No better way to celebrate Royal’s life than to play football

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Darrell Royal passed away this week from complications with cardiovascular disease. Texas will wear 'DKR' decals this week in honor of the late coach.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

There might not be a dry eye in the place as Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium turns into a living, breathing shrine Saturday in honor of the man who it’s named after.

Darrell Royal died Wednesday morning at age 88, succumbing to cardiovascular disease — and the brutal effects of Alzheimer’s — at an assisted living facility in Barton Creek.

Royal’s wife of 68 years, Edith, called Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds at 5:45 a.m. to let him know. Dodds was shaken by the suddenness of the news, but deep down wasn’t too surprised. Royal’s health had been quickly dwindling. When The New York Times inquired about writing a “canned” obituary for Royal in the summer of 2011, the Texas athletic department rebuffed the request. That day was still far away. But as Alzheimer’s continued to rob Royal of his memory and quick wit, those close to him realized the day was creeping closer and closer. Royal was moved to a a separate wing at Querencia at Barton Creek, where he could be given more assistance. When The Times called again this summer, the school went ahead and helped write the obituary.

Texas Media Relations sent out the email at 7:37 a.m., with “Darrell Royal passes away” as the subject line. At 11:15 a.m., on the fourth floor of the Main Building, University of Texas President William Powers Jr. amended what was supposed to be a Prop-1 press briefing with a word about his close friend.

“[Royal] was very smart,” Powers said. “He had a folksy way about him that camouflaged a very intelligent person. He was very kind and down to earth.”

At 3:00 p.m., over at the Moncrief Athletics Complex, right next to the stadium, Dodds held a makeshift press conference.

“Anywhere you look today, on this campus, you see his fingerprints,” Dodds said.

When it was over, the media ambled out to Royal’s statue in the southeast corner of the stadium. A handful of bouquets, a miniature tower and a large wreath had been laid at his bronzed feet. Visitors began showing up to pay tribute around lunchtime and kept coming until the stadium gates closed at 11 p.m.

Recognition of Royal’s life will continue through the week, with a public memorial Tuesday at the Frank Erwin Center. Saturday morning, however, will be the crescendo.

The Longhorns, set to play Iowa State, will wear ‘DKR’ decals on the side of their helmets. There will be a stirring video tribute flashing through Royal’s remarkable life and career. Three national titles, 11 conference championships, one losing season. The most wins in program history, 167. The integration of a football program. The idea that a student-athlete should be expected to graduate. Royal was a national figure, the friend of Presidents, and a lion in the college coaching ranks. And yet he’d still encourage students to swing by his office at Gregory Gym to say hello.

Texas Memorial Stadium fit 60,000 when Royal was hired to revive a crummy team in December of 1956. It now seats over 101,000. They will all serve as witnesses this weekend to Texas’ first football game without DKR in nearly 60 years. The spectacle of the Longhorns lining up in the wishbone formation — which Royal co-concocted in 1968 — on their first offensive series of the game ought to induce goose bumps.

Then, finally, they will stage the best possible celebration of Darrell Royal’s life. They will play football.

Printed on Friday, November 9, 2012 as: Royal remembered as one of Texas' best