Bill Little commentary: Here comes Texas
It was, after all, just like an old-fashioned western movie. The pilgrims are suddenly surrounded by the bad guys, and quickly turn their wagon train into a circle. The attack seems relentless, and it is all our heroes can to do fend off disaster.
A modern adaptation of that played out in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium Saturday night. For a half, it seemed the team that had circled its wagons was doing everything it could just to hold off the guys who were intent on taking their turf.
From over the hill in the perfect western, we hear the bugle blow and the cavalry comes charging, routing the enemy and saving the day. And so it was as the second half began in Texas' 34-13 come-from-behind victory over TCU.
If you wanted to make a movie of the game you could simply label it, "Here Comes Texas."
The defenses had dominated the game in the first half, with TCU averaging only 2.8 yards per play and Texas averaging just a little over four. But two Frogs pass interceptions on successive series near the end of the first half had given them a 10-0 lead.
Mack Brown didn't have any magic potion for his team as he gathered the players around him in the locker room. Instead, he went back to a premise he has used a number of times to rally his troops.
"I wasn't worried," said Brown after the game. "Because they were playing hard. I just told them, if you keep doing what you are doing, TCU is in trouble."
In other words, "just keep playing."
TCU had come into Austin intent on victory. Their week had been loaded with inspirational messages and challenges. The Frogs traveled one of the largest contingents of visiting team players ever to take the field in DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium.
This was not your father's, or your grandfather's, TCU. This was a unit which found itself on the threshold of massive respectability. Past Frogs teams had stung Texas with upsets with wounds that have lasted a generation. But in a world where Utah and Boise State have become the Cinderella darlings of college football, here was No. 19 ranked TCU playing No. 7 ranked Texas.
This one was about bragging rights for the new millennium. The Frogs had taken down Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Baylor in the Big 12. The nation might imagine, but it couldn't really know the importance of this game to the folks from the campus in Fort Worth. Since the demise of the Southwest Conference in 1995, TCU has followed a nomadic trail through a series of conferences, hoping one day to find their way back home with the likes of Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor and Texas Tech.
Purple pride is significant on the campus of Texas Christian University, and the one thing that no one can take away from you is your pride.
The reason this game was intriguing was that "pride" is at the very core of college football, and it manifested itself immensely Saturday night. Four years ago, when old SWC foe Arkansas came into Austin to play the Longhorns, the Texas team had no way to know the kind of intense feelings the Razorbacks had for anything orange. They learned the hard way when Arkansas snapped a long UT winning streak. And the Longhorns used that knowledge to help secure a victory in Fayetteville in 2004.
The Arkansas State game served a valuable purpose for Texas. First, it proved that the day has passed in college football when a team simply has to toss its jerseys on the field to net a victory. Second, it served up a week of questions about who the "real" Texas is.
One of Brown's basic principles is that message of "just keep playing." Another is "withstand the surge."
That is why the wagons were circled and the 'Horns defense took hold in the first half, and is why the most important moment of all came in a goal line stand that forced a field goal resulting in the 10-0 lead after an interception just before the half. They did "withstand the surge." And they turned the game around.
They came from the dressing room as they had done in comebacks against Oklahoma last year and against Oklahoma State in 2004 and 2005. They were singing; brimming with confidence.
TCU did not make a first down in the third quarter, and its defense was on the field for ten and a half minutes in the 15 minute period.
On a hot, humid night, that would prove to be the difference. Texas became relentless in the fourth quarter, and when the game was over, the Longhorns had put 34 second half points on the board to win going away.
The inspiration of the team's efforts came days before. Thursday at the team meeting, after Mack had gone through his usual final practice comments, the football administrative staff distributed blue arm bands honoring Ken Rucker, the Longhorns' popular running backs coach who had surgery on August 27 for prostate cancer.
Then, in a surprise, Rucker and his wife, Nancy, walked into the team room to an explosion of cheers. The team dedicated the game to him, and wore the armbands which said, "We love you Ruck," and "Stay strong, baby," from the locker room that day. Saturday night, Ken Rucker was in the coaches' booth in the press box, and in an emotional locker room, Mack presented him with the game ball.
It was the climax of a draining night, both physically and emotionally. Texas had circled the wagons, and when the game was on the line, it had come charging into the battle.
Rucker's prognosis is good and the surgery was deemed a success. It will be awhile before he can be back on the practice field, but his presence clearly was uplifting to the entire Texas team.
Rain or shine, good times or bad, Ken has endeared himself to all who know him because of love for people, and his powerful faith. That is why Mack, in introducing him, recalled the words of his favorite saying, a scripture verse from the Bible.
"Remember what Coach Ruck would say," Mack said.
And then he quoted, "This is the day...." His voice trailed off, but the players knew the rest of the sentence.
"This is the day that the Lord hath made," Ken would say. "Let us rejoice and be glad in it."
And on Saturday night in their locker room at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, they did.