Bill Little commentary: Christmas Day in San Diego
December 25, 2007
Tuesday, he was dead solid right on all accounts.
It is a bittersweet Christmas for many here in this spectacular city by the sea, a town they like to call "America's City." San Diego is a city full of military reminders, and that's why the Navy and Marine Corps Luncheon aboard the Reagan (or a similar ship) is always a highlight of teams' trips to the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.
This year, however, had not only been about the constant vigilance of our men and women at war, but it has been about ravaging wild fires which cause the evacuation of more people than Hurricane Katrina, and about the 1,700 homes lost in the summer blazes in the hills and mountains to the east of the city.
It was over those same mountains that the sun rose on Christmas morning, on a day when this community paused to reflect, to celebrate new beginnings, and to manifest abundant new hope. In the summer, some may have wondered, "Where in the world is God?" as they helplessly watched their homes, and their neighbors homes that had lasted a lifetime, go up in smoke.
Tuesday, on a day when the Christian faith celebrates new life, it seemed that Somebody bigger than all of us had just opened the decorations of a masterpiece. You won't find a white Christmas in San Diego, but you can find a bright one, one that no human artist could ever paint. The sky and the sea are crystal blue, the land and the flowers, far removed from the ravaged earth tell of what can be, rather than what was.
It was against that backdrop that the 2007 Texas Longhorns held their last practice at the excellent facility of San Diego State University. Fourteen five-minute periods, a "Thursday practice" based on a weekly calendar, and it was over. As Mack Brown gathered his team prior to their afternoon trip to Sea World, they were still a few hours removed from a specially planned Christmas dinner at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, their home for the holiday.
As Brown addressed the squad, most of the players sat on the turf of the practice field, and for some reason, the usual semi-circle they formed around Brown as he spoke seemed tighter. There was one last reminder about the importance of ridding the slate of those "N.O.S.'s" (Not our standards) that have been stressed throughout the preparation for Thursday night's game with Arizona State.
Following the final game against Texas A&M, Brown had called the Longhorns' performance "unacceptable." From the beginning of preparation, Brown called for his coaches, his players, and even himself to be accountable as practice for the bowl game began.
The work has been hard, and at the same time it has been gratifying. The rallying message has extended far beyond just the inner circle. At Monday's practice, two greats from Texas' past -- San Diego Chargers assistant coach Bill Bradley and former All-American safety Stanley Richard -- dropped by. Richard talked about the accountability of "making the play." Then on Monday night, the team attended the San Diego game with the Denver Broncos, and had a chance to see recent former Longhorns Quentin Jammer, Tim Crowder and Selvin Young, all now playing in the NFL.
It was Richard who made the point that eased itself into the myriad of thoughts that raced through the players' minds on this Christmas Day. He talked about tomorrow, and forever, and that the seniors, at least, were about to play their last football game for Texas. There, he talked about pride and commitment.
As Brown spoke to his gathered team and staff Tuesday, he challenged everyone -- from the coach to the player to the manager to the trainer -- to figure out what they could do to help Texas win on Thursday night. Everybody, he said (including himself) needs to do that. And then, they need to implement that.
The final challenge, the final answer, was to do the best you can possibly do.
Respect for your opponent is critical here, and the Texas players and coaches understand that Arizona State is a fine football team.
It is in that space that pride and confidence must live, and much of that comes from the togetherness that seemed present this Christmas morning. That is the seed that has been planted, and the fruits of the labor will be on display on Thursday. As a coach, you don't want your team to be ready too soon. There is time, over the next two days, for all of that to collectively merge.
On Christmas day, it was a time for thoughtfulness in the midst of preparation. For many, it is the first Christmas they have been away from their homes. And that is why on Christmas night, they will gather together for a meal, and a celebration of the spirit of the day, and the bright bond of an extended family.
In that space, and in this place, we are all reminded of the reason for this season. The brightness of the day, does, in fact, remind us of new beginnings. And as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean, beyond the ships anchored at Coronado Island, on this picture perfect day in this picture perfect place, we understand that hope is real, and so is faith.
And so, most of all, is love. For as a team and as a people, that's what today is all about.