Bill Little commentary: The 'I' in team
December 21, 2007
As dawn broke Wednesday, the 2007 version of the Texas Longhorns boarded 6 a.m. buses for their practice facility for their last workout in Austin. The players then scattered for a short break before reporting in San Diego on Saturday evening as the opening event of the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.
The early morning had become a regular report time during the two weeks of practice. Because of final exams, that was the most productive time to work. With exams finally ending on Tuesday, Wednesday was a "get away" day, but it still included a spirited workout and a team meeting before the players took off for home.
For the better part of the 19 days since the Monday following the Texas-Texas A&M game, this team had a reality check. For five weeks leading up to the Friday in College Station, Texas had played well enough to be considered for a BCS bowl. By his own evaluation, Mack Brown termed what happened that day in the Brazos Bottom "unacceptable." During the first week of December, the offense and defense met and practiced with their coordinators. They watched video -- good and bad. The point was simple. In football and in life, winning generally comes down to individual accountability. A missed tackle can negate a perfect defensive call; a good block can create a touchdown play.
History tells us that college football teams often run the risk of a feeling of entitlement after a National Championship. Oklahoma won a title in 2000 and didn't win the Big 12 South Division a year later. Florida did the same, finishing 9-3 this season after the championship a year ago. At Texas, Darrell Royal's 1965 team, two years removed from the school's first-ever National Championship, finished 6-4. After back-to-back titles in 1969 and 1970, Texas was 8-3 in 1971.
Let me hasten to add that many factors figure into those situations. To win a National Championship, teams have to have some great players. And unlike professional football, it is the nature of the college game that the make up of teams continually evolves.
Expectations, however, do not.
When you win one National Championship, you want to quickly win another, but it seldom works that way. In the last 50 years of the coaches poll, which became the BCS Championship Trophy in 1998, only two teams -- Texas in 1969 and 1970 and Nebraska in 1994 and 1995 -- have repeated as National Champions.
The remarkable record carved by Texas over the last four seasons is striking. Starting with the 2004 season, among teams from BCS conferences, Southern Cal is 46-5. Texas is 43-7. Ohio State is 43-8. LSU, 42-9. Oklahoma (including the forfeited wins which the Sooners are appealing to the NCAA to have reinstated) is 42-10. Virginia Tech is 41-10. Georgia is 39-11. Florida is 38-12.
The important message this Longhorn team absorbed over the last two weeks was a focus on consistency, based on individual accountability. Excellence demands excellence. As Brown has said, you have to be consistently good to be great.
Now, at 9-3, this 2007 version of Texas football has one game remaining, and it is against a very good Arizona State team in the Holiday Bowl. There are a lot of numbers on the line - things like a 10-win season, a fourth straight bowl win and six victories in the last seven. All of those will go into a record book for all of us to look at years from now.
What will matter for this team however, will not be how their finish is remembered, but rather how they will remember their finish.
As Brown called his team together for the last time Wednesday morning, all of the hitting, the running, the extra drills for missed plays or missed time -- all of that came together in celebration. The team which was always searching for its identity, for its personality, suddenly had one.
And in that moment, something became very clear.
All of us have heard, many times, the axiom "there is no 'I' in team," and that is not true. The statement's purpose is wholesome -- a message that you should sacrifice self for the good of the team. But the fact is, a team is simply a very large collection of "I's." If I don't make that play, who will? It is the togetherness of the "I's" that will define the success of the team.
When the Longhorns walked from their practice bubble into the sunlight of a perfect morning on Wednesday, they gave every indication that the days since the bad experience in College Station had been productive. They emerged healthy, both in body and in spirit.
The last home practice is always interesting, because there can be nostalgia, even remorse. In this case, however, there was joy.
And that is a good sign, as we await the rest of the story.