D. Ryan Monceaux
He is known around the world for a country music career that has landed him a Grammy, two films, a truckload of No. 1 hits, a role on Broadway and a lifetime full of memories. Yet Larry Gatlin is known in "this neck of the woods" (his phrase) as the man who scored the 100th point in a football game UH played against Tulsa in 1968. But that lasting impression has no merit for him.
"It's a lie. I scored the 92nd point when Coach Yeoman put me in after we were beating them 86-6. I even know the play I scored on," Gatlin proudly boasted. "It was Terry Lieweke, the place-kicker, who scored point 100."
And true to his word, the music legend can tell you exactly the play and the situation.
"It was 3-and-12 on the 26-yard line. I was in the game in place of Elmo (Wright) at wideout on the right side. The play was '53 R Out.'
"Well, I was the R(ight) Out, so I ran my pattern, and (Ken) Bailey threw it to me and I waltzed into the endzone for my only score in college. But it wasn't the 100th point," Gatlin said.
Okay, so the crowning moment of Gatlin's athletic career is a myth. No problem, he says. He has gone on to one of the most successful careers in Nashville.
And now he is premiering a new musical, Texas Flyer, which he wrote, scored and stars in, at Miller Outdoor Theater. Performances run through this Saturday, and shows are scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m. nightly.
"The musical came out of a song I wrote, called 'Hardworking Hands.' It's based on a man who is working in the fields and goes to a café and sees all of these characters. It is your basic love story with a falling out between a father and son.
"It is all new music and is funny, and will make you cry. I am very proud of it," Gatlin said.
It is not the first musical for Gatlin, who has also written Texas Cafe, which he intends to take to Broadway. Gatlin has also starred in another musical, Will Rogers Follies, on Broadway.
Explaining how he snagged the role of Will Rogers, Gatlin said, "I was playing golf with Frank Gifford, and he asked me to have dinner with him and Kathie Lee.
"I said, 'I'd love to, but I'm taking my wife to see Will Rogers Follies.' He said, 'Man, you'd be great in that role.' So he takes his cellular phone out of his golf bag and says, 'Get Gatlin an audition.' And it happened just like that."
However famous and popular he becomes, Gatlin said he will always remember from whence he came. And although his touchdown in the '68 game against Tulsa was not the shining moment many believe it to be, Gatlin has other great memories of his career at Houston.
"The baseball team was good. Elvin (Hayes) was one of the best basketball players in the country, and the school was on fire for Cougar sports," Gatlin said of his residence in Houston.
However, Gatlin's years at UH were not always so pleasant. He realized while on campus that his future in life was not going to be on the gridiron.
"I wanted to play football. But I just didn't have the talent. Of course I would not admit that then, but I knew. I kind of learned about disappointment. Things don't always work out the way you want," he said.
To emphasize Gatlin's success, Larry, his brothers and sister LaDonna had recorded five albums before Larry reached college age. In fact, the last album before Larry came to UH was "The Tenth Anniversary Album," marking a decade of Gatlin family recordings.
Larry and his brothers ended their touring career in 1993, which gave him the opportunity to do the Follies. Since that time, Gatlin has also done USO trips to Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti and Japan. He counts those trips as the most rewarding Christmas vacations he has ever had.
"American men and women are sometimes put in harm's way to try and do some good for the world," Gatlin commented, "and if they're willing to go, so am I. I don't care if it is Bosnia or the back side of the moon."
Between his writing and performing of musicals, Gatlin loves to mix in a few rounds of golf. On a recent outing with Coach Yeoman, Gatlin shot 76 at Lochinvar in Houston, one of the city's most demanding golf courses.
Gatlin's most recent project, a book, comes out later this week. Titled All the Gold in California after a popular song he recorded, Gatlin talks about, among other things, what went on at UH while he was a football player.
"There was a lot of hazing in the dorms. More than I would have liked. Coach Yeoman would have stopped it, but he didn't know."
Larry Gatlin constantly speaks fondly of Coach Bill Yeoman. The two have remained close friends even though Gatlin has gone on the country music fame. And Gatlin and Yeoman had a typical coach/reserve-wideout relationship during Gatlin's playing days.
"He was the coach. He was always telling people to do things. I was always doing those things.
"It was thanks to Coach Yeoman that I had such a great seat for all of those football games we won in 1968. I mean, who else gets field-level, 50-yard line seats every game," Gatlin joked.
At one point in his Cougar career, former Cougar football standout Chuck Odom attempted to give Gatlin a little counseling.
"The only advice I ever gave Larry was to put away the guitar and study more," said Odom.
Gatlin had a classic response 30 years after hearing that line.
"Chuck is too tall. (He) needs to mind his own business. He made his money in computers and smarts. I made mine with my guitar."
And a pretty good living it is, at that. Gatlin has won two Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year awards. In all he has put 35 albums on the shelves, most of those in tandem with his singing group, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers. The four brothers have a television show on The Nashville Network and the 2,000-seat Gatlin Brothers Theater in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Gatlin said that he keeps up with Cougar sports whenever he can. Although he admits that he isn't the most consummate fan, he knows his Cougar sports.
"Kim (Helton) is doing a great job. We would love to see him pull out a few more wins, but he is a good man who is battling it out in a tough job."
And as for Clyde Drexler, Gatlin could not help but to show his excitement.
"Drexler is going to add a whole new dimension to UH. What a great hire and what enthusiasm UH basketball will have next year."
Gatlin's musical concludes its Houston run on Saturday.