I hope all of you spent a few minutes reading yesterday's post of Bobby Gamblin's letter to Darrell Royal -- a nostalgic, interesting, often humorous tribute to a great coach and, even more so, great man. It's also a window into a different era, as is Mr. Gamblin's epilogue, which he penned after the birthday party for Coach Royal, and which you can read here after the jump.
The party was a tremendous success; an extended time of true fellowship, food, and fermented refreshments. Needing to drive back to Arlington that night, I took advantage of the fellowship and the food; and while for me, it was an alcohol free night, an emotional free night it was not.
It was great to see my class and teammates. An overwhelming majority looked trim and fit. There were over 400 guys that showed up. Every class from 1957 to 1976 was represented. The current coaching staff was there. There were those in wheel chairs and then looking at Major Applewhite, from the current staff - I am not sure he has even started to shave.
I did observe that there was physical posturing and a social ritual that took place when meeting each other after such an extended absence. When meeting someone, there was a true and genuine gladness and excitement to see a teammate, a handshake and then a hug always followed, a hidden glance at the name tag (just to be sure), and then something would happen only I thought I did at parties. Almost all of the guys who played with me would then, during the conversation in the crowded room, turn their head to one side or the other and bend down just a tad. It was not a mating ritual, but, afterward, talking to their wives, I discovered that, at our advanced age, we all have difficulty hearing in a large, loud, crowded room. By turning our "good ear" toward the speaker, we pick up bits and pieces of a conversation and hope our brain can piece enough of it together to get some drift of the conversation. This computing phenomena also repeats itself in a room when our wives ask us to do a chore - only we do not work that hard at it.
After the birthday party, I walked southward in the warm peaceful summer night down San Jacinto to see again the low water bridge that for four years transported me from the status of being known as a student to the status of being known as a football player.
It is no longer there. It is gone. Urban progress.
The practice field where, through the mist, I saw Poage, rising and charging like a Phoenix over a heap of crumpled bodies is also gone. In its place is a multistoried brick dorm with a Starbucks on the first floor, and because the condition of our society, it has permanently locked doors that are activated by a magnetic card and a distant computer.
Walking under the stadium, the dressing room, where in the spring, people bled through their sweats, where, before a game, nervous tension would make grown men throw up, and where we celebrated some momentous wins - it is also gone. More locked doors, more magnetic cards, more distant computers.
I went back to the creek and listened to the gurgling of the water and I knew it was not Dr. Pepper - never had been - never will be. As I stood looking at the meandering creek, the bright lights of the dorm shown through the thick curtain of individual trees that lined the west bank across from me. It became more apparent to me that all of us on my team are in the winter of our lives. In the seemingly brief travel from the spring to the winter - things have changed in 46 years.
That night, standing there, my interest was drawn to a particular large oak tree that lined the creek. Its massive root system, partially visible because of the erosion of the creek's vertical bank, stretched endlessly outward drawing water and nutrients back to the thick trunk which in turn sent large braches outward and skyward in a thickly matted mass.
While perfectly and utterly sober, but extremely nostalgic, I saw a parallel between that giant oak and our experiences at Texas as scholar athletes. Just as this tree's root system stretches beyond the trunk; in the same manner, from El Paso to the piney woods of East Texas, from Dalhart to the Valley, like a vast root system, the extensive Texas High School football system, in schools that ranged in size from Six Man to AAAAA, prepared us well and we were drawn to Austin from all points in the state.
We came to Texas. We played football, studied some; partied hard, then hopefully matured, and graduated. Like the branches of the tree that I studied that night, we then branched out, returned home, created new homes, married, some married again, had children, and these children had children. Some financially prospered; some got by; some must rely on the hope that their blood pressure reading and the Social Security trust fund's balance both reach a level of zero on the same day. Some know the Lord intimately; some as a fireman or tow truck driver there just to put out a fire or get them out of a ditch, some would not know Him if they met Him on the street. Personal relationships range from that of being inseparable to estranged.
But on this particular night, the common denominator is not the root system or the branches - it is the trunk of the tree.
This night belonged to the trunk. While the night centered on Coach Royal, it also includes the All Americans, the trainers, the starters, the second and third teamers, the scout teams, the press guys, the administrative staff, and all the assistant coaches. It was about a group of guys who came together from multi backgrounds and varied talent levels and were blessed to be able to, like the truck of that huge oak tree, together grow strong, depend on each other, overcome adversity, enjoy a measure of success, and then go out and use that experience and acquired strength to support and love those they touched.
The hour is late. It is time to let out the dogs, lay down my pen, turn out the light and get back to the real world: a world filled with grass mowing, changing diapers (the grandchildren's not mine), and hoping that Social Security and my 401 K will remain solvent until God calls me home. But I find it unbelievably intriguing that it was the deep resounding rumble and profound resonance that sounded like the collision of large dense tree trunks that drew me through the fog to the center of that practice field to start my journey at Texas. Then four and half decades later, I stand in the night and realize my time at Texas was all about tree trunks - their strength, straightness, cohesiveness, ability to grow, ability to adapt, ability to heal, ability to be resilient, and their determination to continue to persevere no matter the cost. As a result of the qualities we learned in the pits, both practice and game, it allowed us to be better leaders for our families, our clubs, our vocations, and our churches.
In today's environment with the focus on instant gratification, I know for some these reflections sounds corny. But looking back, for those of us who truly cherish the timeless relationships that were conceived, cultivated and tested in Austin from 1960 to 1963 - corny serves us well. Actually, I can say immodestly - corny serves us very well!