For coaches, season openers are something akin to Christmas morning. You approach them with studied anticipation. They come in all shapes and sizes, and despite all predictions and prognostications, you never really know what you are going to get until you open the package.
Mack Brown has no greater supporter in the business of coaching football than Darrell Royal. And this particular Longhorn team has intrigued him. He caught practice twice in the week leading up to Saturday night's 2004 debut in the stadium that bears his name. And Royal liked what he saw.
"I really went to the stadium expecting a tough game," Royal said Sunday. "North Texas had really given us a game the last time we played them. Their schemes are good, and we had a tough time blocking them last time."
But Royal and the 80,000 plus folks who joined him for the Texas-North Texas season opener in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium Saturday were in for a surprise.
"I was really impressed," said Royal, spinning through his mind for great opening games of yesteryear. "The offense did well, but what really impressed me was the way the defense went to the ball. I had seen that in practice, but there were times you could have put a blanket over the ball and covered every one of our defensive players."
It is important here to note that a season opener should be taken for what it is…the first game of a long season. It is only a harbinger of things to come if you make it so. What is important, however, is to accomplish what you set out to do.
"They did everything we could have asked of them," Brown said after the game.
He was talking about the game, but he might as well have been talking about the nine months that took the 'Horns from the disappointment of last year's final game in the Holiday Bowl to the sterling performance they put on display Saturday night.
A changing of the guard in the coaching staff brought different energy and styles, and the players bought in. It began in the spring, carried over to the offseason, through the hot summer and finally to the stadium on Saturday night.
A lot will be said of the new coaches, Robinson, Tomey and Kennedy, and they are to be thanked for the ideas and enthusiasm and work ethic they brought to Texas. They blended quickly with the veteran Longhorn coaches, Davis, Akina, McWhorter, Tolleson, Haywood and Chambers.
Jeff Madden and his strength guys drove the players through the sand pit and in the weight room. And Mack Brown drove them all, and himself, harder than he ever has in his coaching career.
The biggest piece of the puzzle, however, wasn't Brown or the coaches or Madden. It was the players. There are teams with a certain magic about them, a chemistry which reveals itself in a brotherhood. That is the exciting ingredient which has been pervasive throughout all of the preparations, and which manifested itself Saturday night.
By mid-day Sunday, nobody had a count of the number of players who actually got into the game in the 65-0 opener. To a person, the coaches, when asked how many guys played, simply answered, "everybody."
Later that same day, the players and the coaches were back at work, getting ready for a tough challenge next week in Arkansas.
The massive rushing game which amassed the most yards in almost three decades, and the defense which limited a good opponent to only 130 yards, has to get back to work quickly. In this game, if you pause to pat yourself on the back, you leave yourself open for a solid punch to the jaw, or the midsection.
The total package of the opener, the crispness, the efficiency, the game plan and the effort, has been seen around these parts before. But not for a long, long time.
You have to go back to the 1970s to find a match where a pretty good team was absolutely dominated by Texas. Maybe Fred Akers' first team in 1977, which hammered Boston College 44-0, or perhaps Royal's 1970 National Champion, which obliterated California, 56-15.
What we know is, Royal told us once "potential just means you haven't done it yet."
He also said you can get in real trouble if you "sit in the shade" too long in place of working.
What we saw Saturday was the result of work. It was the attention to fundamentals, the old school mainstays of blocking and tackling, and a large dose of motor-turned-on hustle. It was the first exhibition of what happens when coaches spend countless hours studying and planning, and when players run grueling wind sprints for 30 minutes after their final practice a week before the game.
There will be the dream killers who will unfairly belittle North Texas, and take a "so what?" attitude about the victory. While it is wrong to put too much into the victory, it is also wrong to put too little.
Most of all, it is important to realize that this team is a work in progress, which has only taken its first step along a dangerous path that will require the same singular effort they put forth Saturday every single week.
We have a history around here with our opinions of getting really high, or really low, in a hurry. Somewhere between the fans who have forecast a national championship and the local sports writer with the "so what?" attitude, there is the truth that this was a great beginning, one such as we have seen around here in a long time.
And if you want an opinion that really counts, try this:
"I was really impressed," said Darrell Royal.