John Shearer: Remembering Coach Darrell Royal

Thursday, November 8, 2012 - by John Shearer

Learning of the death of former Texas coach Darrell Royal on Wednesday started me thinking about the time Tennessee played Texas in football when he was the coach – the 1969 Cotton Bowl.

That was also apparently the last time the Longhorns and the Volunteers have hooked up in football.

I was only 9 years old and was a third-grader at the Bright School at the time, but I still vividly remember that game as well as another one played at the same time – the Sugar Bowl between Georgia and Arkansas.

My father, Dr. C. Wayne Shearer, had gone to Georgia, so I had already become a diehard Georgia fan at that time, even though we both still followed Tennessee closely and with much interest.

Georgia had finished 8-0-2 during the regular season and was Southeastern Conference champions, while Tennessee had a solid 8-1-1 year.

The two SEC teams that year were not remembered collectively as much for playing bowl games at the same time, but for their memorable 17-17 tie at the start of the season during the first game played on artificial turf at Neyland Stadium.

I remember that my father had our possibly new color television set tuned to the Georgia-Arkansas game that New Year’s Day of long ago, while he brought in a smaller black-and-white TV and had it set on the Tennessee-Texas game.

This was 15 years or so before dozens of college football games were played on TV on a given Saturday, so this was actually the only time during the year when multiple games were on at the same time.

Despite the fact that two sets were being used, the results were the same: horrible outcomes for both Tennessee and Georgia. Tennessee lost, 36-13, to a Texas team that was not only good, but it was also running a new offense that year installed under Coach Royal and assistant Emory Bellard – the wishbone.

The triple option was hard to defend initially for teams not used to seeing it, and Tennessee definitely had trouble.

Georgia, unlike Tennessee, had actually been favored in its game, but it apparently came in less focused than Arkansas. As a result, the Razorbacks – who were co-Southwest Conference champions along with Texas -- easily defeated the Bulldogs, 16-2.

Although several aspects of watching both games are still memorable in my mind so many years later, I went and looked up the newspaper stories on the two bowls on microfilm to refresh my memory.

In the first half, Texas had used quarterback James Street and running backs Chris Gilbert, Ted Koy and Steve Worster to gain 191 yards rushing for a 28-0 halftime lead. Receiver Charles Spreyer also had two touchdown receptions before the game was over.

Tennessee, meanwhile, had only minus-2 yards in the first half, and Vol quarterback Bobby Scott from Rossville High soon replaced Bubba Wyche. Scott would use his passing skills – including to end Lester McClain, the first black to play for Tennessee – to help the Vols under coach Doug Dickey score two second-half touchdowns to make the game look not quite so bad.

Despite the late Vol scores, some were wondering if Texas had tried to pour on the score overall to help its national ranking.

However, Coach Royal denied such claims. “I don’t even know where we are ranked,” he said. “But I have never tried to score points to make an impression and get higher in the polls.”

The Longhorns had made quite an impression on their coach, however.

“I’d have to rate this as one of our greatest teams,” coach Royal said. “Certainly it is one of the greatest teams I have ever coached.”

At the time, he did not know what lay ahead in 1969 for the Longhorns.

Regarding the write-up on the Arkansas-Georgia Sugar Bowl game -- which, like the Cotton Bowl, was played in pretty cold temperatures in old Tulane Stadium-- it also read more like a story with an unhappy ending for the Southeastern Conference.

No. 4 Georgia’s supposedly potent running offense – led by quarterback Mike Cavan, one of my early heroes, and running back Brad Johnson – could not do much against the suddenly stellar Hog defense. The Bulldogs under coach Vince Dooley – the father of UT coach Derek Dooley – also had several turnovers.

Cavan, like Wyche at Tennessee, was also benched for Donnie Hampton, who was the father of future UTC quarterback Brian Hampton.

And coach Frank Broyles’ Arkansas offense was able to get some good offensive production past Georgia’s defense, which was led by future Miami Dolphin stars Jake Scott and Bill Stanfill.

This Hog success was due in large part to two players who would suddenly become among the favorites of this easily impressionable 9-year-old. They were quarterback Bill Montgomery and receiver Chuck Dicus, who hooked up several times for key plays. The two Texas-raised sophomores, running back Bill Burnett and senior kicker Bob White -- who had three field goals – were too much for Georgia.

Dicus had such a great game catching the ball that he was named the Sugar Bowl MVP.

After quickly getting over the Georgia and Tennessee losses, I suddenly started becoming interested for a brief period in Arkansas.

And when Texas and Arkansas met up the following December as the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in the nation in front of only 44,000 – including President Richard Nixon – at Arkansas’ stadium in Fayetteville, I was cheering hard for Arkansas, primarily because of my new affinity for Montgomery and Dicus.

My two heroes helped the underdog Razorbacks take a 14-0 lead, but Texas came back for a memorable 15-14 win in what some called the game of the century during the 100th anniversary season of college football.

I still pulled for Arkansas and the two offensive players when the Razorbacks played Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1970. Unfortunately, they played a little like Georgia had the year before and lost 27-22.

The Rebel quarterback, by the way, was Archie Manning.

The next year, when Montgomery and Dicus were seniors, I also remember watching them play Stanford to open the season, but the Razorbacks lost, 34-28, to that year’s Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett.

As a result, my interest in Arkansas quickly waned, but Bill Montgomery and Chuck Dicus have continued to stay in my mind as early football heroes.

And so does Darrell Royal, who was considered a popular and likable coach and had also coached Mississippi State to a 19-7 loss to Tennessee in Memphis’ Crump Stadium in 1954 and a 13-7 Bulldog victory over the Vols in Knoxville in 1955.

As a tribute to coach Royal, the Longhorns’ offense will open its game Saturday against Iowa State at home in the wishbone formation.

Although not used as much today, his offense had become so popular by the early and mid-1970s that it started being used at a number of colleges and high schools.

Among them was Baylor School, where I played.

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