How could I be? I lived under death's shadow every day. When you swallow eighty Vicodin, twenty sleeping pills, drink a bottle of vodka, and still survive, a certain sense of invulnerability stays with you. When you continually use drugs with the kind of reckless determination that I did, the limit to how much heroin or crack you can ingest is not defined in dollar amounts, but in the amounts your body can withstand without experiencing a seizure or respiratory failure. Yet at the end of every binge, every night of lining up six, seven, eight crack pipes and hitting them one after the other bam! bam! bam! every night of smoking and snorting bag after bag of heroin . . . after all of that, when you still wake up to see the same dirty sky over you as the night before, you start to think that instead of dying, maybe your punishment is to live---to be stuck in this purgatory of self-abuse and misery for an eternity. Sometimes you start to think that death would come as a blessed relief.
Toward the end, I found myself contemplating death again. Only this time I wasn't going to leave it to chance. I was going to buy a gun, load the thing, place the barrel in my mouth, and blow my fucking brains out.
I sat on my parents' sofa as I pondered this. All I needed was a gun.
And then all--
of my problems--
would be solved.
From the advent of television in the mid-1950s through the desegregation of universities and athletic programs following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Coach Royal led the conflicted life of a warrior, a father and a servant to the rich and powerful. Forbes Magazine has stated the UT-Austin athletic program is the most valuable in the country, worth an estimated 180 million dollars. The UT financial statement doesnt reveal how big money and political power overshadow the games and the young athletes who play them.
In the beginning, there was sorrow and loneliness. Darrell Royals mother, Katy, died three months after he was born, in 1924, leaving him in the hands of an inattentive father of six children and a veritable string of evil stepmothers. Darrell found his father figure and mentor in Bud Wilkinson, the courtly head coach of the mighty Oklahoma Sooners. In Norman, Darrell emulated Bud and for the first time, knew glory as an All-American player with a fiercely competitive spirit.
By the early 1960s, Royals job-hopping had landed him in Austin where the possibilities of gridiron glories remained unrealized. Royal was a perfect fit to change that. Television was bringing college football into the homes of Americans nationwide. Bryant, Wilkinson and Royal had an advantage. Each was telegenic, articulate and charismatic. The celebrity football coaches were earning their places in history by winning games but also by evolving into actors on a national stage.
The fall of 1963 changed the lives of all Americans. Royals Longhorns, ranked number two in the Associated Press, defeated Oklahoma, ranked number one, and went on to an undefeated season and Texas first ever national championship. Scarcely a month later, also in Dallas, President Kennedy was assassinated. His successor was a Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson. Royals life was going to be influenced in ways he could scarcely imagine and certainly couldnt control.
Texas has always been a provocative political environment. A Texas politician has to yell long and loud to get noticed in the vastness of the State. Since winners migrate to other winners, post-1963, Darrell and Edith Royal were on everyones A list for political and social events. The oligarchs who called the shots at UT also made it clear to Coach Royal. They didnt want any coloreds on their football team. While Royal coached the 1969 Longhorns to another national championship, the team regrettably was dubbed, the last lily white national championship team. Eventually, the tightrope Royal was being forced to walk began to wobble uncontrollably. It was the spring of 1974 before Royal finally landed a black student-athlete to whom he could point with pride. The young man was Earl Campbell, the Tyler Rose.
Bryant, Wilkinson and Royal are gone now. There are statues and street names and even campus stadiums named after them. The game they knew and coached is gone as well. As a result, we are left with the historical perspective they gave us, punctuated by the agonizing undercurrents that changed the game and changed a nation.