Understand this: This is not a prediction, it is simply a statement. It is not a prognostication, it is simply a story. If there is a parallel with the present, it is only because the past can conjure images of what can be. Most of all, it is a reinforcement of the fact that football is about attitude, not about schemes. It is about people, not about potential.
As such, it is a story about making something happen, rather than letting something happen. It is, after all, the premise, and the promise, of life.
It was a gray afternoon, that early spring day in 1963, and somewhere the bluebonnets were peaking through the Hill Country, and the lakes and the day dreaming were calling your name, if you were among the young, and we were.
But the moment of interest came on the field of Texas Memorial Stadium, where the Longhorn football team was going through the paces of spring practice. They had been ever-so-close during the last four years. In 1959, Darrell Royal's third year at Texas, they had brought the Longhorn program back to the national scene. The drought had been significant. Not since the early part of the decade had they finished in the nation's top 10.
The national rankings ended before the bowl games then, primarily because perennial power Notre Dame had a policy of not playing in bowl games. So when Texas lost only to TCU during the regular season, the Longhorns finished with a No. 4 ranking before losing the Cotton Bowl game to No. 1 Syracuse. In 1961, the Longhorns had edged even closer. They held a No. 1 ranking for three weeks before a 6-0 upset by TCU. This time, they got to third, and won their bowl game over Ole Miss.
The season of 1962 had produced another frustration. The 'Horns ranked No. 1 for a month, before a 14-14 tie with a lowly Rice team knocked them out of the top spot. They finished ranked No. 4, before losing the Cotton Bowl to LSU.
As they entered 1963, one thing was clear. A school which had never won a National Championship in football could only get there by tweaking enough things to get two more wins.
And so it was that the boys of Autumn went out in the spring to work. Some folks called it Spring Football, others would call it Spring Drills, or Spring Practice. For the Longhorns of 1963, what it was, was work.
The moment of truth came during a scrimmage, that gray day in the stadium. Scott Appleton, the giant all-American tackle who would go on to win the Outland Award as the nation's best lineman in the fall, was on the west side of the field, just a few steps away from the cinder track which encircled the grass field, which was just beginning to turn green. An official calling the scrimmage missed an obvious holding call, which allowed a runner to free himself for extra yards.
"Come on," Appleton glared at the official as he shouted, "we're not out here for FUN."
The record will show that Appleton and his teammates won all of their games in 1963, and Texas became National Champions for the first time. It was Darrell Royal's seventh season at Texas.
But it would not be a scheme or a trick play that would carry them. It would be an attitude. Five of their 11 wins came by fewer than seven points.
Times have changed a lot in those 40 plus years. Unlimited recruiting has given way to quotas. Practice in the spring has been limited to only 15 workouts, and the NCAA mandates that you can't work or meet more than 20 hours a week. In Appleton's time, sometimes it felt that practices lasted darn near that long in a single session.
What hasn't changed, however, is the drive of the players and the coaches to figure out how to win those few games which are keeping them from the golden ring. And what was important to understand then and critical to keep in mind now is how really, close, they are. That was the message three new coaches brought as they looked over the personnel. It was a reflection of the record: 9-3 and 12th Nationally in 2000, 11-2 and 5th in 2001, 11-2 and 6th in 2002, 10-3 and 12th in 2003.
The Spring of 2004 is Mack Brown's seventh at Texas. It has brought an intensified work ethic to the football team. "Texas Tough" has become more of a definition, rather than a theme. Off-season work started at 6 a. m., and meetings over the last month were held daily at 6:30 a. m. Practices ran 24 full periods. Or a solid two hours.
Besides more contact, the stress included fundamentals, blocking, tackling, hitting and getting hit. But there was more -- variations of throwback drills such as the "Bull in the ring" where a player, or players, go one on one to fight their way by each other, or out of the circle. There were other examples of one-on-one face-offs, which emphasized working for a full set amount of time, and the discipline to never let your opponent know you are tired.
Over and over again, the message was simple: You don't start to win all of your games in the Fall. You lay the foundation in the Spring. Leaders emerged, too many to mention, but Cedric Benson and Derrick Johnson clearly will be the most visible. They, like Appleton all those years ago, exemplified the work ethic of the champion.
As I said at the beginning, this is not a prediction of what will be. If it is about what could be, take it as that. I learned a long time ago that the less you say, the less you have to take back.
I rather prefer Teddy Roosevelt's "Speak softly, and carry a big stick."
And so as spring practice, 2004, comes to a close, let's understand the definition of "attitude."
"When that adrenalin starts flowing," said Darrell Royal, "you just get there faster than normal. You can jump higher and dive deeper and come up dryer."
And it is then that you give yourself the chance to win all the games.