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Longhorns History: Bobby Gamblin Letter To Coach Royal

One of my favorite things about running this website is the many wonderful people it has allowed me to meet. I recently had the opportunity to visit with Bobby Gamblin, who lettered for the Longhorns from 1961-63. Yes, he has a ring.

Mr. Gamblin, pictured below in the '63 team photo, was a left guard under Darrell Royal and on July 12th gathered along with 400 other players who played under the legendary coach to celebrate Coach Royal's 85th birthday. The players were asked to write letters to their former coach, all of which would be gathered and bound into a book, to be presented to Coach Royal as a birthday gift.

Mr. Gamblin offered to share the letter he wrote to Coach Royal with the burnt orange nation at large; you can read the letter in full after the jump. Tomorrow, we'll run Mr. Gamblin's reflections on the July birthday celebration. Next week, Mr. Gamblin shares a memory from two-a-days under Coach Royal, as well as an interview about his experiences playing at Texas.


Bobby Gamblin and the 1963 National Champion Texas Longhorns.

July 12, 2009

Dear Coach Royal:

Congratulations and best wishes to you on your 85th birthday. I am sure you carry in your heart a wonderful feeling of contentment and enjoyment knowing that you have been such a positive influence on so many lives - not only with the players, their families, children, grandchildren, and now their great grand children, but also to all the University of Texas fans throughout the years.
I would like to share with you some random reminisces of my time at Texas.

I almost missed the experience of being on your team. A visit to Dallas as a high school senior and your 10:00 PM call from New York City changed the direction of my life. All the All State players from my home town of Stamford had gone to Oklahoma. Bob Harrison had won the Outland trophy his senior year at Oklahoma. He was my hero. Growing up, I had always thought that if I ever had a chance I would follow the crowd north.  In 1959, as a high school senior, Oklahoma invited me to Dallas for the game and provided me with a sideline pass to watch the game from their bench. I wore red and as a kid from a very small west Texas town, the Cotton Bowl seemed to be gigantic and over powering. It seemed as though I was in the bottom of a deep, steep, narrow walled canyon.  The sides of the canyon reached to the sky and on all sides they were crowded and packed to overflowing with moving colors of red and burnt orange.

Texas won on that day. As I was walking across the field after the game, one of the Oklahoma coaches passed me and said something to the effect, "Don't worry Bobby, when you get up here things will be different." At that very instant, Vincent Dinino struck up The Eyes of Texas. Standing in the middle of that field listening to that stirring and wonderful anthem as it totally engulfed me and all the Texas fans, seeing the pageantry, feeling the pride of being a Texan and all it means to all of us - gave birth to the embryonic inkling - "do I really want to go to Oklahoma?" When word got out in Stamford that I was leaning toward Texas, my Mother got some pretty disturbing phone calls from Oklahoma fans indicating that our family was a traitor to the Stamford tradition of going north across the Red River. They made life miserable for mother and, to this day, when my family and I travel through Oklahoma; I have given an iron clad standing dictate. We do not spend a penny in Oklahoma. We don't eat, we don't sleep, and we don't fill up with gas. We do not buy a pack of gum. The only thing I will do on a trip through Oklahoma is stop by the side of the road, go to the passenger side of the car, and take a leak!

My decision was finalized one night at about 10:00 PM. I was in bed with the lights out and I remember I was listening to Johnny Cash singing I Walk The Line on my "state of the art" HiFi record player. The phone rang and I walked down the hall to answer it. You were in New York City at a national coach's convention. You had taken the time to call long distance to visit. That phone call, the fact you were in New York, and you still took the time to call made me realize that you were the coach I wanted to play for. As I look back, we were so economically disadvantaged (poor), the fact that you spent the money on a long distance phone call to me may be the real factor that tipped the scales.

It was a pretty good decision. During my time at Texas, my class never lost to Oklahoma.

My high school spring visit to Texas was something I will always remember. I received a ride to Austin and they dropped me off on San Jacinto Street and after getting directions, I walked across the little low water natural stone bridge toward the practice field. This was the bridge that I would cross so many times during the next four years as I went to practice. It crossed a small stream and was our pathway to the practice field. We called the dribble of water that flowed to the south - Stink Creek - because it sometimes smelled pretty strong. This stream was run off from somewhere and was, not at all, a clean bubbly brook. During our two-a-days in August, I would have given my future first born for a drink of water out of that filthy stream. The worst was the day that Tommy Wade walked up to me during a stifling hot muggy August afternoon during two-a-days. We were waiting our turn for a drill and he leaned over and pointed to the tree line across the way that delineated the pathway of the stream on the east side of our practice field. In a low voice, he said, "Just think of Stink Creek filled with Dr. Pepper!" I nearly had a nervous break down. Almost fifty years later, I can not think about that creek without thinking of it brimming over with Dr. Pepper,

On the day of my spring visit, it was an unbelievably foggy day. You literally could not see more than four or five feet in front on you. After I crossed the low water bridge, I blindly and slowly crept ahead at a snail's pace to what I hoped would be the center of the practice field to try to find Coach Jones, the coach who was recruiting West Texas. I was walking blind. As I inched along, I felt as though I was encased, enveloped, or wrapped in a light grey cocoon and the shroud of the cocoon drifted along with me. It was surreal. I was drawn to unfamiliar sounds in the far distance. Over the years, I have futilely grasped at the words or thoughts to describe the sounds that I blindly followed that gave me guidance and direction to the area where I hoped to meet up with Coach Jones. The best I can come up with was it was the sound of heavy, massive, dense tree trunks or gigantic logs being dropped on one another. The sound was intense, deeply resounding, mysterious, and intimidating. Little did I know that for the next four years I would not only hear those noises - they would become such a part of my life that I can hear them clearly after almost half a century.

As I continued to walk, a surreal image faintly appeared through the thick curtain of mist. Distorted by the fog, I could barely make out the outline of a pile of indistinguishable shapes heaped up on the ground. Over the top of this heap came a raging, charging, churning bullish mass of legs, hips, shoulders and arms. The mist camouflaged the minute details of the scene, but one could feel and hear the power of the multiple collisions. I had walked up on Coach Royal's infamous hull drill and I was watching Ray Poage blasting over the top of a stack of linemen and defensemen with his knees pumping like pistons. The hull drill pitted a lineman and a linebacker opposite each other and the sole purpose of the drill was to see who could kill the other human being. The sound that had drawn me to this place was the sound of large solid human bodies clashing and colliding in the fog. You moved out of the fog and made some coaching suggestions. I thought it was unique for a head coach to be in the middle of the mud and blood. A "hands on" head coach - not a "figure head" coach - I was impressed. At the same time, seeing all the carnage, I thought, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas (or Stamford) anymore. These are big boys playing a big boy game."

On our first fall practice as freshmen, we were relegated to the far south end of the practice field very close to the Santa Rita pumping rig. You broke away from the varsity to come down to talk to us. You stayed around to watch some of our drills. There were a lot kids for you to watch. I remember distinctly that there were 93 people trying out to make the University of Texas football team. I counted them. We had 8 full teams and five left over's. Whitemeat, guy who had retired after 20 years in the Air Force but wanted to make the team, was there. I have often wondered what ever happen to him. Out of the 93, we had something like 15 of us who stayed the course. I remember watching the multitude of cars driving on the street and thinking - not one of those people is going to have to go head to head today with Scott Appleton.

At the time, I do not think that any of the freshmen fully appreciated the honor that we had been afforded to be a part of the University of Texas tradition.  Only much later in life, maybe at a time that someone looks at my National Championship ring, do I come to realize the price that some men would have dearly paid to be a part of that group and how they continue to carry an unnecessary burden because they did not compete on the collegiate level, or get to be coached by someone like you.  Coach Royal, thank you for the opportunity that allowed us to be a part of something great, even if the gift was not fully appreciated by many of us at the time.

I have always admired you and Mickey Riggs. Mickey for the tenacity to work four years at football, four years at waiting tables, and four years of never getting into a game; and, to you for recognizing his hard work and tremendous contribution to the team by allowing him to play in the Navy game and giving him his National Championship Ring.

Our freshman Coach was Coach Shultz. One day, he was talking to us and absently put his lighted pipe in his short's pocket. Soon there was a wispy curl of smoke emerging from his pant pocket. Someone started to bring it to his attention and was quickly admonished for breaking into his monologue. We all watched with great interest as the smoke grew in density and color. The heat finally got his attention and he quickly put it out. Then we were admonished for not bringing it to his attention. I remember when told of the event, you fought back a smile, but lost the battle. It is probably one of the few times you set out to do something and did not succeed.

You had a tier system for admonishing us (chewing our butts) in the film room. The film room was downstairs under the stadium in a bare concrete walled room filled with old wooden (no padding) movie theater seats. You had the last week's game recorded on the old 16mm film and it was shown on one of the ancient double reel projectors. You sat in the dead center of the room. No one sat close to you. You also had a system where you, from your seat, could control both the power to the projector and to the overhead lights. We watched film so we could correct our mistakes. If the infraction was minor, as the film to continued to roll and the room remined dark, you would issue "strong encouragements" so that the perpetrator would know to correct his particular failing. If the infraction had moved up the food chain to the second level, the projector would go off and we would sit in the dark room and the tone of your voice booming out of the darkness would take on a more harsh projection. If the transgression was at the top of the food chain, if it was game deciding mistake, or it blatantly broke one of your beloved "kicking game" rules, the projector switch was slammed to "off", on came the lights, up from your seat you would erupt, swirling around to find the offender, the ass chewing would become intense and both the sin and the sinner were clearly indentified. We pretty much knew at what point, or points in the game we had messed up; therefore, we each nervously awaited our time to get chewed out. One thing about you, you were totally fair and unbiased. You would chew Carlisle's and Appleton's rear end as hard as you did mine.

It is said that Navy pilots have a certain stress level as they engage the enemy in the air or on the ground, but the stress level intensity rises dramatically as they approach the carrier for landing. I think all of our stress levels were higher walking into that film room than on the field. Most of us knew when we had messed up, and waiting for you to note our transgressions to our peers was the height of stress and embarrassment.

The coaches also had a 16 mm projector set up downstairs at Moore-Hill Hall. Sitting next to the projector were cans of upcoming competitor's game films for us to study during the week. At some point, someone came into possession of a morally questionable reel of celluloid and they started showing it on that particular projector. Word spread like wild fire that there was a dirty movie showing in the jock's study hall. In a short time the entire room was packed. I would have sworn there were people from other dorms who had heard the news and crowded in.  If we had charged a fee to get in, we all could have retired then and there. I am not sure that you knew about that college experience of ours. If you did not know, it was it was the only thing you did not know about us.

You sure knew when we skipped class. Your rule was that anyone caught skipping class had to meet Medina down at the stadium at 5:30AM, be issued a large heavy rough canvas covered blocking dummy that probably weighed 50 or 60 pounds, then carry it on our shoulders, as we ran up to the top of Memorial Stadium 25 times. Medina told us that he did not care how we got down, but we went up 25 times. You caught me in only one time and after that I was careful not to get caught skipping class.

I still have a copy of the kicking sheet that we went over before EVERY, I say, EVERY game. I guess back then they did not have Xerox machines because it was printed on a Mimeograph machine. Forty six years later the purple ink is faded, but still legible. The first line of this epistle reads: PRESS THE KICKING GAME, FOR ITS HERE THE BREAKS ARE MADE.  And I love Section B, Offense, statement number 4: "When in doubt, fire out!"

"When in doubt, fire out." You taught us to be disciplined, but to improvise when necessary. Jim Besselman and I took your dictate to improvise very seriously. On kick offs, without his glasses, and at distances beyond about 20 yards, Jim Besselman was basically blind. This presented a challenge when we kicked off and the ball went farther than 20 yards - let's say to the opposite goal line.  Luckily we lined up next to each other on the kickoff formation and we worked out a plan. As we ran down the field, I would relay directions to him to direct him to the ball. "Jim, he is going right. He is up the middle. Watch out for the reverse coming left." were common instructions. He got credit for a multitude of tackles. I received no recognition for getting him there.  As I tell my grandchildren, "Life is sometimes not fair."

I also have a copy of the 1964 Cotton Bowl scouting report for Navy. An interesting note is your first line of the document that says, "Navy is a cocky, but a competent team." Down in the body of the scouting report you mention that, "Staubach will repeat successful plays - either run or pass."

I would love to know how many Olympic weight sets The University of Texas currently owns. In 1963, do you realize that you led us to a National Championship and the only weight training we had during the prior spring was working out with dumb bells? Two weeks before spring training, Medina would gather everyone in the old freshman training room, turn up the heat to 98 degrees, dress us in double sweats, and we would do calisthenics with dumb bells. There were only two pairs of 15 pound dumb bells, and the remaining supply was 20 and 25 pounds weights.  Wade and Carlisle would leave lunch and go down and camp on those 15 pound weights for two hours before the workout to ensure no one else got them. Several times, men did enough sit ups to wear the skin off their tail bone and would bleed through their sweats. It was a badge of honor.

The years may have clouded the exact details of this next story, but I was in the middle of the bus when it happened.  We were in Fayetteville to play Arkansas. We got taped in the hotel ballroom, finished our meetings, and were boarding our team bus. With the amount of white tape visible on our hands, forearms, and ankles, we were either war causalities or a football team.  In the front window of the bus by the door was a large sign that confirmed "TEXAS FOOTBALL TEAM".  You were standing next to the bus driver as we all came on board. Standing on the street corner was an older "grandmotherly" lady watching intently as we boarded. I thought she was ancient - perhaps near death's door - but she was probably just about my current age at the time. As I remember, she was dressed in the almost classic "old lady garb". She had a black dress with some type of white ruffle around the neck, a pill box hat with a net veil, old-time black lace up shoes, and she was holding two large shopping bags by their hand straps. As I said, you were up front, the last player got on, the doors hissed shut, she glared at the sign, she slowly put down her bags, and as the bus pulled away from the curb - she gave the bus the famous middle finger salute. Only the middle of the bus and back rows saw her salute.  As word was passed up to you, you smiled and said. "Now that's a true Razorback fan. You better get ready. Their team is even more intense!"

Speaking of getting taped and ready for a game, I was always impressed with the set up you had designed for us in front of our lockers before a game. Laid out in almost military precision was a brand new T shirt, new white socks, new supporter, and clean new towel. Our helmets had been immaculately polished to remove combative paint that had been acquired from last week's game or practice. No matter the weather conditions the previous week, our game pants and jersey were laid out and were pristine. They were without a hint of one single grass or mud stain. The pants "glowed" white. Every shoe lace, whether in a shoe or in a pad, had been replaced with a brand new white one. No broken lace would cost us time on the clock. I felt like a gladiator going out to battle. You overlooked no detail - no matter how small.

I have a saying that my Martha of 41 years hears from me from time to time when things are not going well.  The saying is, "I went through two-a-days at Texas under Royal - I can make it through this!" Our two-a-days in the boiling and blistering hot and humid Austin Augusts' were brutal. I have never and, will never, be exposed again to the challenges that you afforded us. Tangible and true physical pain, overwhelming emotional demands, and total fatigue that pushed one to, and some past, the ultimate limit were the norm. I went through a fourteen day United States Marine Corps Frogman/Recon Scout Swim School and it was a playground experience, a stroll in the park compared to workouts at Texas. When it came to workouts in August, you gave us full pad, full contact, two and a half hour marathons without respite, and NO water breaks. You taught us to play hurt, to play tired, and to function under extreme stress. Coach Bear Bryant once said, "Hell yes, I push my guys in practice. I want them to quit in practice not in a game." You had that down pat.

Things have changed since 1963. During what we used to call two-a-days, today's kids get as many water breaks as they wish, They sit down during the workout to rest and talk about the philosophy of organized sports and what it means to the developing world. They start out in helmets and shorts, the next day they go to shoulder pads, helmet, and shorts, the next day full pads but no contact, and after that they can only have one "contact" workout a day.

Give me a break!

There was one year in Austin in August, we had 22 straight full pad, full contact, two-a-day workouts without a drop of water. I counted each one of them. Throughout these workouts, many of us hurt so badly and had such severe chafing that during the day we would wear only a loose soft T shirt, Bermuda shorts (Madras was big) , no underwear, and flip flops. Almost all of us had a cut on the  bridge of our noses from our helmets slamming down on our noses. You practiced with abrasions, small broken bones, and stitches. Martha does not understand the word, "gut up". If you played for Royal it was expected, demanded, applied, and lived out.  It was the code.

During two-a-days, Sandy Sands, Carlisle, Wade, I, after lunch, would go back to our dorm room and put a clock in the middle of the floor and lie there and just stare at the hands of the clock because we knew that looking at a clock "made the time go slower" until the afternoon workout. Wade would say that he would glance away and when he returned to gaze at the clock, the hands had "jumped" ahead. Going down to practice in the afternoon there were no clean dry shirts, clean dry pads, or clean dry supporters.  In the afternoons, everything was still wet from the morning workout, everything was unbelievably cold, clammy, and everything was uncomfortable to put on; but, as challenging as you designed two-a-days, we got through them, grew as men, as athletes, and on top of it all, we were part of a "once in a life time" legacy that we can now remember and cherish, a legacy to fall back on, and a legacy to draw on for ourselves, and those we touch.

Coach Royal, many times a week I look down at my National Championship ring and thank God that He allowed me to be a part of your coaching legacy and that He also allowed me the opportunity to earn a BBA from The University of Texas. Time has enhanced my appreciation of you, The University, the Texas tradition and the men I played beside.

May God continue to bless you and your family. Happy Birthday!

Bobby Gamblin
1960 - 1963