Bill Little commentary: How much is enough?
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- One of the greatest swimmers in the history of the Olympics was a Texas Longhorn named Rick Carey. In 1988, when Carey won the backstroke with all the world watching, the first thing he did was look up at the scoreboard to check his time.
With his teammates and America celebrating, Carey's expression wilted when he saw the clock. He had won the gold medal, but he hadn't done it in record time, and he was devastated. Let me say that again: He was an Olympic Gold Medalist, but that wasn't enough. It wasn't in record time.
Saturday in the locker room under the east stands of Missouri's Faurot Field, Mack Brown cautioned his football team, which had just defeated the Tigers, 51-20, to never take victory for granted.
"Don't ever get to a place where you don't appreciate a win," Brown told his No. 2 ranked Longhorns.
It was an interesting and appropriate observation. Most of all, it was a testimony to life in the fast lane...the very fastest of the lanes at the pinnacle of college football.
But the most important message from Brown to his players was they should allow themselves to enjoy the victory, and realize there are things they can do to get better.
That, more than anything, has been the pattern of Brown's teams at Texas.
For Mack and his team, there were too many mistakes in the game they had dominated. And when you get good, as good as this team is becoming, when you can do it all, it is sometimes important to remember the initial objective is to win.
A 31-point victory on the road in a conference opener against a quality opponent qualifies as the "glass is half full evaluation."
If you want to go to the "half empty" syndrome, there were too many footballs on the ground, too many penalties, and two early Missouri drives that included explosive plays.
There is a fine line here.
Brown, nor his assistants, would ever suggest that it would be a good thing to settle for less than your best effort. "Okay" is not an acceptable philosophy. You don't win championships with just getting by.
The lesson in sport is about what can be, not about what wasn't. In the duration of the game, it is demanding and offers no quarter for lack of quality when you compete at the highest level.
But the point is, when a contest is finished, recognize your purpose was to win. There is solace, perhaps, in playing well in defeat, but it won't put trophies in your cabinet.
It is also important, as Brown so often reminds his players, to celebrate the team. Too many times in locker rooms just like the Texas one in Missouri, players are beating themselves up for a mistake they made, and they miss celebrating the success of the whole team.
That's why the coaching staff is very careful not to emphasize success based on units. To single out one phase of the game, in success or defeat, is counterproductive. You arrive at the stadium as a team, you play as a team, you lose as a team, and you win as a team.
Through the first four games of the year, this 2005 version of the Texas Longhorns has been very good, with flashes of greatness. The season is becoming reminiscent of some of those years of Darrell Royal's juggernauts.
Over the last five years this is a football program that has lost only one regular season game (to Texas Tech, 42-38 in 2002) in the last month and a half of its seasons. Excluding the losses to Oklahoma, Texas held a 33-1 record in the months of October and November from 2000 through 2004.
That is why it was necessary for Brown to remind his players to take time to enjoy a victory. If only the devastation of defeat is remembered, you will miss a lot of fun during the ride.
History teaches us that perfect seasons are extremely rare. But what we do know is, the general definition of a "perfect season" is that you were unbeaten...in other words, you didn't lose.
It doesn't say you had to be perfect. It just says you had to win.
There is a difference in "anticipating" a victory and "assuming" a win. One means you believed you were going to do it, the other means you took it for granted.
As Texas left Missouri, many media members were naturally asking about the upcoming game Saturday against Oklahoma. Now, more than ever, is when the 2005 theme of "Take Dead Aim" comes into play.
The Oklahoma game is always important, but in this season of 2005, with its goals and its dreams, it is important because it is the NEXT game, and it is the next Big 12 conference game.
There will be talk of streaks, and of seasons past, and they can be celebrated, or bemoaned, depending on which side of the Red River you live.
But the fact is, for the Longhorns of 2005, those things are good to know, but nothing more.
Right now, Texas is good and concentrating on getting better. And that is the way to approach the quandary that some faced in the locker room after the game.
The secret is to discover the difference in being satisfied with who you are, and disappointed with what you did.
Let's put it this way: the winner knows he can.
The loser knows only that he didn't.