?  I started the drive home. Heading south down Nueces Street I slowed down for some guys who were playing touch football in the street. As I drove by one of the guys flashed the “Hook- Em” sign to me.  I burst into tears and sobbed the rest of the 10 minute drive home.

Was it a great weekend?  Your dam right it was heart break and all. Bill Montgomery, the great quarterback of the Arkansas team that lost the game for the National Championship to Texas 15-14 in 1969 said that he had great and fond memories of that game.  I understand

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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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