In The Express, Darrell Royal's Texas squad was a racist, evil monster of a football team. In reality, Darrell Royal was none of that and deserved better cinematic treatment.
The further away from The Express we get, the more that movie pisses me off.
I stand by my statement in my book, that if Ernie Davis were alive to see the film about his life, he would have been embarrassed and ashamed. Not because it wasn't quality cinema, but because it took so many liberties to make other people look bad in order to make him look good.
Obviously, the whole West Virginia scene is one big pile of fakery (as much as we might accept the idea of racist West Virginians). But it's not often we stop to think about how much the details of the 1960 Cotton Bowl game between the Syracuse Orangemen and Texas Longhorns were fudged.
When I saw that former Texas coach Darrell Royal had died and that he was being lauded as a great man, my first thought was, "Yeah but what about the Cotton Bowl and what his team did to Ernie Davis?" Then I realized I was basing that on The Express.
And, unfortunately, that means I was basing it on half-truths and completely made-up nonsense. While there were racial tensions during the game, it was nothing like it was depicted in the film.
Bobby Lackey, quarterback for the University of Texas states, "I told the Cotton Bowl people that those things didn't happen, and they were making up stories to try and sell more movie tickets, I wasn't going to watch any of that." Lackey continued, "Larry Stephens was my roommate, if anything, he was trying to get the guy into a fight so he could get him thrown out of the game because their athletes were so much better than ours. But I don't know a one of my teammates that said anything derogatory. How are you going to say the N-word in a football game and spit on somebody? Coach Royal would not have put up with that kind of behavior. It was a long time ago, but I know we shook hands and told him nice game and that his team deserved to win." Lackey said, "Then we all walked off the field."
While it's said to be true that words were exchanged and there was racial tension during the game, it was heightened beyond a reasonable amount in the film.
Since players represent their coach, it's easy for Syracuse fans to watch the movie and, by extension, see Royal as a racist man egging on his white players to embarrass a bunch of black players. Former Orangeman John Brown proves that just wasn't the case...
"I ran into Darrell Royal (who in 1959 was in his third season as the Longhorns' coach), and he apologized to me," Brown said. "I will never forget that. He's Darrell Royal. Who am I?
"But he took the time to come up to me and apologize and say that he was trying to win a game and was not aware of what was going on to that extent on the field. He didn't have to come up to me, but he did, and I will always appreciate that."
Royal only coached against Syracuse once and it happened to be the most important game in Syracuse Orange football history. We'll always remember him for his involvement in our own tradition and lore, though hopefully not in the way that cinema chose to.