In the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, the main character Andy writes to his friend Red, "Hope is a good thing…maybe the best of things."
And the Texas Longhorns would add, it's the best of things, if you believe.
The 2004 Football season began with hope, and blossomed…you could say, as a rose blossoms…into a year of destiny.
The Longhorns, who have now finished in the top 15 in six of Mack Brown's seven years at Texas and lead the Big 12 in Bowl appearances during that time with seven, rode that destiny straight into history. The team finished No. 4 in the country, its highest national ranking in almost 25 years, and in doing so, Texas went from good to great in a hurry.
The season featured a little something for everybody…dominatingly dominant at times, and come back clutch at others. Whatever the task they came to, it called for the best in them. And they responded.
During the season, there were seven times, including at hard-to-win places such as Fayetteville, Ark., when Texas came from behind to win. And six of those were in the final six games of the 12-game season. The comebacks were plentiful, and they were impressive.
It was in that space that the legend, and the legacy of the 2004 Texas Longhorns were formed.
The Arkansas victory—where the offense had to come from behind and the defense had to make a late stop to win the game—set a standard in a superlative season.
It was a unique football team…where family and togetherness were the key factors in the finest sense of the word "team."
It was not without its stars…Derrick Johnson won awards as the nation's top defensive player (The Nagurski Award) and the best linebacker in the country (Butkus Award), and Cedric Benson became one of the leading rushers of all time and won the Doak Walker award as the nation's best running back. Benson, who finished as the sixth-leading rusher in NCAA history, set a national record for scoring in 37 football games in his career.
Quarterback Vince Young, who is now 17-2 as a starter, was selected as the outstanding offensive player in the Rose Bowl Game and kicker Dusty Mangum turned the final two seconds of the game into Texas immortality.
In all, 14 members of the team were named to various all-Big 12 teams over the past two seasons, and there were 16 players named to the 2004 all-Big 12 all-academic team.
In the end, this was a story of a coaching staff, and a team, that bonded together. They laughed together, cried together, and won together, as each, in his time, had a part of history.
This band of brothers produced a series of dramatic victories that would only play in Hollywood, and that is where they would finish.
They overcame the largest deficit in school history, wiping out Oklahoma State's 35-7 lead with a 56-35 victory. They defied seemingly impossible odds, scoring 14 points in the final five minutes…and picking up a first down on an improbable fourth-and-18 situation, to win on the road against Kansas, 27-23.
And they didn't quit when a freak turn of events left them behind at halftime to their biggest rival, Texas A&M.
All of that earned them a spot in the BCS, and a first-ever meeting with Michigan in the oldest and most famous bowl game in America—The Rose Bowl. And in a remarkable blending of history and irony, the theme for the 2005 Rose Parade, and therefore the game, was "Celebrate Family." And there in Pasadena, the Texas family would celebrate.
And that is where the season would be played out in a microcosm of a game. Everything the season had been, the game turned out to be.
With more than 93,000 watching...more than half dressed in burnt orange, Texas made its first appearance in the historic setting.
They say if you want a miracle, you need to be in miracle territory.
The 2004 Longhorns had earned their way to hallowed ground, and on the first day of 2005, there they were, before all those people and a world-wide television audience…Texas and Michigan… putting on a show for the ages.
The Longhorns had led, then trailed by 10 points in the second half, and finally, as they always had in their remarkable stretch run, they reached down and pulled out that one last miracle.
And when the season ended, with confetti sprinkling the field of the stadium nestled in the foothills of California's San Gabriel Mountains, the Longhorn seniors walked away as the winningest group in school history. In their four years, the 19 seniors helped carve a record of 43-8, the most wins for a four-year class since freshmen became eligible for the varsity in 1972.
When the season ended with an 11-1 record and a No. 4 national ranking, it marked the third time in the last four years the Longhorns had recorded 11 wins in a season, a mark that also included 10 victories in each of the last four years. Texas' six top 25 finishes in a row marked the first time UT had accomplished that since 1968-75, and the No. 4 final national ranking was the Longhorns' best since the 1981 team finished No. 2 following a Cotton Bowl win over Alabama.
But the step Texas took in winning the Rose Bowl wasn't just about the team of 2004. As the victory made a statement of where the program is, it also left a calling card about a belief for the future…in a celebration of what has been, it was a bright promise of what yet can be.