Orange Peril

November 1976By Comments

Editor’s Note: The online archives of Texas Monthly preserve content in its original form, as it first appeared in publication. This may include language and subject matter that would not be found in the magazine today.

When Darrell K. Royal’s season on earth has ended and he ascends to the Big Bowl to sit at the right hand of God Almighty, some asshole in orange slacks and white shoes will be waiting to market DKR dolls with orange halos. 

The orange halos are what is known among speculators as the edge. If the University of Texas football team is ranked in the top ten, Orange Mullets can be counted on to swarm the marketplace in search of identity. If not, they can remove the halos and melt the dolls down for ashtrays. It would be very difficult to sell DKR dolls after an 8-3 season: after 7-4, it would be very difficult for DKR even to get into heaven. God don’t sit around in his orange underwear jawing with losers. 

The taste of the consumer must never be overestimated. It is impossible to catalog the number and variety of orange trash or to comprehend the appetites of the Orange Mullets who faithfully purchase the beer mugs, drinking glasses, caps, blazers, Cadillacs, toilet seats, and key chains bearing the colors and logo of the Longhorns, but someone is getting fat and it’s not Darrell. No royalties are paid, not to DKR, not to the athletic department, not even to the University. 

“All we get out of it is mad,” says Jones Ramsey, the UT sports information director. “After our 1963 national championship, this insurance salesman in an orange coat came by and asked me for a team picture, which I gave him. Later, I heard he had it copied and sold them for three bucks a print.” 

The largest selections of orange flotsam can be found in Austin, at the University Co-op and at Rooster Andrews Sporting Goods. Under the catch-line ORANGE FEVER, Rooster Andrews, who in the days of Bobby Layne was known as “the All-American waterboy,” stocks such items as Longhorn coaching caps, helmets, jogging shoes, stocking caps, and carry bags. As the official outfitter of the Longhorns, Rooster can be forgiven his zeal, but it’s still tough on the rest of us. For example, the Hill Country Middle School requires its students to wear blue or red (the school colors) gym shorts in physical education classes, but you can’t buy blue or red gym shorts in Austin. Even the street signs were orange before an Aggie bureaucrat decided to switch to more readable green and white. I fully expect to walk into Rylander’s someday during football season and see orange lettuce.  

For the intellectually inclined there are at least three dozen record albums and half a dozen books extolling DKR and his young students. At least Aggie joke books are funny.  

The manager of Rooster Andrews, Ron Habitzreiter, detects a cooling down of orange fever, especially in Austin. “Most of our orders come from Houston and Dallas,” he says. “There is an indication that the consumers in Austin are being oranged to death.” Six years ago a San Antonio record company consigned to the sporting goods firm an album called Legend of the Longhorns. All but a dozen copies are still in stock. I listened to the album and I promise it will make you cry.  

By far the best of the DKR books is one that Royal and Dallas Times Herald sports editor Blackie Sherrod (“The Best Sportswriter in Texas,” TM, December 1975) collaborated on in 1963. It’s called Darrell Royal Talks Football, but the only thing dreary about the book is its title. What DKR really talks about is red beans and how ol’ ugly is better than ol’ nothing and why the sun don’t shine on the same ol’ dog’s ass every day and how when that big scorekeeper finally comes to write against your name all he really wants to know is who won. DKR has a marvelous gift for the shit-kicker metaphor, but no small amount of credit for the book belongs to Sherrod, who made up some of the best quotes, such as: “Our faces were so long we could have eaten oats out of a churn.” Vintage Sherrod. 

“When Darrell first read the galleys of our book he called me and said it was amazing how much it sounded like him,” Blackie recalled recently. “I pointed out that he didn’t invent all those Will Rogers quotes.” 

Another thing DKR never said, though it has been attributed to him dozens of times, is: “Every coach likes those old trained pigs who’ll grin and jump right in the slop for him.” Dan Jenkins retouched this one for Sports Illustrated, or so it is claimed. DKR still bristles when he reads it, and his wife Edith to this day groups Jenkins with Lee Harvey Oswald and Charles Manson. According to DKR’s version, he said slot, not slop. Slot refers to that narrow chute steers tread enroute to auction or slaughter; it is also a football expression used to indicate that fleshy caldron at the heart of a scrimmage line so in favor with blood-crazed linebackers. “Slop doesn’t make any sense,” he claims. But it obviously made sense to Jenkins and to many others who have repeated it over the years. 

Understandably, DKR is thin-skinned about his slick image. It is his white plume and his meal ticket as well. A lot of mamas in Jasper and Dime Box didn’t appreciate it at all when he described the game of football as “meat on meat, flesh on flesh, and stink on stink.” The TCU football team was less than flattered when he compared them to a cockroach — “It isn’t what he eats or totes off but what he falls into and messes up.” 

The latest contribution to Orange literature, if the term can be used, is a book of “Quips and Quotes from Darrell Royal” compiled by Associated Press reporter Robert Heard and published by Jenkins Publishing Company last summer. Heard prefaces the 374 quotations by pointing out that twelve of them have some form of “what some people might call profanity” and then goes on to list them — “damned, crap, butt (two quotes), ass (three quotes), son of a bitch, peter, piss (two quotes), and farted.” DKR perused the body of the book without flinching, but the preface sent him up the wall. “He didn’t object to the pisses and asses,” says Jones Ramsey. “They were scattered through the book. What really got him as piling them up like that in the preface.”

At Royal’s request, Heard agreed to delete two fairly innocuous quotations. In return, DKR supplied a quote that Heard’s research hadn’t uncovered. It’s one of the best in the book, and it goes like this: 

“I was reading a story that a young man was interviewing Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Oliver Wendell Holmes told this young man that if he had a 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 that everyone needed some trouble in their life. And, you know, this story causes you to do some serious thinking, and I have, and my thought is: piss on Oliver Wendell Holmes.” 

Robert Heard freely admits that he will profit from the book in ratio to UT’s winning record this season. DKR no doubt views this prospect with mixed emotions, because Robert Heard is not one of his favorite reporters. It was Heard and another AP writer, Jack Keever, who wrote the “controversial” five-part series in 1972 on black football players, or the lack of them, at the University of Texas. I place the word controversial in quotations because the series was noticeably mild, coming as it did some seven years after Heard started writing about UT football. There is an interesting footnote to the book in which Heard tells of watching DKR and one of his giant linemen hugging and dancing with each other following a miraculous last-minute, game-winning touchdown against UCLA. Heard at the time mistakenly identified the linemen as Bill Atessis, when it fact it was Julius Whittier, the first black to start for the Longhorns. Contrary to what you might suppose, this accidental witness was not Heard’s inspiration for the series on black players. No, Heard says he had been thinking of doing the series for some time, and when UT failed to recruit any blacks after the 1972 season, the decision was made to move ahead in the best traditions of gut-check journalism. Besides, Heard told me, he was sick of watching Texas lose all of that fine black talent to Oklahoma.  

If Heard’s motives were less than altruistic, his methods went straight for the jugular. Heard and Keever didn’t intentionally paint DKR as a racist, but that was the unavoidable impression. I’ve known DKR for better than fifteen years, and I’ll promise you he’s no more of a racist than any other white who grew up in Hollis, Oklahoma, forty-something years ago and less than most. His boyhood was right out of The Grapes of Wrath: he can still remember the stigma of being called an Okie and what it meant to wear government-issued commodity overalls. Whatever DKR was and is, he is a man with the ability to grow. In 1970, after Julius Whittier became the first black letterman at UT (a year earlier UT had the dubious distinction of being the last all-white team to win a national championship), Royal said: “The black kids are the ones who are becoming the great athletes because they work harder than white kids. The white kids are out on their boats, and the black kids are out there using the fields, getting their recreation in sports.” Ten years ago a wealthy UT alumnus in an orange coat offered me another explanation: “The reason the niggers are faster than our boys is the lions and tigers got all the slow ones.”

If Heard and Keever’s series was “controversial,” it wasn’t because of what they wrote, but what they didn’t. They didn’t write about the Orange Coats, that splendid assortment of dentists and bankers and contractors and regents who hired Royal in the first place, then attached themselves to the UT football program like ticks on a bird dog. Those were and still are your racists, your true orange-blood bigots. It seems almost unbelievable, but until 1963 the UT Regents explicitly forbade black athletes at “The University.” Even after the Regents rescinded this rule (without a murmur that it was now time to break with tradition), the first Orange Coats made it clear that the first black Longhorn had better be two steps faster than Jesus and able to run through a brick wall. It took a Roosevelt Leaks to integrate the Orange Coats with the twentieth century. 

Since I was a sportswriter in Fort Worth and Dallas for almost eight years, I don’t feel very comfortable in criticizing Heard or anyone else for neglecting the neglect of the black athlete at UT. After the Southwest Conference writers visited Austin in September, Jones Ramsey told me, “This was the first time since the five-part series that nobody asked how many blacks we had on the team.” I asked Jones how many there were, and he didn’t know. Later, his assistant Bill Little counted them for me. Approximately one-fifth of the squad was black, including thirteen out of the top forty-four. 

That’s a respectable average, far more respectable than the school as a whole. UT has 42,000 students, and only a tiny fraction are scholarship athletes, roughly one in two hundred. But one in every twenty blacks on the Austin campus is an athlete. This suggests that UT is not exactly teeming with black students, and it isn’t: eliminate the athletes and that leaves less than 700 blacks for the remainder of the campus. That, I submit, is controversial

If one wants to examine Royal’s attitudes on the subject of race today, he would be well-advised to check the Longhorn football roster. You will search in vain for any blacks from Houston or Dallas. Fort Worth is represented, as is San Antonio, but most of UT’s blacks come from small towns: Galveston, Tyler, Conroe, Hamlin, Caldwell, Lampasas. Royal’s brand of football is highly disciplined, and he doesn’t believe that the street life of the urban ghetto is the best training ground for discipline. Whatever their color, Darrell wants boys who take off their hats indoors and say, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am.”

Robert Heard calls his book of quips and quotes Dance with Who Brung Us, which is DKR’s explanation of why he approaches the Big One with the same fundamental strategy that got him there in the first place. It has been suggested that a better title would be Quotations from Chairman Darrell or perhaps The Confessions of Saint Darrell. You’re going to hear a lot of Orange Coats walking around this fall saying things like “They aren’t very big, but they’ll screw their navels to the ground and scratch and bite and spit at you.”

DKR’s best lines are not the warmed-over Will Rogers or precooked Willie Nelson, but his own vivid and sharply accurate descriptions of his own players. For example:

On Walt Fondren — “He’s quick as a hiccup.” 

On James Saxton — “He could run like small-town gossip, although his compass sometimes went batty.”

On Chris Gilbert — “Did you ever try to drop a cat on its back? If you have, you know it can’t be done. Chris is the same way. I bet if you’d hold his arms and legs and let go from about three feet off the ground, he’d light running.”

On Glen Halsell — “Halsell is a rolling ball of butcher knives.”

On Cotton Speyrer, the skinny pass catcher — “He looks like he needs worming.”

On a freshman halfback who ran the wrong way — “We dialed his number, but he didn’t answer.”

On Earl Campbell, upon watching Campbell trample one of his own blockers who had fallen in front of him — “Ol’ Earl doesn’t believe in taking any prisoners.”

Royal once described defensive back Raymond Clayborn as a man who “burns a different fuel.” That’s a good description of DKR himself. He has run on fear for so many years that the only thing he’s really afraid of is losing it. He is one of the most successful college coaches in history. He occasionally speaks of “the day I’m gonna set my bucket down,” meaning retire from coaching, but he also says, “I just hope that we never reach the point where a defeat is not big news.”

There is not much he can do about the DKR dolls with the orange halos. Royal is singularly responsible for the orange plague, but that doesn’t mean he can stop it, except of course by losing, which he doesn’t do very often. DKR seriously considered retiring after he won his first national championship, but then he thought: what the hell. At 52, he is still a relatively young man and he’ll likely be presiding over the glory of the Longhorns for another ten or fifteen years. Once when the two of us were alone and DKR was mellowed out on his favorite beverage, I asked him how long he was prepared to endure the Orange Coats and the Mullets and the stupid adoration of the charlatans and poll watchers. Royal will deny it, but this is what he told me: “Long as I got the jelly rolling and the barracudas don’t smell it, I’m gonna fill my platter with white meat. The day it gets down to necks and gizzards, that’s the day you can kiss ol’ Darrell’s ass goodbye.”

 

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