You don't have to look long into history to determine how National Championships are etched. They come from experienced depth and you get that by playing lots of people.
Of course, it helps to have good people to play with.
Such is the story of the 2002 Texas Longhorns, as practice got underway this past weekend. When Greg Davis' offense, led by senior quarterback Chris Simms and company, put an average of 39 points per game on the scoreboard last season, they created the opportunity for several people to get into games. Ironically, the only place Texas didn't get a chance to build depth for the future was at quarterback, where head coach Mack Brown felt it was important to give fifth-year senior Major Applewhite some snaps. Even though that meant little playing time for sophomore Chance Mock, it actually paid dividends for the team of 2001 when Applewhite played well enough in reserve in the Big 12 Championship game to earn a starting role in the Culligan Holiday Bowl against Washington.
When the Longhorns gathered early Sunday morning for their team picture, and the photographers snapped group shots of the players by position, it was obvious that Brown and his staff have not only recruited talent, they have taken the opportunity to develop it.
That's how champions have been made at Texas. You put a lot of points on the board, hold the other team to as few points as possible and let the younger guys play.
To build eras of football — and that's what the Longhorns are about right now — it's not about one season, it's about a series of them.
Consider this. In 1961, Texas beat its opponents by an average score of 33-6 in their first eight ballgames. The first team didn't letter until about the seventh game of the year. The third team tailback was a sophomore named Tommy Ford. Scott Appleton, another sophomore, started the year as a reserve tackle. However, in the runaways, head coach Darrell Royal regularly played three units. You could do that in the days of unlimited scholarships.
The Longhorns went 10-1, and the next season, UT was 9-1-1. A year later when those sophomores who got playing time in '61 were seniors, the Horns went 11-0 and claimed its first of three National Championships. However, there was a price to that season.
During the last six games, UT won five of those games by fewer than seven points. The first unit had to go the distance in those, and though the young players got the coveted National Championship rings, they didn't get a lot of snaps. Two years later in 1965, Texas went 6-4.
The impressive era of the late 1960s had a similar story. In 1968, the first year of the Wishbone, Texas crushed all of its opponents after the first two games. By 1969, the juggernaut was rolling so that James Street and the Longhorns offense seldom played past the first series of the third quarter, if that. Street's backup, Eddie Phillips, became perhaps the most talented Wishbone quarterback ever, not in 1970 when he had to take over for the graduated Street, but in the games of 1969.
The Fred Akers era was similar. In 1981, Texas finished second in the country. Two years later, the Longhorns were a play away from a National Championship.
The great practices the Longhorns are having this fall are a direct result of experienced players helping young ones. Talent excels when nurtured and those players who have been to the battle are excellent teachers for those youngsters who aspire to.
Those guys with experience, best of all, reflect the value of team. Sure, there is competition for positions, but the ultimate goal is a unit where everybody gets better. The key, as Brown will tell is team over and over again, is "we."
It is the combination of excellent evaluation of ability and character in recruiting and instruction from the coaches that allows players to be taught what to do. It is the guy beside them, the player who has been on the field at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium when the crowd is cheering and the water is hot who can show them what to do.
Brown's other message to this team has been about the value of a positive attitude. There are thousands of studies about energy, the uplifting power of positive energy and the destructive nature of negative energy.
It is back to what Street told the freshmen last Wednesday at Brown's house, "Expect that something good will happen."
When Royal called the famous pass to Randy Peschel that set up the winning touchdown against Arkansas in the National Championship year of 1969, Street went to the huddle and told his teammates, "You aren't going to believe this call, but it will work."
The so-called experts, those who spend their time on Internet and radio talk shows today, would have said it couldn't. You know what, though, it did.