They say on a special day, every year just north of San Diego, the swallows come back to Capistrano, an old mission on the California coast. Their arrival is one of the oddities of nature — always on the same day, always to signal the start of spring.
So it is with the media members who gather annually on the last weekend in July to hear, write and talk about football in the Big 12 Conference. The site may differ from year to year, but the message is always the same — college football officially is starting in America's heartland. The television crews, print media and radio hosts from across the nation and in the home towns of the 12 schools of the league all spend two days with players and coaches from each of the schools.
The meeting is held in the city that will host the Big 12 Championship game in December, and this year, it was in Houston. No matter where the conference chooses to host its annual North/South battle, the significance is always the same. For The University of Texas, it has been an impressive steady period of growth since the Mack Brown era began in December 1997. During that time, UT has gone from a "wannabe" to a "gonnabe." The questions from the media are no longer about if the Longhorns can compete for a National Championship. That is now a given and the interesting spin of respect is evident just in the way Brown and his players are received by the media.
In short, the Longhorns swagger is back.
Yet, when you swagger with class, there is no need to take shots at opponents or feel a need to promote yourself. Some guys have it and some don't. Friday at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, it was obvious to everybody that seniors Chris Simms and Cory Redding, along with Brown, have got what Darrell Royal once called "it."
It seems like a short, too short actually, time since Simms and Redding came to Texas as the 1998 USA Today Prep Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively. Friday, here they were, sitting on the podium in their orange shirts flanking their successful head coach. The kids had grown up, and just from their shear physical presence, it was obvious they had gone from promising recruits to among the best in the college game.
What was important about the two young men was not how they looked, but what they said. Each addressed the questions posed to them patiently. Simms talked about the dark week he spent after last year's loss to Colorado in the Big 12 Championship game and Redding reflected on the metamorphosis of the Longhorns defense in his home town. They talked of their accomplishments with joy and of their future and legacy in the program they clearly love with enthusiasm and excitement.
The on-going theme of the questioning was about "pressure" and the they spun anywhere from whether Brown felt the pressure to win a National Championship this season to whether Simms felt more pressure because he was asked to pose for Texas Monthly magazine with his childhood hero Troy Aikman and his fathers youth idol Roger Staubach.
That was one of the more amusing moments. Did Simms feel more pressure because he was chosen to be pictured with those two legends?
I can see it now. It is fourth-and-one at the 9-yard line and UT, down by four points, is driving for a winning score. Only 30 seconds remain as Simms brings his team to the line of scrimmage. Then he stops, steps back, and thinks, "Man, I really feel a lot of pressure because last summer I was on the cover of Texas Monthly."
Balderdash. Great players live for pressure and embrace it. That's why they play the game and that was part of the message Simms received from Staubach and Aikman at the photo shoot that the senior quarterback called "one of the coolest thing he ever was a part of".
The Longhorns coaches and players enter the upcoming season with great anticipation. Both Simms and Redding talked about how they couldn't wait to get started in two weeks. Brown talked openly about the quest for a National Championship and noted that Royal, in his time at Texas, won three national titles.
It was evident Friday that UT has the core, with Simms and Redding representing their teammates very well, to make that run for real and everybody in Houston knew it.
Brown embraced that and set the theme for the season.
"Our job as coaches and players is to be as prepared as possible for each game and play with 100 percent effort," he said. "That's all we can ask for."
Translated, that means when your chance comes, be ready and give it your best shot.
As one who has watched this game for a long time, I can honestly say that Longhorns fans can take great pride in the young men and the head coach who represented them on Friday morning. After the games are played and the ball has bounced whichever direction it chooses, the class they showed in their interviews and presence is what college football and The University of Texas, should be all about.
Let the season begin.