Stop me if you have heard this before, but even if you have, it is a story worth repeating.
It was some time during the spring of 1963 and the Texas Longhorns were coming off a tremendously successful run during the first six years of Darrell Royal's tenure. The two years before, the Longhorns had flirted with what would have been their first-ever National Championship.
They had finished 10-1 in 1961 and 9-1-1 in 1962. They had been ranked No. 1 in 1961 with only two games to go against hapless TCU and Texas A&M, but a 6-0 upset by the Frogs knocked them out of the championship. In 1962, again they were No. 1, but a 14-14 tie at Rice denied them the elusive title.
Now, it was spring training and the Longhorns were tired of flirting. It was midway through a scrimmage on a chilly, cloudy spring day and one of the officials calling the scrimmage failed to blow his whistle on an apparent infraction as the second-team offense and defense battled.
From the sidelines, All-American tackle Scott Appleton glared and growled.
"Come on!" Appleton shouted at the official. "We're not out here for fun."
Forty years later, history has a way of repeating itself.
Spring training 2003 begins next Monday and the anticipation for Longhorns football has never been higher.
Mack Brown and his staff closed out the first five years of their stay in Austin with the 35-20 victory against LSU in the SBC Cotton Bowl Classic and Monday night in the Erwin Center at halftime of the Texas Tech basketball game, the team officially received the trophy.
The crowd, juiced by yet another point run just before intermission by the Longhorns basketball team, responded as expected. Cheers for the trophy, cheers for Defensive MVP Cory Redding and a massive explosion of noise for Roy Williams, the Offensive MVP and the guy expected to be the show piece of an extremely talented football team in 2003.
The 15 practices allowed by the NCAA will be spread over a month, as the Longhorns follow the pattern Brown has chosen for the spring drills. By starting early in the spring, Texas takes full advantage of the euphoria still present from the 11-2 season and the Cotton Bowl victory. More significantly, however, the early start and the spreading of the practices around UT's spring break allows for an extended spring for the team. It gives them time off for concentration on their academics, as well as pacing an offseason program that will carry positively into the summer.
What Brown and his staff have done in their time here is to re-establish Texas as a consistent force on the college football landscape. In the Royal era, and for a while in the time of Fred Akers in the late 1970s and early '80s, UT was an annual contender for Top 10 honors. For the first time since the 1984 team was given an early season No. 1 ranking, Texas is a household word in the college football world again.
At home, interest is an an all-time high. Brown's hope for the March 29 spring game is for a showing of well over the 35,000 fans which have come despite some inclement weather conditions in past springs. The game not only has been a great showcase for UT football, coming as the climax of a weekend that includes a Letterman's Reunion, it is a fertile field of recruiting. Top juniors from all over the state, along with their families, can make the trip and see the game and learn about Texas football up close.
That's one of the main reasons Brown wants the Longhorns faithful to show up in great numbers. Since coming to Texas, he has turned Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium into one of the best home-field advantages in college athletics. This particular spring is special because of a new excitement that will be centered around a new look both for the offense and defense. In the days of Appleton and company, spring training was significant in that it allowed for the first look on the varsity of guys who, by NCAA rules, were restricted to competing on freshman teams. As Brown has built his Texas talent base, there are guys now who have been redshirted who will see their first action, or at least their first action in a year. There are others who have been waiting in the wings behind talented players now have their opportunity to shine. Despite a myriad of injuries, Brown and his staff were able to redshirt 19 players last season. Now, it their time to emerge.
Great coaches change with the times and adjust their philosophy based on personnel and the Texas offense is set to undergo a metamorphosis as spring begins. Since Brown came to Texas, the quarterback position has been filled with talent, but 2003 will give the Longhorns a new look there. Chance Mock, Matt Nordgren and Vincent Young all present a new style of Texas quarterback. When Brown came to UT, Richard Walton was the heir apparent as the starter and Major Applewhite was the backup. Walton, Applewhite, and later Chris Simms, brought the Longhorns five of the most successful passing years in school history.
Mock and Young, particularly, offer the added dimension of a talented runner to go with a talented passer. With that, Brown also has made a change in staff to accentuate his commitment to an improved running game, which will also include the threat of a quarterback with the ability to run. It is a dimension that once carried UT football but has been missing as a weapon since James Brown departed after an unfortunate injury-plagued senior season in 1997.
In his 15 practices, Brown will study the progress of the quarterbacks, employ the infusion of new blood in the coaching responsibilities in the offensive line and running back, take a look at a defense committed to provide more disguise in the coverages and an improved rush from the restructured defensive front.
Hundreds of high school coaches will be fixtures at practice, and in a lot of ways, contrary to Appleton's thoughts, it will be fun. However, the late Mr. Appleton was right on one point: this spring will be about work. When Brown first said the goal was to figure a way to win two more games (given the 11-2 record the past two years), he caught himself and said, "no, three." Twice in the last two years, that "third" game, the one for the National Championship, has been just out of reach.
Appleton would tell you how to get there. He and his teammates followed that spring of 1963 with an undefeated season that fall and won the school its first ever National Championship.