Bill Little commentary: It's what's up next that counts
This much we know is true: late in the afternoon on Saturday, as the buses carrying the Longhorn football team made their way back out of the Texas State Fairgrounds and on to the highway heading to DFW Airport, the setting sun was dead solid burnt orange.
The rain and the clouds, which had frequented the evenings in recent Octobers past, were nowhere to be seen.
Perhaps it was symbolic, but I doubt it.
We've talked about this before. Streaks, momentum changes, the power of the pendulum which swings back and forth across the Red River at this annual October classic...all of those subplots of a common football game...come down to one thing.
The best team usually wins.
And going into Saturday's game in Dallas, Texas knew it, Oklahoma knew it, and before it was over, the whole world knew it.
By the time the final snap was done on the floor of the ancient stadium, and the Longhorns had won, 45-12, it truly was all over but the shouting.
If you could add sound to a "freeze frame," it would have been a perfect "Kodak moment."
Post game procedure, for Longhorn head football coach Mack Brown, calls for him to finish his network television interview, and move directly to the front of his players for the Eyes of Texas.
But Saturday in the Cotton Bowl after the victory over Oklahoma it was different. As the mass of folks on the field seemed to congregate in the northeast corner of the stadium, Brown suddenly was placed, as if by some unseen force, in front of the sea of orange toward the northwest part of the sea of orange in the end zone.
That was the lasting image: one man facing a cheering mass of humanity, alone with his thoughts, his right hand raised with extended first and fourth fingers. Had sound been included in the snapshot of the moment, it would have been deafening.
The Texas-Oklahoma game in the Cotton Bowl has always been a collage of sights. The day had begun with the Longhorns boarding buses at their hotel in Richardson, having heard Brown's final comments about the game. Newspapers and electronic media outlets had set the tone with a week's worth of coverage reminding Texas of five years of frustrations, and the fact that this was an historic 100th meeting between the two schools in the two states separated most of the way by the Red River.
And much of the conversation focused on "the streak."
Ah, the streak. Five straight games. Everyone wanted to help. Former players and caring parties all stepped up and offered to talk to the team. Surely somebody could say something that would be profound.
But what we know about streaks, if you are on the wrong side of them, is that you don't need talk, and you don't need reminding. Streaks end when the losing side gets fed up with hearing about it. And they end when you have a better team than the other guys.
All of that the Longhorns knew as they boarded buses to head to the Cotton Bowl down Central Expressway on Saturday. The reminders came all too frequently along the way. Actually, to put it into perspective, it was pretty much a ride to the office at the beginning. But when the buses turned off the Expressway, and headed toward the Fairgrounds, business picked up.
To their credit, hopeful Longhorn fans were much in evidence, flanked by red-clad Sooners who held one hand high with five fingers, and the other with the hook 'em 'Horns sign pointed downward. If the football team needed a reminder, it was conveniently provided by the opponent.
Because of the State Fair and the field preparations, the two teams never go to the stadium on Friday for a "walk through," so when the team arrived at the stadium on Saturday, Vince Young led a small contingent of players in street clothes to the field to loosen up. Television cameramen, already stationed at their posts two hours before the game, caught Young and his teammates grooving to the headsets. The guys who had been labeled "uptight" before this game in years' past were "chillin'."
Two hours later, Texas lost the only thing it would fail to win Saturday, and that was the coin toss. So they took the opening kickoff and drove the length of the field and Young hit a leaping Ramonce Taylor for the first touchdown of the game. From there, only the Sooners' longest field goal in the series and a 52-yard record for the Oklahoma kicker, dented domination.
When Young hit Billy Pittman in full stride with a perfect pass just before the half, the hunt was, for all practical purposes, over. The defense was stifling, the kicking game effective, and the offense varied and vicious.
Only the final score was in doubt, and the defense punctuated that with Brian Robison's hit and Rod Wright's long touchdown run with the fumble.
All of that is what led Brown and his team to the north end of the stadium Saturday. His moment alone was fleeting, because he quickly reacted to where his team was and disappeared in the midst of them. The team and the coaches stayed on the field a long time, accepting the Golden Hat Trophy and taking in the celebration.
Brown would say afterward that this was a game that was never about him, but he was happy for the fans and the team who had been frustrated for those five years. By Sunday, all of those that had been questioning the Longhorns for the past five years were now questioning the Sooners.
Brown, who is now 3-5 against Oklahoma, stayed above all of that in the post game. Like the Ohio State victory earlier in the year, there is little time to enjoy this one. Satisfaction, perhaps, but one more time, the theme of the season comes into play. Texas must put the victory behind and "Take Dead Aim" at the upcoming target.
In contrast to the non-conference game the 'Horns had after beating the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe, Saturday's Big 12 opponent Colorado is hot and formidable. And Texas Tech follows that, then road trips to Oklahoma State and Baylor, etc., etc.
For the last five years, the Oklahoma game has forced Texas to play catch up for the rest of the season. Now, the slate is clean. The challenge Brown and his staff have conquered so well, that of putting a loss to the Sooners behind them, now switches to putting the victory behind them.
One of the stated goals of this Longhorn team is to win the Big 12 South, and to get its first league championship since the inaugural one in 1996.
Texas rolled Saturday, out of the Fairgrounds, toward the burnt orange sun and toward the Continental plane to fly to Austin.
The Longhorns have played five games, including two that will be remembered for a long time in Texas history. The win over Ohio State, the victory in the 100th game of the OU series. All of that is important.
But when you choose to play at the level Texas is seeking, your most important game now is your next.