The hair was tinged with gray now, and as the soft breezes rippled across the lake, you would have hoped that a touch of fall and football was a little closer to reality.
Former Longhorns running back Chris Gilbert had driven from Houston to join Mack and Sally Brown as they hosted the 26 members of the Class of 2001 for dinner at their house on Lake Austin. When he rose to speak after the group had enjoyed as many Ruth Chris' steaks as they wanted, he had the full attention of the young men who had joined Gilbert's fraternity of Longhorns on Monday afternoon.
The credentials said it all. Mack Brown had called him one of the most successful men in Texas and that's a pretty elite category. But then, so was Gilbert when he played for Texas from 1966-68. A 1999 inductee in to the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame, Gilbert ranks as one of the top running backs in UT history. He was the first back in NCAA history to gain 1,000 yards in each of the seasons for which he was eligible to compete.
The first thing Gilbert did as he talked to the freshmen and junior college transfer Alfio Randall was to welcome them on behalf of the hundreds of Longhorns lettermen who will watch with pride as they play this season and the years to come. He then tried to turn back the clock to those moments in 1965 when he sat in similar chairs to the ones occupied on the pool deck by the lake on Wednesday night. The players of today are bigger, faster, stronger, but as Gilbert talked, he could relate to their dreams.
"I want to give you several points to think about," he said. "The first deals with making decisions. You are going to have to make more decisions on your own than many of you have ever made in your lives. Guard against poor decisions. Ask for help. Asking questions isn't a sign of ignorance. It is a sign of intelligence. That's the way successful people learn." The second point Gilbert made dealt with time management.
"Set your priorities," he said. "You now get to decide whether you are going to do homework or play cards and watch TV. Make the right decision when it comes to time management."
Gilbert, who still holds UT's record for the longest touchdown run from scrimmage with a 96-yard scamper against TCU in 1967, told the newcomers that every team on the schedule would be shooting at them.
"Be ready to play every game expecting your opponents' best shot," he said. "You can watch all the film on them and you won't understand how hard they will play. You are everybody's rival and they will look entirely different against you than they did on film."
Finally, Gilbert recalled his first chance to play at Texas, and simply said, "Be prepared."
"You never know when your chance will come," he continued. "My first game was against Southern Cal on national television my sophomore year and I was the third-team tailback. I went into the game just hoping we would get far enough ahead so I could play. It didn't work out that way. We were behind, it was just before halftime, and Coach Royal called for me to go in. So always be ready."
Gilbert said he had met former Longhorns All-American Dan Neil, who has two Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos, and he asked what he should tell the group.
"Tell them to get off to a good start," Neil told Gilbert. "Tell them to talk to the upperclassmen, get off to a good start in the classroom, and above all, enjoy your time at UT."
After his speech, Gilbert met each of the players. His talk was important, but that was only part of the agenda of the evening.
Mack and Sally Brown annually invite the newcomers to their home to make them feel comfortable.
"Welcome to our Longhorn family," read the chalk board just inside the front door.
The folks at Ruth Chris' Steak House have helped the Browns host the newcomers on one night, and the seniors on another, each year since they came to Texas in December 1997.
With the gathering of the newcomers, the theme was about bonding as a group. Following the meal, the group adjourned to the TV room, a converted boat house with a big screen TV. There, they watched a highlight tape of themselves. Five plays each, the video drew cheers and hoots, and big hits and great plays were celebrated. What was noticed the most was the feeling of camaraderie. Rather than being competitive -hoping their plays looked the best - there was a distinct feeling of pride in their teammates. They wound up cheering each other.
As the film ended, Associate Athletics Director for Football Operations Cleve Bryant read the schedule for Wednesday and he created a stir when he told them, "You get to get up later in the morning."
After two hard days of practice, that sounded really good. Until reality set in.
"You get to get up at seven," he said. "Hey, it beats the 6 a.m. start of the last two days, guys."
On Thursday, the varsity will report to campus, and the seniors will go to the Browns for their final preseason dinner with their head coach and his wife. They will sit in the same white wooden folding chairs as the Class of 2001 did on Wednesday night. However, it will be with different hopes and dreams, but with the realization that together, they can accomplish much in 2001.