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The national title season in 1969 included what was dubbed the "Game of the Century," a come-from-behind, 15-14 victory by the top-ranked Longhorns over No. 2 Arkansas to cap the regular season.
In Texas lore, it ranks as the greatest game ever played. President Nixon, an avid football fan, flew in by helicopter to watch. Afterward, Nixon greeted Royal with a plaque in the Texas locker room proclaiming Texas the national champion.
The Longhorns also were named national champions by United Press International in 1970, a year in which Texas lost its final game to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl and finished 10-1.
Royal faced criticism over the lack of black players on his first 13 Texas teams, although he had coached black players at Washington and in the Canadian football league.
At the 1960 Cotton Bowl, Syracuse accused Texas of hurling racial barbs at Syracuse’s black players, which Royal denied. Texas became the first SWC school to announce it would fully integrate the athletic program in 1963, but the football team didn’t have a black letterman until Julius Whittier in 1970.
Royal, who acknowledged being unconcerned about racial discrimination for much of his life, credited former President Lyndon B. Johnson with turning around his viewpoint. Johnson, who attended Texas football games after his presidency ended, was close friends with Royal.
"I’m not a football fan," Johnson once said. "But I am a fan of people, and I am a Darrell Royal fan because he is the rarest of human beings."
In 1972, former Texas lineman Gary Shaw published "Meat on the Hoof," a searing critique of the Texas program that accused the coaches of having a class system within the program and of devising sadistic drills to drive off unwanted players. Royal tried to distance himself from the claims, saying in interviews he had "never heard" of the drills Shaw described.
"I want to be remembered as a winning coach, but also as an honest and ethical coach," Royal said in 1975.
Royal was among the first football coaches in the nation to hire an academic counselor — sometimes referred to as a "brain coach" in that era — to ensure athletes went on to graduate. He also set aside a fund for a special "T" ring, which players received upon graduation. Royal also served as Texas athletic director from 1962-1979.
The youngest of six children born to Katy and B.R. "Burley" Royal, he grew up in tiny Hollis, Okla., where he chopped cotton as a young boy for 10-cents an hour to help his family through the Depression. His mother died before he was 6 months old, and he lost two sisters to a fever epidemic.
In 1938, Royal’s father took the family from the Dustbowl to California to look for work. Homesick for Oklahoma, Royal soon packed his bags and hitchhiked his way back.
Royal is survived by his wife, Edith, and a son, Mack. The couple had two other children, daughter Marian, who died in 1973, and son David, who died in 1982.
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