There is a part of me that wants to go back to that cold, bone-cold drizzly day in Fayetteville. To the Game of the Century. The Big Shootout. The dramatic Texas victory over Arkansas that won a National Championship.
Lives changed forever that day, over a football game.
It would be easy to tell that story. How Arkansas outplayed a heavily favored Texas for three quarters. How James Street scrambled for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. How Darrell Royal's perceptiveness had Street prepared for the two point conversion that would make it 14-8.
How Danny Lester's interception saved the game, and about the famous Royal call of the fourth down Street to Peschel pass that set up the winning score. How Jim Bertelsen slid off a block and took out a linebacker as Ted Koy ran the ball to the 2, from where Bertelsen scored to tie the game.
How Donnie Wigginton snatched a high snap and got it on the tee for Happy Feller to give Texas the lead, and Tom Campbell intercepted a final pass to seal the victory. How President Nixon came in the locker room.
There's the story to tell of the day, of the shroud of icy mist that seemed so pervasive. And of the gentle snow flakes that fell as the team buses made their way to Fort Smith to fly home, where 10,000 people waited on the runway to greet the team.
What we know is, sport imitates life, or, perhaps it is vice versa. It is not an accident that the men of that game, now all in their 50s, have gone on to significant success. Many of the Arkansas players who fought so hard for a dream and lost chose never to feel that pain again. Many of the Longhorns built on their success.
To get where they are today, some had to overcome the heartbreak, and others had to overcome the success. Life is a journey, as we all know. And ironically, the learning of the lessons can sometimes be more painful for the winners than it is for the losers.
All of that would be easy to tell, because I was there. But Saturday night in Fayetteville is another anniversary, and while history will note that football game, it will remember 9/11.
When Texas and Arkansas played in 1969, America was a different land. The only lottery numbers students cared about were those of the military draft, because if you weren't in school, you likely would be headed to Vietnam. We weren't far removed from riots in neighborhoods in some of our cities. We needed heroes. And we found them in sports.
The events of September 11, 2001, changed forever our terminology of sports. "War" is no longer a football game between Texas and Arkansas. A "bullet" isn't a quick pass over the middle, "bombs" aren't long passes, and "heroes" are the firemen, the policemen, and the troops who fight to ensure our freedom.
This week, as the Longhorns prepared for the trip to Fayetteville, each coach met with his players. They didn't talk about 1969, when none of the players had been born. They didn't talk about the rowdy Arkansas fans, and they didn't need to remind them of what happened in Austin when the Razorbacks won a year ago. There would be time for all of that later.
These conversations came from the heart. The coaches talked about 9/11, and what it meant in their lives, and how it had changed the world. The images didn't need to be created. The images were real. It was a story, the coaches said, that the players would need to tell their children and their grandchildren. About where they were that day when the towers fell and heroes died there, and in the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania.
Because beyond the glory of a football game is the ultimate reality of life. The message of the fourth quarter in 1969 might be that you should never give up, and you can translate that today to eternal vigilance. Be prepared, stay the course. Handle adversity. Fight back.
Saturday night in Fayetteville, Texas will remember. The Longhorns will carry the American flag on to the field. The flag bearer who will lead them is a reserve fullback named Ahmard Hall. He is a walk-on player, and you know him only as No. 46 who played late in the North Texas game. His fellow Marines know him as a guy who has served in real battles, with real bombs and real bullets. Three years ago on 9/ll, he was in Kosovo. Later, he was in Afghanistan, as the liberation came. Now, he's getting his college education on the GI Bill, and has two years of military obligation waiting when he finishes.
He will carry the flag with pride. He's seen Her in way tougher places than a football road trip.
It will be important on Saturday night to celebrate sport, and to enjoy the game. To remember the past, and how The Game of the Century mattered so much in 1969, and in a very real sense matters today.
But it is more important to understand how, on that morning in September just three years ago, America changed forever. Safe and secure were replaced by fear and concern.
Saturday night in Fayetteville, they will play a game, and folks will watch and a team will win and a team will lose. And there will be cheering and tears.
In a world where school children die and people kill for causes, it is important to remember what we all really stand for.
In a far off land, soldiers and Marines stand sentinel in a brave effort to change the world.
That's why the flag is important, and why the coaches and the players talked about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Grand words, those.
Words worth fighting for.