Judge Ryan Keefer wonders why the University of Texas celebrates so much with "Hail Satan!" signs of appreciation.
Hook 'em 'Horns!
Football has long been synonymous with Texas, so much so that the excellent book (and film) Friday Night Lights examined the lure of it, and sometimes (like in Johnny B. Good) it's satirized, and in the case of the Anthony Michael Hall star vehicle, quite poorly. Any way you slice it, football seems to be the lifeblood for eternal throngs of aspiring athletes in the Lone Star state because anything has got to be better than watching armadillos cross the road in July. Don't get me wrong, Texas is a nice place, I've flown and laid over there on several occasions, so there's the remote possibility that I may not know what I'm talking about.
Regardless of the effect, the University of Texas at Austin is the institution to attend for any kid in the southwest area who has dreams of making it big on a big stage. And as we all know, everything is larger than normal in Texas. Starting in 1893, the program developed from a sleepy group in Austin, and with a group of other schools (Texas A & M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma A & M, Baylor and Arkansas, to name a few), helped to form the Southwest Athletic Conference. Figures like "Doc Henry" Reeves became part of the program's lore, and Coach Dana X. Bible helped ring in a new level of success at the program. The school's first recognizable player, a quarterback named Bobby Layne (who went on to play for the Detroit Lions), made his debut in 1944 and helped throw, pass and kick the Longhorns to the brink of large-scale success.
Bible, who was a legend on the Austin campus, decided to make a phone call to Darrell Royal, who was then a coach at the University of Washington. Bible's conversation with Royal eventually led to him taking over the reins of the job at a young 32 years of age. Royal took a team that finished 1-9 and turned them around, posting a 6-3-1 record and a berth in the Sugar Bowl. Royal's success continued to grow, beating hated rival Oklahoma in the "Red River Shootout" game the two teams play each year to renew their rivalry. Under Royal's tutelage, the program continued to grow, earning number one ranked status for parts of the 1961 and '62 seasons before beating Navy in the Cotton Bowl in 1963 to earn the National Championship. Consistent successful seasons without a Championship followed before regaining the title in 1968 and defending it the next year. Players like David McWilliams, Chris Gilbert and Bill Bradley helped shape the team's path during the era. The team broke the color barrier in 1970 by admitting Julius Whittier to the program, the team's first African American player. Another African American player named Roosevelt Leaks joined the program shortly after and earned individual success as a running back. In 1974, a running back from Texas named Earl Campbell joined Royal's program. While everyone remembers the NFL Films footage of Campbell running for the Houston Oilers, his jersey falling apart while defenders were on his back, another clip showcasing Campbell's strength is included here, as he barrels over a defender to get to the end zone. Royal's run as coach eventually came to the end, and in 1976, he left the program at the ripe age of 52, with three national titles and a Heisman Trophy winner in Campbell.
After some lean years that involved several head coaching changes (five, I believe, for Texas in the three decades since Royal's departure, compared to two in the same period beforehand) and a conference move (the SWAC became the Big 12 Conference), a young coach from North Carolina named Mack Brown was hired to take over the program. He brought an attitude back to the program that involved the alumni and the state's high school teams, to make Texas more of an in-house program. With a star running back in Ricky Williams, he was certainly armed for it, as Brown's team won nine games each of his first three seasons. Brown took the 'Horns to a major bowl game in 2005, beating Michigan in the Rose Bowl on a last second field goal, and secured the National Championship in early 2006, beating a vaunted USC Trojan team that seemed like a shoo-in to win.
The History of Texas Longhorns Football covers all of the glory and some of the pain in 71 minutes of burnt orange fun. Interviews with the coaches (including an 82-year-old Royal) recall the memories of the players, games and team, and they're interspersed with plenty of highlights throughout, perhaps a little more than the recent Gridiron Gators DVD, but not by much. What surprised me most about this feature though was the apparent encouragement to talk frankly about the program. Florida was sanctioned by the NCAA in the '80s and didn't get a mention, but some of the coaches who "resigned" show up to talk about the direction they wanted to take the team, and their disappointment for not fulfilling those desires. Still, some of them were former players, but it's nice to see a little bit of honesty, even if it's done through rosy lenses.
At the end of the day, this look at Texas Longhorn football is cursory, but it does what it needs to do, it shows the fan who only knows Vince Young and Major Applewhite that there were other semi-good Longhorn quarterbacks, and for those pining for a Williams comeback to the NFL, seeing the old Campbell footage (including one where he blocked a punt on special teams) is a thing to behold. It's a definite recommendation for the Longhorn in your life.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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