Bill Little commentary: The puzzle
Sept. 5, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
HOUSTON -- On the day that Jake Little (the youngest grandchild in the Little family) was choosing to come into this world in a delivery room in a southwest Austin hospital, we sat in the waiting room working on a puzzle.
A thousand pieces or more it was, and some of them had to be tried all sorts of ways to make it work. The folks that made the puzzle had provided the beautiful picture of what it was supposed to look like, but we had to figure out how to get it, and young Jake, to come out just right.
That's the way it is with season openers. You know what it looks like, and you may even know how to solve it. But you still have to get the pieces to fit.
The 2010 season opener against the Rice Owls in Reliant Stadium was one of the most anticipated inaugural appearances in recent years. For almost eight months to the day, Texas football and its young quarterback Garrett Gilbert had been frozen in time. It was like when we were kids and went to the ten cent movie on Main Street in Winters. Each Saturday there was an episode of a western serial, and you had to wait until next week to see how your hero escaped impending disaster--kinda like the TV dramas of today.
Now, it was time to push the play button.
To those who have never played it and never lived it, football seems a simple game. But when your life depends on what happens in and around a traveling entourage of 150 or so folks, it is the puzzle that occupies your time before the baby comes.
The hero this time was George Wynn, the Assistant Athletics Director for Football Operations, whose job it is to coordinate road trips. On Thursday, George and his right hand man, former Longhorn DT Marcus Tubbs, had journeyed to Houston and back to solidify operations at the team hotel near Hobby Airport. By the time George got back to Houston on Friday morning, he learned that a generator fire at the hotel had rendered it unable to handle the rooms and the meals for the Longhorns.
Fortunately, thanks to George's experience as a travel coordinator for folks such as the Harlem Globetrotters as well as the Longhorns and other teams -- he found an option. To put it in perspective, the last time Texas had a problem like this on the road was in College Station when the team had to go without a pregame meal because the cook overslept on Thanksgiving morning in 1999.
This time it worked out better. Wynn was able to receive help from the Westin Galleria Hotel, which accommodated the team almost seamlessly.
In a game, Mack calls that "sudden change," and the team took it in stride.
The primary trademark of Brown's Texas teams has been family, and family means lives are touched -- in great and sad ways. On Friday night, kicker Justin Tucker, who was about to assume the field goal kicking duties for the first time in his career, learned that a good friend from high school had died in a car wreck.
In a microcosm of America, the Longhorns have lots of family connections to the military. The team carries American flags as it enters the field at games to show their support for those in service to the nation. In a show of hands at the team meeting on Thursday, Equipment Manager Chip Robertson collected the names of players who have relatives in the military. Fozzy Whitaker and Dustin Earnest were chosen as the first flag bearers. On the road, the Horns will also carry a Texas flag, and its inaugural carrier was Eddie Jones.
Which brings us to the game itself. Eddie Jones, a defensive end who had outdone himself in a fun post-practice basketball three-point shooting contest after practice on Thursday, proved he can catch the ball as well, as he led the team in kickoff returns when Rice chose to avoid kicking to speedsters D. J. Monroe and Marquis Goodwin.
A crowd of over 70,000 -- the largest to see a Rice-Texas game in Houston in almost 50 years -- was decidedly burnt orange, and what it -- and the rest of the country got to see -- was a newborn accompanied by both labor pains and growing pains.
When expectations are as high as they are now at Texas, they often surpass reality. It is one of those quandaries -- logic tells you to be patient, while emotion wants a quick segue to the half-a-hundred offenses and shutout defenses of the finished puzzles of recent eras.
Coaching is a fun profession because it is challenging. And coaching can be a really hard profession because it is challenging. You coach because you love kids, and you also coach because you love the game. And the game is important, and offers its greatest rewards, because of the puzzle.
Mistakes cause frustration. The piece of the puzzle you thought fit didn't work. Mistakes also underscore the importance of the piece, every bit as much as the finished product. Pre-season work and evaluation emphasized what this team "can" be. That, then, is about the potential -- which Coach Royal once described as meaning "you ain't done it yet."
In the game in Reliant, a whole lot of really good things happened. Flashes of brilliance formed far more of a highlight reel than a collection of "what if" plays. Most of all, for Texas, it was an opening win. Mack was quick to point out to his team that while a lot of things were going to have to get fixed, you should never underestimate or under appreciate the value of an opening game win. In the week that will come, rest assured that the team will be reminded over and over again that they have achieved a place at Texas where excellence is expected, and there are no excuses. It will be the blending of the "attaboys" and the "you are better than that."
It has been almost eight months since the Longhorns of 2009 seemed freeze-framed on that field in Pasadena. Many of the key participants who helped bring them there are gone, a celebration of the unique nature of the ever-evolving and revolving game of student athletes in college football.
The 2010 team is in the midst of the puzzle. New players, new schemes -- all got their first test against a live opponent on Saturday.
A couple of years ago, as we took turns laboring over that puzzle, Jake Little and his mom were busy with their work. Finally, near the end of the day, the puzzle was finished. In the labor and delivery room, after a lot of hard work and effort, the baby came out just fine.