Bill Little commentary: The treasure chest
Oct. 19, 2008
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
Somewhere, tucked away in a box of old keepsakes, is a faded orange ribbon.
It is about an inch wide and probably six inches long, and it's not even burnt orange, because the color of the day was a brighter hue. By now, the gold lettering is pretty faded, but you can still make it out: "Texas No. 1."
The ribbon is a souvenir from college days, from the season of 1961, when what may have been Darrell Royal's best team ever made a strong run at UT's first National Championship, only to have their hopes dashed late in the season.
It is important to remember that ribbon, not because Texas lost, but because of what it is -- a treasure in a box of memories.
And Saturday in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was a keepsake kind of day.
It wasn't so much that Texas played a perfect first half of football, nor that the Longhorns validated their No. 1 national ranking. The day was about a feeling, a rare moment in rarified air, where the troubles and concerns of life are put aside for three and a half hours where we live life through our heroes on the gridiron.
The kids who waited hours after the game for Jordan Shipley's autograph understood it, and as the popular wide receiver first turned to walk away, he was drawn to them, finishing off their night by taking the final few minutes of his before midnight came.
When Mack Brown and I were working on the original "One Heartbeat" book, we asked Red McCombs to give us some comments about sports in the book's preface. McCombs related a speech he had made.
"Some years ago," Red recalled, "when I owned the San Antonio Spurs, I was speaking to 500 women at a conference in San Antonio. The subject of my speech did not relate directly to the Spurs, so I didn't talk about them at all. During the question-and-answer session, one woman asked, 'Doesn't it bother you that a pro basketball team gets so much emphasis in this town when so many more important things are ignored?'
"'That's a good question,' McCombs said. 'I didn't plan on talking about the Spurs today, but since you brought it up, I will. Last night, the San Antonio Spurs played before 16,000 people in Hemisfair Arena, and a nationwide audience heard them on radio and saw them on television.
'Today, there are laborers and secretaries all over this town who don't work for the team, but who are walking with a quicker step because our little ol' San Antonio Spurs snapped a nine-game winning streak of the big-city Philadelphia 76ers last night. That's why it is important. It gives them something to be proud about.'"
When he finished, one lady starting clapping, and soon the whole room was standing and cheering.
That is what has happened with this Texas Longhorn football team, and that is why it is important to treasure the moment. In 1961, we had no idea that a 6-0 loss to a TCU team with a 2-4-1 record would end the dream. When the dusty old box in the attic is opened, what comes back is not defeat, but the feeling of pride -- the date you had, the friends who shared -- and the reason for the ribbon.
This team, which has come in a surprise package, has given all of us a chance to ride their dream wagon.
One of the largest ABC television audiences for an 11 a.m. game in history tuned in to see Texas beat Oklahoma last Saturday. A 6.1 household rating translates to almost 20 million people. The Longhorns' success had brought back-to-back visits from ESPN's College GameDay, which has great viewership, and Saturday night's "house party" was a perfect way to showcase the spectacularly remodeled stadium.
Obviously, all of that would have been really cool, including the record crowd of 98,383, but Colt McCoy and Brian Orakpo and the Longhorns also put on a clinic on how to play college football with intelligence, intensity and passion. The first half may well have been the best and most complete half of football ever played by a Texas team in the stadium. Not only did the offense, featuring a balance of the pass and the run, score touchdowns on its first five possessions, the defense held the high-powered Missouri attack to a total of 121 yards. Texas had 337.
The Longhorns had 18 first downs to eight for Mizzou, and Texas converted a remarkable 7-for-7 on third down tries.
Before the night was over, McCoy ran for two touchdowns and would complete 29-of-32 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns, and he would hook up with seven different receivers. Shipley caught eight passes for 89 yards, Quan Cosby seven for 74, and Brandon Collins and Chris Ogbonnaya each had six. The Longhorns, led by Ogbonnaya with 65 rushing yards and Voldrell McGee with 58, rushed for 203 yards and threw for 388, totaling 591 yards for the game.
Tackle Roy Miller had set the tone for the night for the defense by dropping all-American receiver Jeremy Maclin for a seven yard loss on a reverse on the first play of the game, and things pretty much went down hill from there for 2007 Heisman finalist Chase Daniel and the Tiger offense.
Roddrick Muckelroy and Blake Gideon again led the Longhorn tacklers, but as has been the case all season, it is impossible to pick out just one name as the star of the game defensively. The scheme was effective, the execution, superb, until the Tigers' No. 1 unit began to put points on the board after the game was out of reach in the second half.
McCoy and the Longhorn starting offense left the game after posting a 49-17 lead with 10:52 remaining in the second half, and back-up John Chiles led Texas to another score and had the Longhorns inside the Tiger 20 when Brown elected to take a knee on the game's final play.
Perhaps it is a cliché to talk about the "color and pageantry" of college football, but sure enough, there it was, Saturday night in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The loud crowd came, stayed and cheered, and after the game Brown made a quick visit to the ESPN GameDay set for a live "SportsCenter" hit while McCoy was interviewed by ABC.
Fireworks fired into the almost-still night. Texas had answered those who wondered if there would be a hangover from the Oklahoma victory, or a collar-gulp at being ranked No. 1.
Just as with the win over Oklahoma, the hardest part about the victory is that it must be put quickly away, because it is only the first game of a six-game stretch until the end of the regular season. Of the gauntlet of four consecutive ranked teams, it is the second. Now, Texas must prepare for two currently unbeaten teams -- Oklahoma State in Austin and Texas Tech in Lubbock.
The Cowboys, who had upset Missouri in Columbia a week before the Texas game, come in with the pedigree of having played Texas as tough as any team in the conference over the last four seasons -- even though the Longhorns have prevailed each time.
For the third straight week, ABC will air the game to a mostly national audience.
And fans in DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium hope, to borrow the words from a country song, that "the road goes on forever, and the party never ends."
That, of course, remains to be seen. If you climb a mountain, you can keep your eyes on the peak, but you had better look at where you are stepping, lest you stumble. If you read a book, you'd best read a page at a time, and then go to the next page.
You pick the cliché, you pick the example, but however you cut it, this is about "one at a time."
That is why it is important to remember that faded ribbon. In the midst of life, you can never foresee the future, nor can you live in the past. Memories, like keepsakes, can be stored in the chambers of the mind, to celebrate at another time.
And in that sense, Saturday, and every Saturday this bunch gives us, is a keepsake kind of day.