Bill Little commentary: Flying high
For a handful of change and a degree of determination, you could buy a kite at Mr. Middlebrooks’ five and dive store on Main Street. It was a simple package: a sturdy piece of paper with string sealed around the edges, with just enough twine protruding to serve as hooks.
The superstructure, if you want to call it that, consisted of two thin pieces of balsam wood, with notches on the ends to fit into the hooks.
The paper was wrapped around the sticks, and you didn’t have to be a structural engineer to bind the wood into a “t” and secure the paper.
As the winds of winter gave way to the breezes of spring, the grass on the playground at the elementary school across the street from our house was fighting to turn from brown to green, and a lot of time when the rains didn’t come, the grass lost the battle.
The most popular kite of the day was red, white and blue, in keeping with the patriotism stirred for those of us who would eventually join those from the class of 1957 and their dreams.
But as a kid, the most important question I remember asking my Dad was simple. With blind faith and significant hope, I somehow knew the breezes of nature would get the kite off the ground.
What I wanted to know was, “How high will it fly?”
And that is the question Longhorn football fans are asking today.
Saturday’s impressive opener against Louisiana-Lafayette is suddenly juxtapositioned with what will be written as the ultimate early showdown in college football in 2005.
What we saw, in a space of anticipation, is that all of the right pieces are there.
The first time we ever tried to fly that kite in winters, it rose bravely in the breeze, and when it reached a certain height, it turned to its side and crash-dived to the ground just beyond the see-saw and the swings, barely surviving the ordeal.
Almost in tears, I headed for the house for a counseling session with my parents.
“It needs a tail,” Daddy said, and mother quickly made cloth strips out of an old bed sheet, knotted them together, and then they attached it to the bottom of the kite.
By then the wind had picked up, and with the added weight, it seemed almost impossible that the apparatus would even get off the ground.
But as I ran with the ball of twine, which had been wrapped around a stick for easy access, the kite rose steadily in the sky.
The harder the wind, the more knots of cloth I needed at the bottom.
And the higher the kite flew.
What we saw Saturday was a combination of tested talent with exciting potential. But most of all, the “kite” if you will, had its anchor in the weight that kept it upright.
And for Texas, that anchor is in the offensive and defensive lines.
It is important to remember here that the kite became an aeronautical wonder because it had all of the pieces, so let’s not discount at all the importance of the total picture. For an opener, it was exceptional, and imperfect at the same time.
What you want as a coach, and what Mack Brown and his staff got Saturday, was a good showing that can get better. You want to learn from your mistakes. They say most teams make their largest improvements during their season in the week between game one and game two. The kite had to be adjusted, its cross piece bent and tied in a bow and its yoke tied just right for appropriate lift.
It was easy, in the simple time of life, to get really excited when the kite took off. But the secret to great kite flying, just as it is in college football, is to sustain.
Sometimes, on a really blustery day, you could add string to that original ball and watch the kite stretch farther and farther. One day, it flew all the way from the high school lawn to over the football field three blocks away.
The story of the kite really is a pretty good portrait of the hopes, and the challenges of a college football season.
Mack Brown told his Longhorn team prior to the ULL game that when a year was finished, they would be able to look back and realize that they (hopefully) would have spent 352 days of the year preparing for 13. Thirteen days. Now there are 12.
Saturday, despite some obviously missteps, the Longhorns’ kite soared. Now as the new week begins, they face a stiffer challenge, an historic encounter with Ohio State, as two of college football’s titans meet for the first time ever, with both of them figuring early in the national championship picture.
Championship campaigns are quite like kite flying. There are a lot of variables. A change in the wind stills the kite, a bounce of a ball can mean the difference between a win and a loss. In the last 45 years of Longhorn football, Texas has been in the hunt for the National Championship eight times, and won it three. In the five that didn’t work out, as well as the three that did, it invariably came down to one play that made the difference.
Those who choose to fly kites at the highest level must remember to never get too high in the high moments, or too down in the low ones.
It is a special time in Texas football. The era is akin to those that have produced superlative teams. It is a fun time to be a Longhorn, and for all of college football, the matchup in Columbus will be welcome, just as will the return match in Austin next year. Win or lose, it should be a great show for both sides.
And the good beginning against Louisiana-Lafayette leaves us with the question:
“How high will the kite fly?”
Hard to say right now. But it’s off to a good start.
And the pieces are all in place.