DARRELL K ROYAL and Me, plus, Schlemeyer Back To Pass

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DKR

I remember being in junior high school when Darrell K Royal first became the head coach at UT.  We would often hear or read the results of his unique way with words.  He was not just the best coach in the country in his time, and it was a time of great coaches, but he was the best there ever was with coining phrases and cutting to the bone with what he wanted to say.  There was once a book written about them and I never owned it.  I lament that. 

I was living in Colorado in 1968 as a homesick Texan when I became a diehard fan of the emerging wishbone offense.  Watching Texas football in those years sealed my football identity.  Before that, the other schools in the state competed for my heart’s allegiance, but that battle ended when I moved out of state  to what I thought was my life’s dream, Colorado mountains and working for an airline in Denver that I was sure going to give me a shot at a co-pilot’s seat someday.  It was with some chagrin when I figured out that I missed too much about my home state of Texas: the Mexican food, sweet iced tea in the summer, and barbecue from oak and mesquite trees, fried catfish with cornbread and pinto beans and fried potatoes.  Couldn’t get stuff like that in Denver.  The only thing you could get up there at that time about the Longhorns was news about a newfangled offense that was running up big scores against the opposition.  So, I  subscribed to the Austin newspaper and kept up with it all that way.  I would take the paper to work with me and coworkers also from Texas would make sure they got a free read.   

History of the wishbone years is readily available and it was exciting and it always will be full of stories about Darrell.  I moved to Austin in 1971 with a new bride and worked in real estate, and that gave me a flexibility to sometimes drop in on a practice and watch the Longhorns.  One day, Darrell eyed me suspiciously.  I was 6’3’’ and looked like I could have played ball.  He walked up to me in the stands and introduced himself.  I was so impressed!  Later I figured out that he might have thought I was a loyalist to another school and wanted to pass info about his team to others.  But I am sure I assuaged his suspicions by obsequiously assuring him I was a loyal fan that loved what he was doing in Austin.  I did not wash my right hand for some time.

Later, I became acquainted with Fred Akers when I sold his home for him in north east Austin. That transaction caused me to have to get inside the offices of the coaches so Fred could sign some papers.  Darrell was the first guy to stop me in the hallway and again introduce himself, and again, I wondered if he was suspicious, but again I would not wash my hands.

Not long after those two encounters with the man, the news broke about the OU bunch spying on Texas practices and Switzer lying about it.  Practices were then closed to the public.  Accusations flew back and forth.  I had changed jobs and was in the insurance business when a coworker told me about our company insuring a car of an OU football player that DKR suspected was an illegal benefit to a running back.  The car cost more than his parent’s house was worth, or such was the rumor.  I wrongly thought I could help DKR get the info he was trying to get so I ended up having a phone conversation with him late at night.  It lasted about 30 minutes, and what I remembered about it more than anything else is how much he hated the cheating going on in college football.  I remember his saying that he believed that the people of the state of Texas would not want him to cheat.  I think he was right.

 

When that conversation ended, I remember thinking I just might have talked to the most honorable man I had ever met.  Darrell could have cheated with more resources of any major college football coach in the country, but he was not that kind of a man.  I respect him for that more than I respect the won and loss record, the innovations, the legend, the legacy, and the love of all the people for him.  Before all else, Darrell K. Royal was an honorable man, and that was what made him great in my opinion.

I think if the truth were told, DKR retired at age 52 because he would not compete with cheaters.  Conversely Switzer’s house would eventually fall due to runaway scandals.  It was somewhere in that time that Darrell coined the phrase that Will Rogers never met Barry Switzer.  Texas agreed with him, and laughed at the ironic truth in a unique statement.  It was also in that time of his pain and discouragement that Cactus Pryor heard about a statement Darrell had made to someone.

Pryor reassured himself by directly asking Royal to confirm it, and to ask him if he would re-enact the circumstance and allow it to be put on film.  Darrell agreed.  It was later at a Headliners club in downtown Austin in a room full of journalists and notables when the resulting film flickered to life to reveal the hurting look in Coach’s eyes. He had just suffered through back to back losses to OU and Arkansas and the audience quickly quieted when they saw the somber hurting coach on film in front of them.

Speaking of the losses, Darrell was quoted as saying, “Of course, these two losses that have been dealt to us, first by Oklahoma, and then by Arkansas, which was a lopsided defeat, caused us to do a lot of reflecting and a lot thinking.  I was reading a story that young man was interviewing Oliver Wendell Homes, and Oliver Wendell Holmes told this young man that if he had method, a surefire method, by which he could cause the world to bypass all troubles, that he wouldn’t pass this formula on to the public or even to his friends because he felt everyone needed some trouble in their life.  And you know, that story causes you to do some serious thinking, and I have, and my thought is piss on Oliver Wendell Holmes.” 

It was the longest sustained laughter Cactus Pryor had ever heard.

Ya’ gotta love him.  Even in a dark moment for him he had the courage to give his friends a good laugh at him, and with such style.  He was so much more than just a coach. He was a classy authentic human being we all loved for his uniqueness.

In the early and mid ‘70s I hardly ever missed his Wednesday lunch at the Paramount Theater on Congress Avenue downtown Austin where he would go over the game film play by play for diehards like me to watch and listen.  In those days you could pay two dollars to get in and be served a box lunch of fried chicken, a biscuit and some potatoes and a soft drink.  The host of that program one day tried to get feedback if the audience was okay with the lunch choice they were given.  Not too many responses came forth so he asked Darrell what he thought of his lunch choice.

Royal replied, “Hell, I’m just grateful for anything I get here.  Growing up in Hollis we would get up in the morning and go see what we could find on the road to put in our gravy.”

He could have been serious, I don’t know.  But if he said it, I believe it.  I miss him already.  11-2012

 

aodessastadium.jpg

“SCHLEMEYER, BACK TO PASS”

 

 It seemed that all Troy had to do was look over his right shoulder to spot the descending ball, and he knew, he had to know, that miraculously all he had to do was to put up his arms and hands into a cradling position, and that oblong shape would settle perfectly into his hands as though heaven meant it to be so, and that is what happened.

 

I was in the fifth grade and infected with football fever because my parents and the entire community were caught up in the successes of the 1953 Odessa High School football team.  Maybe it was because my family knew several of the players on the team, or maybe what made that year so memorable was the team’s overall talent level along with the enthusiasm and expectations manifested by so many people in those days.

 

It was fortunate for me that my parents insisted on going to every home game played in Broncho stadium that year. It was an age-segregated crowd in the stadium back then.  I remember that the far north end of the bleachers were for the much younger folks like me.  The high school population occupied the far south bleachers; they were situated behind the red-and-white-clad band members at field level.  In the middle portion of the bleachers, occupying the best seats for visibility, were the adult fans, most likely our parents.  It was arranged like that as far back as I remember. 

 

The 1953 OHS team had a great deal of speed and size for teams of that era.  The quarterback was a young man named Carl Schlemeyer, a phenomenal passer and an outstanding quarterback.  Behind him, he had a backfield consisting of a fullback name Dale Sherrod and halfbacks Johnny Crain and Troy Moody, a speedster and track star.  They were a powerful team in a time of powerful teams. 

 

The highlight game of that year was a semi-finals game played in Odessa against Woodrow Wilson High School of Dallas.  The contest would decide who played for the state championship against Houston Lamar. Late in the fourth quarter, with just seconds left on the clock, Odessa found itself trailing 14-7.  They had the ball deep in their own territory, and I was one dejected fifth grader, because my heroes were about to be defeated.  As I recall, I was watching the game alone, with no hope left in my heart.  Never in that season had I seen the Bronchos so shut down in their mighty offensive efforts. I remember deciding that I did not want to see the final seconds tick off the clock while my heroes desperately struggled against a tremendous football team from Dallas. So I started walking to the down ramp that exited the stands when the announcer’s familiar game voice sounded over the loudspeakers saying, “Schlemeyer, back to pass.”

 

The phrase was seared into my consciousness the moment it was said. There seemed to be a collective intake of a deep breath, a split second silence throughout the stands that immediately aroused my instincts.  I stopped dead in my tracks and quickly looked over my right shoulder. There, against a gray sky, in the middle of my field of vision, was an exquisite long pass on a perfect rainbow path; it was the tight, spiraling, oblong shape of the "pigskin.” Beneath and ahead of the ball was Troy Moody, streaking northward down the nearest sideline right in front of the home crowd with two defenders just a step behind him, unfortunately for them.

 

It was unfortunate for the defenders because it seemed that all Troy had to do was look over his right shoulder to spot the descending ball, and he knew, he had to know, that miraculously all he had to do was to put up his arms and hands into a cradling position, and that oblong shape would settle perfectly into his hands as though heaven meant it to be so, and that is what happened.  It was as though some voice told him: "Troy, just run as fast as you can and don't worry about the ball; just put your hands up where you want them and the football will be there."  And he did.

 

Troy never broke stride.  He never looked back at his pursuers; he just raced on with his sprinter’s speed, just far enough ahead for the defenders to not have a chance at a tackle.  Then, as he stepped into the end zone, the collectively held breath taken in by every spectator in that stadium was let out.  Immediately, and seemingly audibly, another deep breath was taken in by the Odessa supporters, but that breath was quickly expelled with wild joyous cheering, tears of sudden relief and wide-eyed disbelief. 

 

It was an extraordinary play for several reasons.  The first reason was that it took place with less than 50 seconds left on the clock.  Another reason it was extraordinary was that the play began on the Odessa 19 yard line, 81 long yards away from pay dirt.  But, most extraordinary of all was that it worked in a game where pitifully little had worked all day long for one of the state's best offensive football teams that year.  More amazing than those factors was that a running back, Troy Moody, was the team's leading receiver that year instead of the receivers who usually gets those kinds of accolades.  All that said something about the chemistry between Troy the sprinter and Carl the passer, but what ever it was, it was so rare as to be a football miracle in my young eyes. 

 

When the play was over, foul free, the Odessa fans knew at that moment that their guys were one extra-point away from tying the game and sending it into a statistical decision for a victory. Only a few seconds were left in the game.  Hope swelled within all of us as the kicker confidently sent the ball right through those uprights on the north end of the field; the score was now tied at 14-14.

 

Within a few seconds, after a kick-off to Woodrow Wilson, the game ended, and the stadium was near dead quiet.  That was an eerie feeling to experience in a football stadium at the end of a game that was supposed to decide the participants for a state championship game.

 

No fan in the stands or officials in the stadium boxes up above the fans knew who the victor was at that moment. The fans stayed quiet with murmurings of speculation while the officials, out of our sight in the press boxes above us, started to compile the number of times each team had penetrated the other’s twenty-yard line.  Penetrations were the first parameters to consider, because in those days overtimes were not played in high school football.

 

Finally, after what seemed forever, the announcer came back to the microphone, and after a long, dramatic pause he announced the number of penetrations for both sides. And lo and behold, the penetrations were tied!  Next, and again after an effective pause, he announced the number of first downs by the Dallas team, letting us logically deduce that first downs were the next category of parameters after penetrations. But when he announced the number of Odessa first downs, the fans knew Odessa had won the game, and they were going to Houston to play for the State Championship, a feat last accomplished in 1946, and the noise began.

 

That game taught me that miracles can happen if you don’t give up.  I wonder today if Troy and Carl also learned that lesson.  I suspect they did.

 

It would be more than forty years before another Odessa High School team would see the playoffs.  Another high school in Odessa would assume that role, and that high school would do it with Úlan.    

 

Over the years since, I have come across people who saw that game in Broncho Stadium with Dallas Woodrow Wilson High School, and it was always with a sense of amazement that we discussed it.  I once met a Dallas fan who was there in the stadium in Odessa for that game, rooting for the other side, and he too remembered the phrase, “Schlemeyer, back to pass,” though with sadness.

 

Odessa advanced to the state title game with Houston Lamar, where they lost 33-7. With the loss, Odessa finished the season with a 9-2-2 record.  If you lived in Odessa and loved football, 1953 was a very good year. Not perfect, but very good.

That season instilled in me the desire to play the sport when I got older.  I didn’t play beyond the ninth grade, but what little I did play influenced me through the values taught by some of the coaches I played for.  Those lessons and experiences also revealed to me that I was not a great athlete. 

 

CLICK here FOR A LUBBOCK NEWS ARTICLE ABOUT ODESSA 1953-54

My ninth grade year at Bonham Junior High School was a great one for football.  No substantial commentary mentioning Odessa, Texas, could be considered complete if it didn’t have a football story in it. Whether it is the football capital of Texas might be an arguable subject for some folks outside Odessa, but one thing is certain:  no such argument would be worth listening to if the phrase “Odessa, Texas,” wasn’t in it.  Anyone with a lick of football sense knows the truth of that statement.  Football is one of the main social events of the area, and it is taken seriously, and there is no doubt that our group was pretty serious about it too, back in the ‘50s.

 

A friend of mine, Sarah Ashford (her maiden name), and I once attended one of the several Class of 1961 reunions, both OHS and PHS.  While we were there, we decided to take a tour of the town together, and we drove by such memorable sites as parks, swimming pools, familiar homes, downtown, Odessa High School, etc., and finally, Permian High School.

 

I was doing the driving, and I was curious when we got in close proximity to the football practice fields at Permian, because what I observed there was amazing, especially considering what I was used to seeing in the Austin, Texas, area, where high school football is much more casual than it is in Odessa.  The facilities Permian had for the coaches to observe the practices astounded me.  There was an elaborate catwalk high above the field where no doubt things are filmed for extensive viewing by the coaching staff, and all in all, it was a very impressive site for a high school football program.

 

I’ll never forget saying out loud, mostly to myself, “Wow, this looks like a better facility for practicing than what the University of Texas has in Austin for the Longhorns.” Sarah nonchalantly replied, “Well, Mike, the University of Texas isn’t as serious as these folks are about football.” 

 

I think she was right.

 

My age group would be the high school class of 1961.  We saw the beginning of the MOJO tradition.  In fact, it was the Permian class of 1961 football team who first broke the long drought of district championships that seemed to go to Abilene every year.

 

This passage is not meant to be a history lesson, but I vividly remember the football season of 1953, when Carl Schlemeyer, as quarterback, took a very talented OHS team to the state championship game in Houston, Texas, where they ended the season with a 33-7 loss to Houston-Lamar. After that season, Abilene was a perennial power for many years, frustrating the die-hard football fans of Odessa.  Many fans thought the establishment of three high schools in Odessa spelled doom, because they thought it diluted the town’s football talent base, but a lot of good football players were coming up through the system, and I was not surprised that Permian rose to meet the challenge.  I was a junior high teammate to those first Permian football players, and I knew they were good.

 

In fact, The Odessa American newspaper wrote an article about our ninth grade football team at Bonham.  It was the 1957 football season, and the coach was Jim Daniel, a former marine who had once coached a team that actually posted negative net yards for the defense for the year.  I am sure that is what he told us.  He reminded us often of that team, and when I saw him at a reunion in 1990, he again brought up that tremendous defense he once coached.  He also said something about our 1957 team at Bonham Junior High School.  He said it was as good on offense as that other team was on defense.

 

That was a heck of a compliment, to be compared to the team he loved so much.  I was not a starter on that Bonham team, but I knew every player, and I remember the games in that season.  They were nothing compared to the tough scrimmages we had throughout the fall.  It was an explosive team.

 

Most of the scores were lopsided, like 39-6, in our favor, of course.  I remember playing a Monahans team, and I am sure we played the junior highs in Midland, and of course we played Ector, Crockett and Bowie.  All those games were blowouts except for the game with Bowie, the real cross-town rival, and they were our friends.  They played the game of their lives, and it was a knockdown, drag ‘em out fight that Bonham won 12-6, and that game was not even the game that the Odessa American wrote about. The OA published a pre-game article about the San Angelo game we played just before the last game with Bowie Junior High School.   The reporter said that if there were such a thing as a junior high school championship, the Bonham and San Angelo game would be it.

 

Needless to say, we ninth graders players at Bonham read that article and we got pumped.  San Angelo traveled all the way to our practice fields at Bonham to play the game, and we blew them out. It had to be a long ride back home for them.  The final score was something like 39-12.  It seems like we scored at least six touchdowns in every game we played, until the very last game.  During that season, I remember at least two long touchdown runs from a quarterback sneak play.  It was amazing, and it all seemed too easy for our starters to just run up and down the field against our opposition. 

 

They were a good bunch and they were well coached.  In fact, I’d bet anytime any of those players got together and started talking about coach Daniel, one, if not both, would recall the main thing he told us:  DO NOT ACCEPT ANYTHING LESS THAN THREE YARDS ON EVERY OFFENSIVE PLAY. That was our creed, and it taught many of us the truth in the old saying:  It is hard by the yard, but a cinch by the inch.  The defense learned not to allow the other guys the three yards, and the offense refused to accept anything less.  It worked too well, all except in one game, the last one of the year against Bowie Junior High. 

 

Bowie had some good athletes too, and they were also undefeated but less heralded, and in that last game of the season, on an overcast cold autumn day at Broncho Stadium, the two teams played their hearts out.  Very early in the game, the Bonham guys knew they were in for a grim fight.  And though they lost to Bonham 12-6, the Bowie guys did not hang their heads when they left the field, because they knew they had given their all.  They had been determined not to be humiliated; they achieved their goal. The Bonham bunch prevailed, as they had all year long, except for the first time all year it was no blowout, and the two teams walked off the field forever respecting each other for the incredible efforts given that day.

 

It could have easily been an 18-6 ball game when Bonham’s fastest running back, Jerry Bowerman, broke loose late in the fourth quarter with only one player between him and the goal line.  That was a linebacker, Alford Smallwood, and Alford refused to let Bowerman get past him.  Alford played him step for step, keeping him corralled like a cutting horse working a runaway calf. Finally, Alford made a diving ankle-grabbing tackle to bring Jerry down, and the Bowie defense hung on and kept the Bonham bunch out of the end zone one more time before the final gun sounded.  It was a heck of a fine game in Broncho stadium where tradition was deep, and it ended with what was an undefeated season for Bonham.

 

In my opinion, that season, and more specifically that game, was the beginning of what happened at Permian High School three seasons later when many of the same Bonham players, now seniors and wearing the black and white of the new Permian Panthers, took the district’s Victory Bell away from Abilene, who had held it for an interminably long time--way too long. 

 

With the recapturing of the Victory Bell for the football-proud Odessa fans, the Permian class of 1961 started a Permian High School tradition that would be immortalized in the national bestseller, Friday Night Lights, which was also made into a movie by the same name.  How serious can a town get about football?  Well, “more serious than the University of Texas.”  Hollywood never made a movie about U.T. 

 

The Permian Panthers went on to make eight appearances in the state championship game during the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.  They won the championship five times.  I believe it all began with a junior high school game way back there in 1957.

 

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