Bill Little commentary: Run toward the roar
Nov. 5, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
MANHATTAN, KS - If you wonder about the validity of that fellow who wrote about "the best laid plans..." going awry, try this: a trip that was marked as a potential "trap game" for the Texas Longhorns at the start of the 2010 season is now a venue where the Longhorns are going to try to heal themselves. And perhaps that is the best message of all.
Sometimes, when you go in search of yourself, you have to do it alone.
That is not to discount, of course, the several thousand loyal Longhorn fans - which includes parents and a scaled down version of the Longhorn band and cheer and pom - who will accompany the team to Kansas on Saturday.
There is a story that is told about the hunting habits of the lions. It goes like this: there is a great canyon with an opening at either end. The prey is in the canyon. The old, majestic lions have passed their time as great hunters. They have lost their speed, their teeth and their senses are worn. With them are the cubs--the young lions who are quick and swift, but haven't yet learned to stalk their victims.
So the young lions go to one end of the canyon, and the old lions to the other. The only weapon left to the kings of the "kings of the beasts" is a menacing roar. It is scary, but it can't hurt you. But when the old lions roar, the animals they are after scare, and run to the other end of the canyon. There, the young lions pounce them, and dinner is served.
The moral of the story is "run toward the roar." Face your fear.
That is what Texas must do Saturday in Manhattan. What once seemed a "trap" is in fact, an opportunity.
With the series of weird things which have happened when Texas has visited Manhattan, it is the perfect place to be. Because it is the challenge that brings a team together.
The Longhorns are 1-3 in Manhattan against the Wildcats. Way back in 1926, Texas came to Manhattan to play what was then Kansas A&M. That was the first of a series that would define "strange" in the Flint Hills of Kansas.
The Texas coach, E. J. "Doc" Stewart, aimed to outsmart the Kansans on that trip. At the time, Texas had some players who were bigger than those on most teams, and Stewart wanted to inspire overconfidence from the home team. So on the train trip to Manhattan he had the engineer make a stop at the town before Manhattan, and he had his heavyweights get off the train. When Texas arrived, his plan had worked - the Longhorn team looked small to their opponents. Then the big guys came.
Things were rolling pretty well, until Kansas A&M decided to pull some tricks of their own. In the second half, they sprang a passing attack, legally (at the time) knocking down UT defenders to assure success. Two short TD passes led to a 13-3 upset, and Texas complained bitterly about the officiating when the team returned to Austin.
The two schools did not play again in Manhattan until 1998, when Mack Brown took his first Texas team there for Coach Brown's first-ever Big 12 game. The heavily favored Wildcats proved why they were the nation's No. 5 ranked team with a 48-7 victory.
The next trip there proved to be by far the best game of the meetings between the two schools. In 2002, the No. 8 Longhorns were coming off of a loss to Oklahoma when they came to Manhattan to play the No.17 Wildcats. Both teams were 5-1 on the year, and both were 1-1 in league play.
Most impressive about that contest was the caliber of players on the field for both teams. The offensive stars that night were a couple of guys who are still playing in the NFL. Darren Sproles was the running back for Kansas State, and Cedric Benson was the rushing leader for Texas. Chris Simms was the quarterback for Texas and Ell Roberson was the signal caller for K-State. The star-studded lineups also included future NFL defensive stars like Cory Redding, Derrick Johnson and Nathan Vasher for Texas, and Terence Newman for Kansas State. B. J. Johnson and David Thomas caught touchdown passes for Texas. Marcus Tubbs, who is now the Special Assistant for Player Relations for the UT football program, played several years at Seattle until injuries short circuited his career. The difference in the game, as the clock ran down, was a 27-yard field goal by Dusty Mangum with only a minute and 32 seconds left in the game. But what happened next was what mattered most. Newman returned the ensuing kickoff 33 yards, and the Wildcats started their final drive at their own 37.
It took eight plays--including two sacks by Texas and pass completions of 27 and 15 yards by Kansas State - until two incomplete passes left the Wildcats at the Texas 18 with only seven seconds on the clock. K-State's Jered Brite lined up for a 36-yard field goal, aided by that north wind. On the sidelines, Mack Brown was already thinking ahead to what would be his first-ever overtime game.
But that was when Tubbs had other plans. Using his strength, with a little help from his high school basketball playing days, Marcus crashed through the middle of the K-State protection and with one giant swat blocked the kick. Texas had won, 17-14.
The last trip to Manhattan, of course, was a heartbreaker for the Longhorns in 2006. Ranked No. 4 in the country, the Longhorns were poised to move even higher when kickoff came on a bitterly cold night in Manhattan. It appeared Texas had things well in hand when freshman quarterback Colt McCoy took the team on an easy opening drive for a score. But McCoy suffered a shoulder injury as he scored the first TD of the game. From there, it turned into a wild shootout, which K-State won, 45-42.
Now, Texas heads to Manhattan as a team regrouping. This one isn't about a title, or even a ranking. Under the cloak of night in the Flint Hills, the Longhorns are set on changing the dynamic of the season in their final four games of the regular campaign of 2010. To do it, you have to decide who you are, and the price you are willing to pay to move forward. You have to see if the effort extended in practice is going to translate into success in a game.
Most of all, in the midst of what can be a scary place, you have to remember this is a game, and it should be played for fun. Accept the challenge for what it is--a challenge. Meet it accordingly. Run toward the roar.