08.03.2001

Bill Little commentary: The legend of Reggie Grob

 


EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is from the Longhorn Legends series recorded for use during halftime of Texas football games. The legend of Reggie Grob was highlighted at the Culligan Holiday Bowl game against Oregon. In light of recent tragedies at the University of Florida and with the Minnesota Vikings, it is a timely reflection.

When they measure contributions to the game of football, the name of Reggie Grob won't mean much to a lot of people. However, what he meant to the game cannot be measured in tackles or yards. It is considerably more than that. Just before Texas played Oregon to open the 1962 season, Reggie Grob gave his life for the game he loved, and in doing so, he saved a lot of young people. This is his story.

The phone call came to the practice field in late September 1962, and Darrell Royal took it hard, even though deep in his heart he knew it was coming. For 17 days, he - along with his team and football fans across the country - had prayed it wouldn't end this way.

It was a hot, humid day when the fall practice had begun on Saturday, Sept. 1, and the team worked especially hard, since Sunday was always a day off. Reggie Grob was an offensive lineman from Houston Spring Branch, who came to Texas without a scholarship and played as a reserve on the freshman team of 1961. He had a fine spring training and worked extremely hard during the summer. He had a chance to make the team.

We'll never know what happened in Texas that first day of September 1962. At SMU, starting center Mike Kelsey was taken from the practice field with heat exhaustion, and Grob and two other Texas players were hospitalized in Austin. The heat had hit players before. It was a ritual of the fall.

This time, however, it was different. Mike Kelsey died that day.

Two Texas players survived the scare with limited effects, but Reggie Grob, who thought he would be fighting to make the team, was suddenly fighting for his life.

For 17 days, doctors marvelled as he used every ounce of the strength of a young athlete to battle kidney and liver failure that resulted from the heat stroke. Four days before Texas was to open the season against a good Oregon team led by Mel Renfro, Reggie Grob died. He was only 19 years old.

On a Friday afternoon the day before the opening game, Darrell Royal put his team on buses to go to a hotel just as he always did. However, there was a detour. While Oregon worked out in Memorial Stadium, the Texas team drove to Houston for the funeral of Reggie Grob.

For the family of a young man who died too soon, it is a sad and tragic story. The loss of a son is something you never recover from. In his passing, Reggie Grob did something immeasurable for the living.

Every football program, no make that every athlete or wanna-be athlete, learned something the day Reggie Grob died. Trainers and doctors, led by the American Medical Association, began immediate research on the effects of heat on the human body. Within a year, practice routines were strictly governed by schools throughout the country, and every single person who ever played a sport, jogged or even thought about it, knew of the dangers of heat exhaustion.

Texas did beat Oregon in a tough game that next day, but it really didn't matter. That's in the record book. It was Reggie Grob who mattered. In a very real sense, his death meant that thousands and thousands have lived. Out of tragedy, he gave us all a gift. And that's why he's a legend.