The burnt orange sun gently nestled over the lake, far beyond the swimming pool where they had splashed for fun. Under the shade of the pavilion, the young freshmen had consumed the Ruth's Chris steaks and the bread pudding. Mack and Sally Brown again had hosted the newest Longhorns with a dinner following their last practice together as a class.
On Thursday afternoon, the veterans would arrive and Saturday morning would mark the first full-squad practice. As is the custom, a special guest was invited to speak to the newcomers. For more than 30 years, Wednesday night's speaker was known as the legend who led UT as the quarterback in one of the greatest eras of Longhorns football.
This summer, however, as the Texas baseball team captured the NCAA Championship and a young freshman pitcher captured the hearts and the imagination of just about everybody in the sports world, his identity changed. Wednesday night he was simply James Street.
He was the perfect choice to speak. As he stood before them, looking every bit as trim as he did when he quarterbacked the Longhorns to 20 consecutive victories in 1968 and '69 and a National Championship as a senior, Street before had been where the new freshman were on this night. He was also a dad with five sons, who understood exactly how the Class of 2002 felt.
Tuesday night, in an introduction to tradition, the freshmen had watched the award-winning documentary "The Story of Darrell Royal." So they knew some of the legend of Street. They had seen his scramble for a touchdown against Arkansas on the first play of the fourth quarter when UT's hopes for a National Championship in 1969 were staring at the wrong side of a 14-0 score. They knew about the fourth-down pass to Randy Peschel that set up the winning touchdown and the subsequent victory in the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame.
Many of them had seen Street locked in concentration at the College World Series as Huston came in time and again to save victories on the road to the national title. In the family atmosphere of the dinner, it was wide receiver Robert Timmons who set Street up for his talk.
In a conversation before dinner, Street asked Timmons, "Well, what do you think of all this, bud?" Timmons replied, "It's like a dream."
"It is a dream," Street said.
And away he went, with philosophy and stories, like a Wishbone quarterback who admitted that if he had his way, he'd take 10 of the freshmen, suit up and go play tomorrow. The fact is, he believes that his team would win.
Make no mistake about it, Street did something no football player in modern history can claim. If quarterbacks are judged by their record as a starter, he was perfect. Street started 20 games and he and his teammates won all 20 of them. He was part of a Texas Longhorns run of 30 consecutive wins, the second-longest victory streak on NCAA record since that time.
However, his message to the players was about winning, not only on the field, but in life. Sprinkled throughout his talk was an open discussion about what it takes to win a National Championship.
"I have one National Championship ring," Street said as he held up his right hand. "You guys have a chance to win four.'
Then he gave them a play book of a plan that might make that happen.
"All life is is an attitude," he said. "It is your choice. You can decide to be the best you can be, but you have to work at it. We once had a very talented player who came in on the first day of practice one year. He got on the treadmill, on an incline and ran for about 45 seconds and then quit. Frank Medina, our trainer, said 'what in the hell are you doing, son?'"
To which the player replied, "Coach, if they haven't caught me in 45 seconds, I've scored." However, he never got on the field because he didn't work hard enough."
Street's philosophy, when you capsule it, really had to do with work ethic. He talked about the pitfalls that could side track a first-year student at any college. Things such as lack of time management to a very active social life. Most of all, he talked about working to be the best you can be.
"I worked harder than anybody on the team," he said. "When I came to Texas, I came to be a professional baseball player. My high school coach told me not to be disappointed if I didn't get to play football. At our first practice, I went to the quarterback line and their were 17 guys in front of me, but I wasn't going to let anybody be better than I was. I knew who everybody was supposed to block and what every player was supposed to do on a play. I would go over to a pile after a tackle and look and see who made the tackle and I'd know what guy missed his block to let that happen."
Street said the game is on-going.
"You are in the best time of your life and part of that is because you know who your opponent is," he said. "You can look up his weight and height and you know everything about him. It's not like that in life. I wake up in the morning and I don't know who my opponent will be that day or what I will face. The secret is to prepare yourself for whatever happens because you never know what play or what event will make all of the difference. I once asked Tiger Woods how you make a hole in one and he said, 'You practice and you practice and you practice and then you hit a good shot, and if you get lucky, it goes in.'"
Street said such hard work is the essence of winning a National Championship.
"Championships swing on one play and you never know when that play will come," he said. "You don't start a baseball game in the ninth inning. You have to play the first, second, third and so on. When I played, I knew I would beat my opponent because at some point, I knew he would loaf and I would get him. I didn't know when it would happen, but I knew it would happen."
But even as Street talked about winning and losing, he made it clear that there is more to a person than whether a game is won or lost.
"If I decided I wanted to be a boxer, and worked and trained as hard as I could, if I got in the ring with Mike Tyson after he bit my ear off, he'd knock me out. That wouldn't mean he was a winner and I was a loser. It would simply mean he was a better boxer than I was."
Street marveled at the great-looking athletes whose talent had brought them to this moment in their lives and he urged each one to push the upper classmen in front of them. He talked about the togetherness of a team and how even today, people remember Street and his gallant band of teammates who carved their niche in UT football lore.
"The point I am making is that there are a lot of teams out there with a lot of individuals who are great athletes, but they don't win National Championships," Street said. "It takes a team and it starts right here this year. Push those other guys. I don't know if you will win a National Championship, but I'm pulling for you to win one.
"If I can leave one thing with you, I can take what Robert Timmons is talking about, the dream. God has blessed me and I have got five great boys and a great wife. I came to The University of Texas from Longview, Texas, and I wasn't good enough to beat anybody. But I had a whole bunch of other people with me and we believed in each other. That's how you win National Championships. You go out push the guys in front of you and then you pull for them when you are not in there. Work your butt off, and when your chance comes, go play."
Finally, Street said, "Expect good things to happen."
Life is about attitudes, choices and dreams.