Aug. 31, 2008
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
Leave it to a preacher, in a children's sermon no less, to put the events of Saturday night in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium into perspective.
With little kids gathered around him, he produced a rain gauge, and he talked about all of the ways we can measure things. And that is where our story begins.
The brilliantly conceived north end of the stadium was built with tons of steel and concrete, miles of cables and more than a million and a half hours of work time, and those are just for starters. We even know that there are 565 new toilets.
Last year we learned the dimensions of the largest video board on the planet when it was built, and we know that a football field is exactly 100 yards long.
All of those are calculated in calibers of weight, length, strength, etc.
But as the preacher was talking about things that cannot be measured, I remembered something Darrell Royal said when a sports writer asked him how much a particular player meant to the success of his football team.
"How long," asked Darrell, "is a piece of rope?"
And there you have the intangible of the evening. For Saturday night wasn't about just a football game for The University of Texas - it was about a measure of the heart.
Perhaps it began with the dream of a concrete stadium those many years ago, when the ghosts of the past believed that this university should have a facility like none other.
And over and over again, the dream has been kept alive. Generations and individuals have made that clear.
This time, it was the vision of Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds, with the able assistance of powerful people too many to mention here, that believed, and found a way to get it done.
All of that, however, had to do with the new look of the stadium.
As people celebrated the changes, the attention moved to the field, where the season of 2008 was about to begin. But first, there was a magic moment where Texas began a process of honoring the past, celebrating the present, and looking to the future.
Vince Young is nothing if he is not about heart. His is the heart of a champion, tucked inside a giant of a man who learned values from the women in his life and put them to work as he was carefully crafted by his coaches, Greg Davis and Mack Brown. In a treasured window of time, he went from a guy media critics and some fans said couldn't play quarterback to merely the best that's ever been at what he did, when he did it.
And now, there was Vince Young, quarterback of the Tennessee Titans and soon-to-be graduate of The University of Texas, standing on Joe Jamail Field, hoisting his framed jersey into eternity. Forever Young.
The touch of class soon evolved into a football game, where the Florida Atlantic Owls came calling on the 2008 version of the Texas Longhorns. The Owls, a pre-season pick to win the Sun Belt Conference and a bowl winner a year ago, presented easily the toughest opener of the Mack Brown era at Texas.
Maybe it was the youth of this Longhorns team, or the boost from the impressive win in last year's Holiday Bowl, but this season seemed to have more anticipation than we'd seen around here in a long time. In other years, greatness was predicted, based on returning players. Hopes were linked to what had been, not necessarily the unknown of what could be. Somehow, this was different, and again, it was about a measure of something that is immeasurable.
All summer, they had worked in the heat, forging a common purpose to be the best they can be. They had linked will and heart and a rare bond of togetherness that is the formula for the rarest of teams.
You saw that in Colt McCoy, who as a redshirt freshman had been a protégé of Young. Saturday, Vince watched as his former teammate excelled with a superlative effort, connecting on 24 of 29 passes and rushing for 103 yards. A handful of veterans and a host of youngsters surrounded him. Eight true freshmen played in the game.
The offense posted 52 points, the defense allowed 10. McCoy threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. The defense forced turnovers and the special teams blocked a punt and executed well in the kicking game.
When it was over, Mack Brown would rate the opener of his 11th season at Texas as the best performance in an opener by one of his teams. When the media tried to get him to praise a single assistant coach, he quickly linked it to the staff, and their ability to fit together. Can you measure that? Nope.
Nor can you measure the good feeling that most of the 98,053 fans (the largest crowd in the history of the state of Texas) left with. It has been a long, long time since the young players who form the units who were on the field at the end of the game have captured the imagination as they did Saturday. Everybody, including most especially Florida Atlantic, knew the final score could have been even more one-sided. But that, come to think of it, would have put this in the category of something measurable, which it most certainly was not.
Truth is, the evening left all those who cherish things burnt orange wanting to see more.
Now, before we all get too over-the-top here, it is important to remember that this team has only begun, and that it still faces perhaps the toughest schedule a Longhorns team has seen in many years.
Youth, by its nature, will have its sterling moments, and its moments that leave you just shaking your head. Saturday when that happened, the Longhorns of 2008 fell back on that old tried-and-true formula that boosts every great team--they had each other's back.
And in that space, the matter became one of the heart, of the ability to reach down and tug on an intangible that has forever been a major part of sport.
How far can this team go?
How long is a piece of rope?