For two weeks, they got to read their names in the paper and they hated every minute of it. Offensive linemen are like the bridge over a big river. Nobody notices them unless they are not there.
And so it was, after the Longhorns' season opener with North Texas that everybody was talking about the Texas offensive line and they weren't speaking kindly. The fans and the media questioned everything from players‚ ability of the coaches‚ philosophy, the distance between the linemen and the alignment of the running backs, as well as the old standby of "why don't they run the shotgun?'
Three weeks later all is right with the world and those same folks that questioned the offensive line for two weeks are singing the praises of the quarterback, the receivers and the running backs. Little is said about the team within a team, the offensive line.
In an extraordinarily balanced attack, Texas rolled up 569 yards of total offense against North Carolina and 477 more against Houston. That's an average of 523 yards per game in the two victories.
In the first half against North Carolina, the Longhorns held the ball for 17 minutes in the first half and then finished off the game by controlling the ball for 10 more minutes in the fourth quarter.
Saturday night against Houston, the domination was even more impressive. Despite three turnovers that stopped drives, Texas ran 85 plays to only 50 for the Cougars and controlled the ball for almost 40 minutes or roughly two-thirds of the game.
When it was over, the media rushed to the quarterback, the receivers and the running backs. When big Derrick Dockery headed into the breakout room for the media, only a handful of folks were there to talk with him.
In the romantic days of sports writing, when folks wrote about what happened rather than opining as to how and why it happened, there were two legendary images of college football created. One was "The Four Horsemen," the Notre Dame backfield made famous by the great writer Grantland Rice. The other was "The Seven Blocks of Granite," the linemen known best for their offense at Fordham in the mid-1930s.
Chances are, the Longhorns linemen today never have had a chance to learn about the guys at Fordham, but anonymity of the rocks has a nice ring to it. It is nothing new for offensive linemen to live in obscurity. They have even come to live with it. What they know about that is, if they play well, when they finish their eligibility, they have a chance to make a lot of money playing at the next level.
That's the part of this 2002 Longhorns offensive line that folks seemed to miss. The guys who took the field against North Texas on August 31 were minus three players — Matthew Anderson, Antwan Kirk-Hughes and Mike Williams — who played a lot of football at Texas. As talented as it is, this is still a very young football team and the offensive line is a classic example of it.
Head coach Mack Brown will tell you that football is the ultimate team sport and that teamwork is vital in any phase of the game. However, it is particularly so in the offensive line. Now, here comes the good part.
Realizing that togetherness and closeness are critical, the old heads on the offensive line have organized a Thursday night dinner. They spend several hours together, eating (and 300-pound guys do like to eat) and sharing. The group will vary, based on study hall, exams, etc., but the core is still there. It is that same Longhorns offensive line folks barbecued after the first game. It is a tremendous bonding opportunity for a unit that must be cohesive on the football field.
At a local restaurant Thursday night before the Houston game, a tiny little boy timidly approached the group with a hand-drawn picture of a football field with a longhorn in the middle of it. He looked so small, and they looked so big, but he still managed to extend the index finger and the little finger of his right hand. He met freshman Kasey Studdard and was in awe of Robbie Doane, Dockery and the other huge young men at the table, some of whom were only 14 years older than he was.
What was important about the little boy was that he wasn't there to criticize the players, or to praise them. He was simply there to recognize them as Longhorns football players.
Which, when you get down to it, is all an offensive lineman really wants.