In Austin, fans don’t have to look far to determine whether or not their beloved Texas Longhorns have seized victory. As a matter of fact, they simply need to glance upward and see what color is shining out of the 27-story Main Building. Since the lights were added in 1937, the “Tower” has displayed shades of burnt orange to signal that UT athletics teams have triumphed. With upwards of 50 national championship wins, it should be no surprise that the central Texas skyline is fire-tinted quite often.
It was on the diamond that the university first laid claim to greatness, as the Longhorns baseball program is an undeniable dynasty. After debuting in 1895, the Texas starting nine has captured more than 70 conference titles, appeared in more than 30 College World Series, and nabbed the school’s first and second national championships in 1949 and ‘50. When it comes to hoops, the women’s basketball team takes top honors with double-digit league crowns, as well as posting an undefeated season in 1986 en route to winning the Big Dance. However, with this being Texas, it’s football that reigns supreme in the Lone Star state.
Any conversation about the gridiron has to start with the man whose name is on the stadium, Darrell K. Royal. From 1957 to 1976, the College Football Hall of Famer amassed 167 wins, 11 Southwest Conference championships, and consensus national titles in 1963 and ‘69. Royal’s impact on the game was felt not only in Austin, but nationwide, as his innovations with the Wishbone offense changed the college football landscape. The run-centric approach resulted in six consecutive first-place finishes in the SWC for the Longhorns. In 1996, Texas Memorial Stadium was rechristened to honor the fearless leader.
While nearly 30 years separate their playing careers, the exploits of running backs Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams best represent Texas football following Royal’s tenure. Campbell became the school’s first Heisman winner in 1977 when he bulldozed his way to 1,744 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, while Williams set all-time records in Austin with a career total of 6,279 yards of offense and 72 touchdowns. Just like “The Tyler Rose” before him, Williams was named college football’s top performer in 1998.
On Saturdays, the Showband of the Southwest works the crowd into a frenzy with rousing renditions of “The Eyes of Texas” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” while more than 100,000 fans point their index and pinky fingers to the sky and plead for their team to “hook” the opposition. The Longhorn faithful will travel to support their team too, as countless diehards make the annual trek to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas for the Red River Showdown with Oklahoma.
At the end of the day, UT stands atop the mountain that is football fandom in Texas. Folks in every town think that their squad is the best, but the Longhorns have the trophy case to prove otherwise and fans across the country who will back them up.