Saturday night was about fun. And if you are to play this game and play it well, that is what you have to have.
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
The day had started with a crispness - a cool morning driven by a strong north wind.
The early evening had brought the music and the crowd, the burnt orange cast across a perfect sky at sunset. There, under the Saturday night lights of the big stadium, was a bushel-basket full of old memories and new dreams, all mixed together in the experience we call college football.
There were cheerleaders from as far back as 40 years ago, some of whom came dressed in their vintage uniforms. The Alumni Band, with its repertoire of obligatory songs, marched proudly. The old guy with the baton got almost as big a cheer as he tossed it and caught it, as did quarterback David Ash when he ran for a career long 49 yard touchdown to open the scoring for the home team in the 45-0 victory over New Mexico.
Earl Campbell had walked - under the watchful eye of football strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylieand his assistant Caesar Martinez - to midfield as an honorary captain for the coin flip in pre-game. Mack Brown would call it "chilling" to see the former star out the day before, practicing step-by-step, to return to a place where he was once the most feared running back in all of college football. If the Longhorn faithful involved themselves in Vince Young's run to beat Southern Cal in the BCS National Championship game and willed Justin Tucker's immortal field goal to victory over Texas A&M in the final game ever in that historic series....it wasn't close to the more than 100,000 who pulled with Earl, every step of the way.
When the old had been celebrated, it was time for the new, and the 2012 Longhorns are perhaps college football's best example of that. Now 2-0 on the season and with only six seniors figuring in the playing mix, this is the youngest team in the Mack Brown era.
New Mexico, under the capable instruction of the respected Bob Davie, even brought a "retro" look to the game as it utilized a 21st century version of the triple option Wishbone Offense which Darrell Royal made famous with two national championships in 1969 and 1970. And for a while, the Lobos showed why that offense can still be a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare. New Mexico executed it well, and kept the ball for two thirds of the first half.
But Saturday wasn't about nightmares. After a season of disappointment in 2010 and of ups and downs at home in 2011, football was fun again in Austin.
A year ago, the team spoke of the building blocks of "brick by brick." Against New Mexico, it was clear that the construction job was very much into its second phase - still a distance from being finished, but a long way from where it began last September.
Mack Brown has said many times that you can coach a team a lot harder after a win than you can after a loss. Mistakes are correctable. Losses are irreversible. The psychologists will tell you that Austin (with apologies to the fans of other schools who really don't care) takes on a different feeling after a Texas victory. It wasn't just the delightfully cool morning Sunday that prompted breakfast at the local restaurants and brought a spring in the step of folks on the trail at Lady Bird Lake.
While football is a team game, its attraction of "star power" to its followers is unmistakable, and that is one of the things that separates the 2012 Longhorns. Offensively and defensively - despite its youth and inexperience - this team is developing players the fans can relate to. David Ash and Case McCoy are household names already, and each time guys such as Daje Johnson and Jonathan Gray touch the ball, folks slide to the edge of their seats. The "veterans" such as Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis, D. J. Monroe, D. J. Grant, Marquise Goodwin and Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are supplemented regularly with the players who flash into the scene with promise. And all of those are successful because of an offensive line with grows with every game.
Saturday's game turned (as most games do) on the defense and kicking game. A blocked kick and a huge punt return set up two of the three first half scores. And in the second half, a defense led by seniors Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor and underclassmen such as Jordan Hicks, Carrington Byndom, Quandre Diggs and Jackson Jeffcoat combined to snuff out the Lobos. The days when people talked about a "no name" defense are long gone in an era of electronic media and the Longhorn Network. It is a throwback to the days when freshmen were not eligible for the varsity and fans and media learned of them watching a five-game freshman season. Now, players arrive with a certain pedigree, and quickly have a chance to make their own name in the exposure that is available.
All of that, of course, combines under the umbrella of "team." When Mack Brown pointed out that the Longhorns stalled after taking a 31-9 lead over Wyoming and didn't put the game out of reach so that everybody would have a chance to play, the team embraced his admonishment to "turn it up" when you get a team down.
Saturday night, Texas turned it up. The reflected joy in the locker room was a unity drill.
There will be tough times ahead in a Big 12 schedule that is perhaps the roughest-top to bottom-in recent league history for the `Horns. Adversity begins next Saturday with a late 8:15 p. m. kickoff against Ole Miss in Oxford.
But what happened Saturday night gave the coaches and the team a lot to build on, and it went beyond planning and execution, blocking and tackling, throwing, running and catching. Saturday night was about fun. And if you are to play this game and play it well, that is what you have to have.