June 11, 2011
ARLINGTON, Tex. - Hundreds of former UT Arlington football players and coaches gathered Saturday night at the University Center for The Ultimate Huddle Football Reunion.
At the heart of the ceremony sat the family - as well as the memory - of former coach Charlie Key, who coached or played for UT Arlington from 1959-85.
Former players took their turn stepping to the podium and sharing their memories of UT Arlington football and, more importantly, the impact Key made upon them.
The passionate message across the board was simple: Football might not be a sport at UTA any longer, but it is not dead. Neither is Key's legacy.
"It's like bringing our family back together," said Joy Ellen Key, the widow of Charlie Key. "It was great because it reaffirmed everything I knew my husband was about. When he was passionate about something, he never let it go. That's how he was about the university and the football program.
"Tonight showed his passion didn't die with him. It lives on. He planted enough seeds that it's going to grow again."
UT Arlington athletics director Pete Carlon had the opportunity to work with for a few years with Key. What stands out most to Carlon is that even in the years and decades after UTA dropped football in 1985, Key remained a steadfast supporter of both the athletics department and the university.
"He was such a close friend and confidant," Carlon said. "He used to come by my office to visit or call every day. He understood the passion not only for the student-athletes but also for the athletics program. He was a great friend to the department. I don't know anyone who had the passion for UT Arlington that Charlie Key had.
"We could not have had this event without his name. Byron Williams and Cliff Odom had the idea to have the football reunion. When we tried to figure out how to bring in the greatest number of former players and coaches, it was easy: Make it about Charlie Key."
University of Minnesota defensive coordinator Bill Miller played for Key from 1976-77, who also gave Miller his first coaching job as a graduate assistant at UT Arlington. Key also got Miller his first assistant coaching job with Oklahoma State.
He also fondly remembered his former coach.
"I coached for a lot of great coaches like Jimmy Johnson, Nick Saban and Ron Zook," Miller said. "None of them got it like Charles Albert Key. He got that it was all about the players and the program."
Emcee Bob Utley, who played from 1964-66, and former UT Arlington star Danny Griffin, who played from 1966-69, presented the Key family with flowers and a plaque during the event.
"If Charlie was here tonight, I know he would love this," Joy Ellen Key said.
What he probably would have enjoyed as much as anything was three decades of UT Arlington football players coming together over their love for the program.
That stood out more than anything to Cliff Odom, who played for UT Arlington from 1976-79 before playing for 13 seasons in the National Football League.
"It was a great turnout," he said. "It was a great event and everyone had a lot of fun. It was great to reminisce and see people we hadn't seen in 20-to-30 years."
For some, The Ultimate Football Reunion marked the first return since the football program was eliminated.
"I was pleased when I saw the energy of guys who showed up to return to campus and reconnect with several teammates," said Mike Farhat, who played for UTA from 1962-65. "They are finding out about what's going on around campus. Once football was dropped, people felt abandoned and had resentment that we have to work on. We plan to do that and get them back."
For one night, at least, football was back at UT Arlington.
"It was nice to see guys from different decades," said Byron Williams, who played for UTA from 1979-82 and went on to play for the New York Giants. "You can see the passion is definitely still there. It's nice to see the hard work and dedication - the institutions on which our football program was built - are still here today."
More than anything, Carlon was glad to bring so many central figures from UT Arlington athletics past make their way back to campus.
"It's a pretty emotional night for me because I know so many guys," Carlon said. "This is my 31st year here. I was only here for the last five football seasons but I have had the good fortune to meet a lot of the ex-players in the 50s, 60s and 70s and we had such a great turnout from all the different decades."
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