Bill Little commentary: The stairs
Once, in a time long ago, one of Austin's tourist attractions was the view from the dome of the State Capitol Building. The rotunda spiraled toward the painted ceiling, and elevators would take you to the top floor. But if you wanted to get to the very top, to that space from where you could survey the city from one of its highest points, you had to take the stairs.
In other words, you had to do the work yourself.
That is the space the Texas Longhorns found themselves in as they entered Saturday night's game with Rice in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. They had lived through a week where they were not happy with space in which they were living.
Darrell Royal told Mack Brown when he came to Texas that the two best, and worst, things about Texas were that 20 million people cared about Texas football. That is the fish bowl in which Longhorn football players live. They understand that if any one of them does something good, it may make the sports page. If any one of them does something bad, it will make the front page.
That is the nature of the beast. The actions of a handful can reflect adversely on 100-plus stellar citizens. Teams, by their definition, are a collection of individuals, and the individuals who make up the Texas Longhorn team include 4.0 students, guys who spend their Friday afternoons before a game with critically ill kids from the Dell Children's Medical Center, as well as those who make life-changing decisions that are both positive and negative.
And when things aren't going as you would want, you go back to work and take the stairs. There is something else there, too. I can remember on that climb to the top of the Capitol, I was a little boy, and at a point when I thought I could go no farther, a friend reached back and took my hand and we continued to climb.
Mack Brown has told his team, and anyone who would listen, that when you strip away all the pomp and circumstance of life, you only have three things you can count on -- faith, friends, and family.
That is why it was important this last week for this Texas team to embrace those principles, and that is why the Longhorn travel squad to the hotel the night before the game included not only those 70 or so "suit up" squad members who were likely to see action, but the veteran walk-ons on the team. These are the guys who came to Texas on their own and were accepted as members of the Longhorn football team. Most will never play much, but they work hard every day, pulling and pushing on those stairs.
The 58-14 victory over Rice was a fun night for the Texas football team, because for the first time this year they put together a complete football game in all phases. They didn't simply ride the elevator -- they took nothing for granted.
More than anything, this Rice game was about family. The best of families stand together, and the best of togetherness is a powerful positive force. All week, Mack kept telling his players this game was not about Rice; it was about us. It wasn't about the actions of several guys in the summer, it was about today, and what you choose to do about it.
Life is, after all, a series of choices. It is easy for folks to identify a problem. It is the mark of a man how he intends to deal with it. It is the responsibility of a coach to teach, and it is the challenge of a pupil to learn.
Games, by their definition, are a series of exercises and challenges. But most of all, they are done for enjoyment. And Saturday night in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, football was fun again for the Texas Longhorns. And it is important to remember Brown's words -- that wasn't because Rice was outmanned -- it was "about us."
The walk-ons who had gone to the hotel and attended the meetings and had shared the meals with the usual travel squad members brought an energy to the bench, just as the team had done with their checkered flags in the TCU game. Then, Brown and his coaches had used the checkered flag to remind the team that its purpose was to "finish."
Those who stood together Saturday night said something else. They reinforced that it is one thing to "finish," but what we are all striving for in life is to be "complete." That means to be proud of, and satisfied with, who you are. You may "finish" a game or a play or a job, but there is another beyond and a higher level to achieve. You will never be perfect, and the challenge will always be to give whatever you do the best shot you have.
But the greatest gift of life is that we all get to keep going up those stairs. We may take a misstep and we may even stumble. Goals and dreams may need to change, but the stairs are still there.
When Augie Garrido's Longhorns won the NCAA College World Series in 2005, he gave much of the credit to "the bench." You know the names of the stars on the field. You celebrate what Colt McCoy and Limas Sweed did, and relish the play of Frank Okam and Marcus Griffin and all the members of the defense. And then, there is Ryan Bailey, who this time a year ago would have been one of those walk-ons who traveled to the hotel on Friday. And in a snow storm in Nebraska, he emerged from the legion of students who chose to come to Texas, made the high academic standards to get in, and chose to be a part of the Longhorn football program because they believed in it and their teammates.
And that is why Mack chose to change his team meeting on Thursday, eliminating the showing of video clips of the opponents highlights, and leaving them to talk among themselves.
It never was about them. It was about us.