Jan. 1, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
In the delightful movie, “The Princess Bride,” the hero and the heroine have to negotiate all kinds of obstacles to free themselves from an evil prince. The most feared of these, of course, is the dreaded “Fire Swamp,” where creatures and treacherous terrain await them trying at every turn to trap them. The Texas football team can understand about the Fire Swamp, where everybody is out to get you.
Ever since the afternoon of October 11, 2008, the Longhorns have spent every football Saturday (as well as a couple of Thanksgiving nights and a bowl game) HAVING to win every single game to get to their dream. In some cases, they even had to worry about winning by enough. Twenty times they have faced that challenge, and save for a second at Texas Tech a year ago and some percentage points at the end of last season, they have defeated their challengers.
Twenty football games, trying to get to their destination. This season, they have played every single game with the realization that a loss would end the quest. Now, as they head for California in preparation for their January 7 meeting with Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, they have earned the right just to go play for their prize.
In many ways, it seems almost impossible that it has been 10 years since Mack Brown sat in a press conference in San Antonio prior to the Big 12 Championship game and talked about the “housing market” in college football.
“Nebraska,” he had said, “is part of the elite of college football of the 1990s. We are just visiting that neighborhood. What we want is to one day buy a house there.”
Now, as the calendar year of 2009 comes to a close, Brown and his Longhorns not only have moved into the neighborhood, they have darned near the biggest house on the block. In the process of working their way to this National Championship game, these Longhorns have won 26 of their last 27 football games. There is great debate among the scholars of the world as to whether the first decade of the 21st century ends on December 31, 2009, or on December 31, 2010. In Texas football, the best “decade” ever was the 1960s, with the run between 1961 and 1970 marking unparalleled success.
Using that as a barometer, in the nine-year period between 1961 through 1969, Texas won 79 games, lost 16 and tied 2. The Longhorns won National Championships in 1963 and 1969. Schedules have changed because teams play more games today, but the fact is the record from 2001 through 2009, with one game to go, is 101-15.
A lot has changed since that press conference in San Antonio early in December of 1999. The plethora of bowl games on television that precede the National Championship game each brings back a time, and a memory. And each, in its own way, marked a step on the pathway to the Rose Bowl on January 7.
The thing that resonates the loudest about where Texas is today is the consistency that is reflected in a string that has produced two 13-win seasons (as of now), a 12-win season, and three each of 11 and 10 games.
In Mack Brown’s 12 years at Texas, the Longhorns are now 26-5 in games decided by four points or less, and 19-4 in games decided by three points or less, including 16 of the lat 17. Part of that record are 25 second-half comebacks, including 13 fourth-quarter come-from-behind wins.
From the days when bowl representatives used to worry about whether Texas fans would travel, the Longhorns now boast a fan base that has made the Longhorn and Burnt Orange the most purchased merchandise in all of college football.
With all of the success has come the drive, and the pressure to win. Mack Brown would be the first to redefine that: It is the passion, not the pressure, and it is not only the challenge, it is the opportunity.
That, of course, brings us back to where we started. From the minute that 45-35 score went up in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in October a year ago, the Texas mission has been clear. Each game became a goal, each accomplishment became, as center Chris Hall so well described it, “a number on the wall.”
Big 12 South Division champs? Check. Unbeaten regular season? Check. Big 12 Champions? Check. Now, only one number – the one that goes with National Championship – remains unfilled.
With several games remaining in the season, Mack Brown began talking to his team again about “goals and dreams.” Each year, there are a series of team goals that remain steady: win the opener, win the Big 12 South, win the Big 12, get to a good bowl game and win it. All along, he has known if Texas wins all of its games and accomplishes those goals, it will have a chance to play for the National Championship.
“Get your goals,” he would say, “and then you have a chance to play for your dream.”
So 20 games ago, that quest began. There could be no false steps…Texas found that out the hard way last season. As hard as they fought to get back in the mix, they didn’t control their destiny. They even played the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl knowing that if they beat a fine Ohio State team by enough points, they might grab a piece of The Associated Press National Championship.
Last year, Mack and the staff came up with the theme of “Earn the right.” It had multiple meanings, but you get the point here. They have fulfilled that charge. They have earned the right to play in the last game of the 2009 season.
Through all of the “have to” wins, they have arrived at their destination in the midst of arguably the very best time to be a Texas Longhorn. They had to get those goals to get here. Now, they get to go after their dream.