Brown, Royal build lasting friendship

AUSTIN, Texas -- When Darrell Royal entered the players' lounge in the University of Texas football building on media day this month, he seemed a little reserved, perhaps because even the older writers in the room were schoolchildren during Royal's glory years. He has been retired for nearly 30 seasons.

Royal has gotten a little shy now that he has moved the chains into life's red zone. In football, when a team has put 80 yards behind them and has 20 remaining to score, it has moved into the red zone. Royal, the former Texas football coach, has put 81 years behind him. Arthritis is costing his golf game three a side. "I just can't turn anymore," he said.

But Royal lit up when coach Mack Brown entered the room. Upon arriving in Austin seven years ago, Brown embraced Royal figuratively, and when he sees him to this day, he does so literally. Brown, on his worst days, is a gracious man dripping with the courtesy of southern men who were, as they say, raised right. He respects his elders.

Brown and Royal came together to sit for a conversation with my ESPN colleague, Jim Donnan. You can watch the interview here on the Web site and hear Brown's affection for Royal. Or you could mute the conversation and watch it. Either way, you'll get at the core of their relationship.

At various times during the conversation, Brown had his left arm wrapped around Royal's shoulders. He patted Royal's right thigh. He leaned toward him. Brown beamed as he watched him talk, the picture of filial love.

"It just means everything to him," said Edith Royal of the man she married 61 years ago. "He has really enjoyed being included in everything he wants to be included in. Mack has been wonderful to include him."

What she didn't say, of course, being the polite Texas grande dame that she is, is that past successors of Royal didn't welcome the former coach with open arms. Given that Royal spent 20 seasons here, and won three national championships, you would think that perhaps someone would make time and room for him.

Royal comes to practice a couple of days a week. He is careful to say that he doesn't bother anyone because they're working.

"He doesn't take part in anything," Edith said. "He comes to practice. He just observes. He doesn't talk any technical football. That was a long time ago. He doesn't even understand what they call things nowadays. He likes being involved in things, just being friends. It boils down to being friends more than anything else. You still feel welcome when you come into the building. It's very, very sincere by everybody here."

Brown feels the same way about Royal. Some two decades ago, when Brown was the young head coach at Tulane, the school brought in Royal as a consultant about the future of its football program. According to Brown's book, "One Heartbeat", Royal told Brown, "I'd get the hell out of here as fast as I could, because you've got no chance.
And I would go to a university that has 'The' in front of it, because that's the only way you're going to make it."

Brown talked in the interview of how Royal's presence on the Forty Acres, and Royal's participation in the search process, helped lure him to leave North Carolina.

Royal schooled Brown in Longhorn 101, from instructing him how to wear the coveted T ring (the first time Brown slipped it onto his finger, he put it on upside down) to how to get from the practice field to Willie Nelson's house to listen to a jam session and get back for a 5 p.m. team meeting.

If you click on the interview, you're in for a treat. With or without the sound.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.