Bill Little commentary: Rose Bowl chronicles -- III
PASADENA, Calif. -- There are, after all, moments in life where you reach that twilight zone between imagination and reality; the space where you wonder if you will wake from a dream only to find that what you thought was real, really wasn't at all.
As a kid, you would race to a place, seeking a landmark or some sign of familiarity, just so you could be reassured that the constant is, indeed the norm.
And as the Gold Coast buses pulled onto the expanse of pavement in the canyon at the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains, sure enough, there it was: The Rose Bowl.
The Texas Longhorns returned to the most famous venue in college sports Tuesday, for a brief walk visit and photo session prior to tomorrow's National Championship Rose Bowl Game against Southern California.
A year and a couple of days ago, they had left this space, looking back into the California night on the first day of 2005, seeking the Rose Bowl emblem glowing in the misty darkness.
Tuesday's visit was the final official activity for the team before game day arrives, and they made the best of it. A church choir or a rap group could not have better acquitted themselves. As they stood on the risers in front of the stadium, they rocked, chanted, and generally announced to any and all who were hanging out in the area that they were loose, and ready for some football.
They had their celebrity visitors. Actors Matthew McConaughey and Dennis Quaid were there, as was the California Highway Patrol officer who broke an arm and a leg in a motorcycle accident while escorting the team on Friday.
A battery of news photographers were sequestered a distance from the official photo shoot. Inside the stadium, which was bathed in bright sunshine following Monday's heavy rain, a crew was repainting the field, waiting for some helicopters to come in to help dry the field. The Wednesday forecast is for perfect weather.
The folks from In N Out Burger hauled their 18-wheeler trailer down the ramp which USC will use Wednesday, and turned out the burgers that are unique to, and the pride of, California fast food cuisine.
On Monday, Texas had held its final practice in an interesting location...inside the veladrome at the expansive Home Depot Olympic Center. On a concrete floor surrounded by the high-banked wooden track, the team walked through its final recognition drills in preparation for the game.
The media day featured a dozen or so Longhorns and coach Mack Brown, who then returned for one final media appearance at the Media Headquarters at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Tuesday morning. Brown and four players, Ahmard Hall, Rod Wright, Aaron Harris and David Thomas, attended the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame Luncheon. Featured there, also, were the UT cheerleaders and Texas Pom and a scaled down version of the Longhorn band. USC had a similar entourage, led, of course, by Coach Pete Carroll and four of his players.
The most sustained applause came for Hall, who Brown introduced as a Marine who had served in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who served as the Grand Marshall of the Rose Bowl Parade on Monday. Justice O'Connor will flip the coin (a silver dollar-sized coin with Texas on one side and USC on the other, in pre-game ceremonies.
After the workout on Monday, equipment manager Chip Robertson and his crew loaded the big 18-wheeler that had come from Austin two weeks ago, and re-established game operations in the visiting team dressing room at the Rose Bowl.
By late afternoon, the Longhorns were in their usual road game routine, starting with a voluntary chapel service and a team meal.
Volumes have been written and said about the game, which has been portrayed as the "Game of the Century" six years into the 21st Century. A "Who's Who" of former Longhorn lettermen gathered at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza for a reunion, and the hotel lobby was engulfed in all things orange.
The familiar sight of the Rose Bowl was both a comfort and a relief for a football team that is ready to play. It has been a month since the two teams last played, and neither bunch is interested in one more day, or one more minute of practice.
Wednesday, as darkness falls in California, as fireworks and the B-1 bomber and a national anthem by Leah Ann Rhymes are part of a glitter-filled pregame, Texas will gather with its coaches for some final words before the game.
We will never know what the author Rudyard Kipling actually knew about college football, but we do know that he, better than anybody, summed up the story of this game.
In his poem, "If," Kipling wrote, "If you can make one heap of all your winning, and risk it on one turn of pitch and toss...."
Southern California has won 34 straight games, Texas has won 19. Together, they have more than 50 victories between them without a loss. It is all in one heap, in a game of pitch and toss.
And the winner will be the National Champion of all of college football.