TWENTY YEARS AGO THIS FALL, the winningest coach in Texas football announced his retirement. After three national championships, eleven Southwest Conference titles, and sixteen bowl appearances, Darrell Royal bowed out as the head coach of the University of Texas Longhorns. Texans, always gridiron gaga, can still recite his record (167-47-5), his preferred formation (the wishbone), his country quotations (“Dance with the one who brung ya”), and scads of additional Royal trivia. On September 21, UT alumni will kick off a tribute to the legend and his forty years in Austin—Memorial Stadium will soon have a new name. Meanwhile, here’s a peek at the less famous side of a Texas football royal.
Born July 6, 1924, Darrell K. Royal has a middle initial but no middle name. The “K” is in honor of his mother, Katy, who died when he was an infant. She succumbed to cancer, but because of the taboo then surrounding the disease, Royal was led to believe until he was grown that she had died giving birth to him.
When Royal started as a tailback for his hometown high school in 1941, he weighed only 124 pounds.
Royal still holds records—for the longest punt return (96 yards) and the most pass interceptions in four years (17)—at his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma.
During his first season at UT, he made an estimated $17,000 a year.
A native of Hollis, Oklahoma, Royal was made an honorary Texan by the Texas House of Representatives after his first UT season.
He’s a chronic hand-washer.
His friends call him Delbert, a code name devised during his heyday to keep his identity and location a secret from the media.
He never insisted on wearing a good-luck tie or adhering to a pregame ritual. He also refused to pray before games, once commenting, “I think the Lord is neutral about these things.”
Royal and his wife, Edith, regularly visited with LBJ and Lady Bird in the White House, on the Johnson Ranch, and in Acapulco.
In 1991, to help settle Willie Nelson’s tax debt, Royal paid $117,350 for his friend’s Pedernales Country Club after it was seized by the Internal Revenue Service and sold at public auction. He had often played golf there. Referring to his friendship with the singer, an avowed pot smoker, Royal once assured fans that he had never touched marijuana himself: “Heck, no—never have, never will.”