Brian Davis

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Eyes on Texas: There’s not enough Hall of Fame space for all who shaped Longhorns’ history

New Hall of Fame, located in the north end zone of Royal-Memorial Stadium, features trophies, All-American profiles and chronicles UT's athletic past

Posted August 29th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • School officials squeezed as much as they could into 30,000 square feet.
  • The memories are most valuable, though. It’s what truly defines Texas.
  • Honoring the coaches is nice. But Texas is Texas because of the athletes.

The doors will swing open Friday, and the public can freely inspect the new Frank Denius Family University of Texas Athletics Hall of Fame. When you do, understand that school officials squeezed as much as they could into 30,000 square feet.

The north end zone of Royal-Memorial Stadium now resembles a 21st-century time machine that highlights UT’s athletic archive, something long overdue for a university of this stature.

The food court is gone. Now, it’s the official place to celebrate UT’s 55 national championships, national awards, academic and athletic All-Americans. It’s meant to be a staggering reminder of the school’s rich history and what it means to be a Longhorn.

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Alas, the Hall of Fame can’t have everything, though athletic director Chris Del Conte will try. There are simply too many names that require inclusion.

For example, the new Hall of Fame should honor Miss Gussie Brown from Orange. She was waiting to catch a train in April 1885 to go see UT’s baseball team play in Georgetown. Brown realized there was no way to determine UT’s fans from anyone else. Her friends, Venable Proctor and Clarence Miller, rushed to Carl Baryman’s general store, which stocked white and orange ribbons.

Five years later, UT students, faculty and alumni cast 1,111 votes and made those two colors official.

“Winners and losers have won them with equal glory, but they have never cloaked a Quitter,” The Alcalde noted. Believe it or not, Texas once wore gold and white and even dabbled in maroon to save money on cleaning costs. “Only the mercy of chance, therefore, saved us from the bar sinister of A. and M.”

Thomas Dudley Wooten and “Judge” James B. Clark were instrumental in getting the university off the ground. L. Theo Bellmont shaped the athletic program, not to mention the Southwest Conference.

Coach L. Theo Bellmont, left, guided the 1915 Texas men’s basketball team. Photo courtesy Texas athletics

The first football team was formed in 1893, and the “Varsity” were regular winners early in the 20th century. Louis Jordan, the first U.S. officer from UT killed in World War I, was captain of the 1914 team, which allowed 21 points in all eight games. Several other Longhorns would play for UT and then later die in combat.

“All traditions were broken November 3rd, when the Co-eds officially opened the new grandstands on Clark Field,” The Alcalde told Texas exes in 1913. Women refrained from yelling, “but gave vent to their enthusiasm in lively songs, much to the delight of the rooters.”

Bellmont, the school’s “director of physical training,” would later round up $500,000, according to The Alcalde, to pay for the construction of War Memorial Stadium in January 1924.

The new Hall of Fame should honor Vanderbilt officials, for without them, one of UT’s biggest rivalries would have far less significance. Texas played Vanderbilt in Dallas from 1921-23 and again from 1926-28. After that, Vanderbilt officials had enough and refused to travel.

So Bellmont turned to Oklahoma and invited the Big Six school to play in Dallas. “We couldn’t get anyone else,” he once said. The Texas-OU rivalry as we know it today began in 1929 at the State Fair.

There should be an honorary plaque for UT regents chairman Tom Sealy, who presented new coach Darrell Royal to the press in 1957. “Now, coach, who’s the first team we’re gonna beat?” Sealy said, a clear reference to OU and sky-high expectations. “I think we open with Georgia,” Royal answered back, sparking a room full of laughter.

Former Texas coach Darrell Royal, left, rode with coach Mack Brown, right, in a parade honoring Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams on January 28, 1999. David Kennedy/AMERICAN-STATESMAN Staff

From 1957-70, the Horns would get the last laugh over the Sooners 12 out of 14 times. Then things went the other way five straight years. Back and forth it went in a series featuring an OU spy, awkwardness with a U.S. president, Peter the Great, Superman and Charlie Strong crowd surfing on the field.

Elsewhere around the athletic department, the Horns were flourishing. That’ll be plenty obvious in the Hall of Fame.

“Uncle” Billy Disch and Bibb Falk built the baseball program into a powerhouse. Dr. Daniel A. “Doc” Penick, an esteemed professor of Greek and Latin, was the tennis coach for almost five decades. His top prodigy, Wilmer Allison, took over after a spectacular career of his own and kept the machine rolling.

Donna Lopiano came along and, along with Jody Conradt and Chris Plonsky, turned the UT women’s athletic program into a powerhouse of its own. Where once it was news that women just attended the game, Texas became the place for women to play, or rather, dominate the game.

Eddie Reese was a Florida Gator, but damn if he didn’t swim here as fast as possible. Splish, splash, national championships and Olympians soon followed.

Former Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds talks to reporters on July 18, 2008. Xavier Mascareñas/AMERICAN-STATESMAN Staff

Nobody harnessed the power of the Texas brand quite like DeLoss Dodds, and he’d hate to see anyone make a fuss. But Dodds probably deserves his own wing in the Hall of Fame. That’s where you’d find pertinent info on Mack Brown, Rick Barnes, Augie Garrido, the Longhorn Network, Big 12 expansion and maybe a blurb on the 12 or so hours that UT was in the Pac-12.

There should be odes to key UT people in the know, like regents Frank Erwin, Don Evans, James Huffines, and Tom and Steve Hicks. They couldn’t have done it without critical financial help from Denius, Tex Moncrief, Mike Myers, Mack Rankin, Red McCombs and that blankety-blank lawyer from Houston, Joe Jamail.

Sure, honoring the coaches, administrators, boosters and the like would be nice. But Texas is Texas because of the athletes. They are the ones that thrilled fans, won championships, graduated and kept the traditions alive and well for years to come.

You know the names, both the old ones and the new: Earl, Ricky, Clarissa, T.J., Huston and Cat, to name a small few.

The magic of Texas comes alive with 53 Veer Pass, Roll Left and fourth-and-5. It’s when Lance Gunn shouts “We’ve shocked the world!” after beating Penn State. It’s when BMW, with those crazy baggy shorts, goes runnin’ through The Drum. It’s bunting your way around the bases after being sprinkled with Zen.

Fans should have a prominent, permanent display in any Hall of Fame. After all, without the fans, Texas simply isn’t Texas.

Texas fans sing along to “Don’t Stop Believin'” during a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

It’s the pounding electricity generated when Houston brought the Run-and-Shoot to Austin. Or when West Virginia showed up. Or the inspiring sight of everyone holding up their cellphones while they sing “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Or just the unrelenting heat brought on by the Wild Bunch and nowadays the OccupyLF crowd.

The Texas Athletics Hall of Fame has room to grow and add plenty more trophies, plaques and photos. Coaches will walk recruits through it, show them all there is to see and say, “Maybe one day, this will be you.”

It’s the memories that are most valuable, though. That’s the hardest thing to capture and quantify. It’s what truly defines Texas. For that, the space needed is infinite.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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