Bill Little commentary: The dozen
Nov. 14, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
Mack Brown has always used the calendar for emphasis with his football team. The life of a team lasts 365 (or so) days. It begins the day the previous season ends. And in the year that follows, a team prepares for twelve weekends, expecting that success on those Saturdays will lead to perhaps a thirteenth or fourteenth game.
Now, he has asked his team to play, and practice, for twelve days—a dozen days which will wind up being the legacy of the Longhorns of 2010. Between the end of Saturday’s game with Oklahoma State and sometime late on Thanksgiving night, the 4-6 Longhorns will determine what a single line in the record books will look like for them.
In the final moments of the loss to Oklahoma State, I was reminded of something former Longhorn quarterback James Street told his son, Huston, after his Westlake High team lost to Cedric Benson’s Midland Lee team in the state championship game. This, of course, was before Huston came to Texas as a star baseball pitcher and went on to become one of the top relief pitchers in Major League Baseball.
“Were you as prepared as you could be, and did you play as hard as you could?” James asked.
When Huston, who had made 21 tackles that game, replied yes to both questions, James said, “Then go over there and congratulate them, because they were the better team today.”
And that is exactly what Mack Brown and his team did after the loss to Oklahoma State. This wasn’t one of those games that Texas lost—this one was one that Oklahoma State won. That's a good football team, folks. That said, Brown was proud of his team, even though absolutely no one in the Longhorn locker room was happy about the loss.
Texas has been a piece of the very strange mosaic that is college football in this season of 2010. The landscape, within the Big 12 and around the country, has changed completely. It is a year of mirages—what has seemed real for the past decade isn’t really there anymore, and visages pop up and go away within the span of weeks. It is the nature of the sport where your players turn over about every four years. We celebrate the careers of the heroes we come to know almost as friends during their time in school. And when they leave, there's a void. It sounds bold to say, "we don't rebuild, we reload," but college football is, and always will be, in the construction business.
South Carolina beats Florida and Alabama and loses to Kentucky and Arkansas. Oregon dominates the west coast, but barely survives against California. TCU wants a bid to the BCS Championship game but has to escape San Diego State. Iowa loses to Northwestern. Iowa State beats Texas, loses in overtime to Nebraska, and then is dominated by a Colorado team which just had its coach fired. If misery loves company, then make up the bed in the spare bedroom because we have visitors.
That doesn’t change the fact that this unfamiliar territory for the Longhorns is frustrating and maddening. It is no longer pride that is being tested—it is resolve. Florida Atlantic will come in with a 4-5 record. Their season includes a respectable 31-17 loss at Michigan State, and given the way this year has gone, the Longhorns are in no position to take anyone lightly. Brown has made it clear as his team approached the final three games that the focus was to win two games, get to 6-6, and become bowl eligible.
“We owe that to our seniors,” he told the team after Saturday’s loss.
That is when he came up with the commitment of the 12 days.
Saturday will be particularly special for Longhorn football, as the 2010 class of the men’s Longhorn Hall of Honor will include Heisman trophy winner Ricky Williams, who will be present for the induction. In Mack Brown’s first year at Texas in 1998, it was on a November day when Ricky ran his way to the College Football Hall of Fame and into the record books as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher.
Once again, sport reminds us of life. This young and oft injured team of 2010 has taken its shots from opponents waiting for a chance to get a piece of the Longhorns’ tremendous run under Brown. Now, it is about 12 days. The emphasis is on the next game. You cannot get to six wins unless you have five. It may seem trite to say it, but you really do have to take one step before you can take the next.
As hard as it has been on the seniors to see their hopes of returning to that space they left in Pasadena in the BCS National Championship game only ten months ago, the year is providing a difficult learning lesson for the young players who have been forced into action by the many injuries. I can recall a tough year in David McWilliams’ tenure where a particular defensive back seemed to make the highlight films of every single opponent as he was beaten for touchdown passes. The next year, Texas was 10-2 and that DB was all-conference.
One of the most popular lines in the musical “Les Miserables” comes from the young boy who is the symbol of the growing revolution. “Never kick a dog because it’s just a pup…you better run for cover when the pup grows up,” he defiantly sings.
In a year where there has been a revolution of sorts in college football, that’s an important thing to remember. It is right to disdain defeat and celebrate victory. It is important to remember that football is a game. And it is critical to find life’s lessons with each step we take, whether it is compressed into 12 days, or a lifetime.