They came, they saw, they loved every minute of it
On a perfect January night, more than 51,000 persons filled Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium to say thanks to the perfect team -- the 2005 University of Texas football squad.
Talk about living the dream.
It was the largest group hug on record.
They began arriving at the stadium at 7 a.m., knowing that the event was still nearly 11 hours away.
By noon, there were hundreds on site and the tailgating began. It was a game-day atmosphere without the game.
It didn't matter.
To the thousands who would come on this evening, "The Game" already had been played and the results were on the stadium scoreboard just as they were on the Rose Bowl scoreboard the evening of January 4.
Texas 41, USC 38.
They watched highlights of National Championships past on the Jumbotron, but they were there for this National Championship.
Their National Championship.
And as the highlights of that game began to be played, they reacted just as they did that night two weeks before, cheering every play.
Of course on this night, they cheered the band, the cheerleaders and Bevo.
They cheered the governor and the senator and The University officials.
And the governor, who matriculated at that other university in College Station, even wore a burnt orange shirt.
But they saved the best for the men in burnt orange as they walked into the stadium the way they came in at each Saturday home game of 2005.
They cheered the loudest at the sight of No. 10 – Vince Young.
They cheered the loudest for him because of what he did and because they also were saying goodbye, as Young already had announced he would not return for his senior season, opting for the NFL Draft.
And that group of young men cheered back.
As senior tight end David Thomas, who had received his diploma several weeks before, noted when gazing around the stadium, "We have more fans at our National Championship celebration than most teams have at their games."
Men's Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds admitted that when the season began everyone knew there was a possibility of this – a National Championship.
"The people we had coming back from the year before allowed everyone to consider that this team could put itself in a position to win a National Championship," Dodds said. "Then when we won at Ohio State, it began to become more of a possibility in the minds of the fans each week.
"We had some anxious moments against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, but once past that -- thanks to the great work of our coaching staff and our team -- we were there."
And once there, the perfect team played in what arguably can be called the best game in college football history,
"While I was happy for our players and our coaches," Dodds said of the glorious night in Pasadena, Calif., "I was really happy for our fans. They had wanted this. They had left disappointed in the past, but this made up for it.
"This was their dream fulfilled."
Head coach Mack Brown thanked all who were there for the celebration. He thanked his staff, his players and all at The University. He also thanked the high school football coaches of Texas.
"And I thank Coach Royal," Brown said, looking up towards the suite the legendary UT coach was in that evening.
"You know, a year ago after the Rose Bowl victory against Michigan one tall guy of ours said, 'We'll be back,'" Brown said of the Namathesque prediction of Vince Young.
"He was right," Brown continued. "This group of student-athletes began working towards this championship not long after they returned to campus after that Rose Bowl.
"They worked in the spring, the summer and the fall and they were rewarded for that hard work."
Brown then raised his hand with the "Hook 'em Horns" sign and offered an instruction to the crowd.
"Tonight, you can take down that pinky," the coach said, his voice rising. "Because we are No. 1."
After Vince's "victory lap" around the stadium to bid his farewell to those he said he loved when speaking moments before, Dodds summed it up perfectly.
"It doesn't get any better than this," he said.
Those who came that night would agree.