In fewer than 300 words in his poem "If," Rudyard Kipling gave us all a lot of lessons about life.
And Saturday night in Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, the most important verse was probably Kipling's first:
"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…."
There was Texas, the No. 6 team in the country, looking at the wrong end of a 35-7 score with a little over a minute remaining before half-time. If ever there was a time for finger pointing and blaming, it might have been then. But for this unique 2004 Longhorn football team, it didn't happen.
"There was no screaming and yelling in the locker room," Mack Brown said Monday.
Whether it was because this team has such a positive belief in itself, or whether it was because most of the folks in the stadium were in shock, that's the way it was.
"I think everybody was like 'wow'," said Mack Brown. "It was like watching a train wreck."
And sure enough, you are one of the trains.
The fact is, there was no grand plan or half-time adjustment after a pivotal last minute drive brought the Longhorns within 21 points at 35-14 at intermission.
The coaches weren't yelling at them, and the players weren't grousing each other about whose fault the debacle was. Instead, these guys who have prided themselves so much on being a team took the attitude of "we're all in this together."
Brown told the team Oklahoma State could not play any better than it did in the first half.
"They were perfect," he said.
When he came to Texas, Brown began hearing stories of the legend of Darrell Royal. In the back of his mind, he remembered a story about the 1965 Texas-Texas A&M game.
In that game in College Station, Texas A&M had stunned the Longhorns with a trick play for a touchdown and a 17-0 half-time lead.
Royal had no stirring words for his team. On the black chalk board in the locker room, he simply put "17" for the points that the Aggies had scored, and then wrote "21-17." And, as with most things "Royal," that turned out to be the final score. At the time, it was the biggest deficit Texas had ever overcome to win a football game.
So Brown told his team, "if we go out and score on the opening kickoff of the second half, we'll win this thing 42-35."
And then, after the game, he apologized to his team for underestimating them when the final score was 56-35.
The most amazing thing about the amazing game was that original lead was built, and then overcome, more by excellent play than mistakes. Oklahoma State played tremendously well in the first half. It yielded, grudgingly, on the final drive that cut into a 28-point lead.
With a little over a minute to go in the first half, there was Texas, facing the task of mounting the largest comeback in the history of the Big 12. In fact, in all of NCAA history, 31 points is the most ever teams have trailed and then come back to win. It happened with Maryland and Miami in 1984,and Ohio State and Minnesota in 1989.
In each case, those games produced comebacks sealed by a narrow margin of victory. This one went from a four touchdown deficit to a three touchdown victory, basically in a space that spanned a little over a quarter and a half of the football game.
There is no question that the maturity of Brown's coaching staff was a significant factor in the composure of the team. They, as much as anybody, set the tone for "keeping your head when those about you…."
Their upbeat nature helped the bench stay alive, and the crowd, the best of the Brown era, fed off of the excitement. The orange-clad folks who have helped turn Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium into a death valley for visitors (where visiting teams have won only one game in the 21st century and road teams are 3-37 against Brown's Longhorns) swelled to their loudest and grandest.
They stood, and they cheered so loud it often disrupted the Cowboys in the second half.
In the category of the amazing things that happened among the many amazing things, the turnaround was generated strictly by great football. Texas did it by playing great offense and great defense. The only turnover from Oklahoma State came prior to the final touchdown. The comeback, and the victory, was created entirely by the guys with the orange jerseys.
Brown would say that again Monday, when he looked back at the game.
"Coaches can only do so much," he said, "it is up to the players to make it happen."
In the celebratory locker room after the game, Brown talked about the game, and though he did joke about his prediction, he made it very clear that this win was not about him.
Instead, he told his team that for the rest of their lives, they would remember this moment.
"What you have just learned," he would say, "is that regardless of how tough things may seem, if you believe in yourself, and are willing to pull together, you have a chance."
It was, he would say, about all those things that define the human spirit: heart, hope, determination, and most of all, the will to win.
That is where football transcends life, and life transcends football.
The reason we are touched by Kipling's poem is that he gives us all a chance, and puts it out there for us to grab hold of. He never says "you might," or "if you could."
He simply says, "If you can…."
And Saturday night, Texas did.