On the old Capehart TV, its black and white picture encased in a upright mahogany case that was bigger than the easy chair, the figures always seemed to be playing in snow. Part of that was the antenna, which was the predecessor to cable and the contraption that rested on a pole and rode high above the house, waiting for the next windstorm to come along and blow it away.
The rest of the snow was real, right there in faraway places like Green Bay, Chicago, Cleveland and New York. That was the NFL of the 1950s. In Winters, Texas, we were thrilled when guys like Bobby Layne of Texas, Yale Lary of Texas A&M, Doak Walker of SMU — all native Texans — all made what seemed like super-human plays.
For a fist full of dollars, they played the game like nobody else.
Mack Brown just a little kid when those guys pictures turned to color on the Zenith TVs, but in an era when the NFL was just beginning to take off, television was its carriage. Major League Baseball, the "Big Leagues," still was the most popular sport in the country. In the mid 60s, football took over.
This weekend marks a milestone of sorts for Brown, who has tutored 57 players who have been drafted in the NFL in his 18 years has a head coach. Twenty-five have been selected during the last five years, with 12 chosen in the first two rounds and 19 of those 25 picked in the draft's first four rounds.
Going into the weekend, he has coached seven players who have been drafted in the first round of the past four NFL drafts.
When the bell tolls on Saturday, Brown will have at least two more. For the first time since the 1948 NFL Draft — those guys who played on the black-and-white TVs — Texas is projected to have two players picked among the first 10 players. For cornerback Quentin Jammer and offensive tackle Mike Williams the dream of playing in the NFL not only will mean a chance, it will mean financial security.
Millions of dollars are at stake as the teams make their choices and conservative estimates of the money one of the top five will get range around $10 million and up. Five players will be in New York, and when you add North Carolina's Julius Peppers (whom Brown recruited while at UNC) — Brown will have recruited or coached three of the five.
Recruiting in Mack Brown's system is about family and about evaluation. Universities are not built of bricks and mortar and neither are football teams. They are built on people and Brown's favorite saying about coaching is that it is like teaching — the teacher will be judged not by what he knows but by what his students have learned.
There is a lot of conversation in academia about graduation rates of collegiate athletes and that is certainly important. It's also important, however, to realize that a university's secondary mission is to graduate. It's primary mission is to EDUCATE.
Jammer is a semester away from getting his degree and Williams, who finished his career in four years, a little more than that left. However, if our purpose as educators is to prepare young people for the careers, I'd say those two are ready. They are prepared to not only represent themselves well but their university too.
On the old black and white TV, Bobby Layne in football and Slater Martin in basketball and Grady Hatton and Ransom Jackson in baseball were ambassadors of The University of Texas and that made a kid in a little town in the state proud.
Brown's ambassadors in the NFL speak about what his football program stands for, but he'd be the first to tell you that it isn't about him, rather it's about the kids.
As a teacher, he has students that have learned. With the best academic staff in the country, they all have taken and passed important courses in the academia that is a university. They are prepared to meet the challenges of life beyond college. Most of all, he has served as a mentor and friend, the best kind of example a coach can be.
There will be far more young people who graduate and go on to careers in other fields besides football and they are just as important to Brown as those who become professional football players. However, the new kids selected this weekend by the NFL, and those who sign as free agents, carry the banner of The University of Texas with them in a high-profile world. Their character, and the things they learned in their time at UT, will serve us all very well.