Nov. 16, 2008
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- It was a game that should have been seen on a black and white TV-a contest played on a grass field where the mud and the blood showed on the uniforms, where breath formed clouds and the distant smell of a fire place burning and breakfast cooking came in on the north wind.
Winter had come to Kansas.
And so, too, had Texas.
All week Mack Brown had pointed, over and over again, at the dangers of this game. Three of the last four years, Texas had played on the road on this same weekend-and struggled. It took Vince Young's magic to save the 2004 game here in Lawrence. On a cold night in Manhattan, Kansas, in 2006, dreams of a Big 12 Conference championship came crashing down against Kansas State. Last year, McCoy and Jamaal Charles (who came over from his new home in Kansas City to watch Saturday) had to rescue Texas, setting up Ryan Bailey's game-winning field goal on the final play at Oklahoma State. They will, Mack has said, remember November.
Now, after nine straight weeks of football, Texas had come to this place trying to finish its last road game in November right.
When Mack met with his team on Thursday following their final practice in Austin, he had asked the team to make this the "Dedication Game," where each player, coach and staff member pledges to work this day for somebody they care about. The two prerequisites were that you had to tell the person you chose, and-for guys this is the hard part-"tell them that you love them."
So as the northwest wind gusted over 30 miles per hour, and the wind chill hovered in the mid-20s as occasional snow flakes fluttered, Texas and Kansas took the field at Memorial Stadium with a lot on the line.
The Longhorns, of course, had to win to keep their hopes of a BCS bowl game alive. Kansas had to win on Senior Day to maintain a faint hope to represent the Big 12 North Division in the championship game.
The season was not ending for either team the way the prognosticators had predicted at the start of the year. Kansas, coming off of a victory in the Orange Bowl, was a strong contender for the Big 12 Championship, and maybe for national honors. Texas, on the other had, was generally picked on the outskirts of the top 10. Now, the Jayhawks were 6-4, and the Longhorns were one second away from being a perfect 10-0.
In mid-September, when the Longhorns' game with Arkansas was moved because of Hurricane Ike, Mack Brown knew this run would be long, and by the time the Longhorns got off the bus in Lawrence, it had taken its toll physically. Starting on September 20 and including a grueling stretch where the Longhorns played four straight teams ranked in the top 10, the schedule was considered one of the toughest ever played by Texas.
When you consider the high rank of the Jayhawks earlier in the season, Texas actually had five games in six weeks against teams that at some point could be considered contenders for national honors.
Injuries had taken some of the top stars along the way; the Horns would play Kansas without starting center Chris Hall and with only limited play from Lombardi Award finalist Brian Orakpo defensively.
But when Mack Brown stood in the warmth of the locker room under the east side of the stands after the game in Lawrence, he didn't talk about the weather or the wounds. He simply talked about "family."
It was to family that Colt McCoy had turned when he thought of to whom he would dedicate his game. And not surprisingly, so had many other Longhorn players. And as they played as an extended family, they were together for more reasons than just trying to stay warm.
With the veteran Hall gone, freshman David Snow took up the cause at center. And when safety Blake Gideon went down with injury, Christian Scott stepped in with big hits and bigger plays.
The defense came within one play of a shutout against a team averaging nearly 35 points per game, and held seven plays inside the 10-yard line in the final minutes. In the first half, the Jayhawks managed only three yards rushing.
But as the Longhorns claimed their 10th win of the season for the eighth straight year, it would be a battle of the elements and the opponent that would capture the imagination. Points, in the wind and the cold, were hard to come by. The weather is the biggest enemy of offensive football. Defense, however, is played in the trenches.
That is why Mack Brown knew the game was on the line in the third quarter. Brown has often said that the most important minutes of a football game are the final five before intermission, and the first five of the second half.
Time and again it seemed in the first half the Longhorn defense came with play after play to hold tenaciously to a 7-0 lead. Now, with 4:12 remaining, and heading into the north wind, the offense began driving from its own 33.
For over a week, equipment manager Chip Robertson had been watching the weather reports, and the Longhorn staff had anticipated cold and wind. That had, at first, dictated a commitment to try to run the ball, but Kansas had stacked to prevent that. So using his own runs and short, quick passes, McCoy drove the offense to the Jayhawk 4-yard line, and ran in for a score.
Ryan Bailey kicked the extra point, and with only 39 seconds left in the half, Texas led 14-0.
Texas had won the opening toss and had deferred its choice to the start of the second half, and the Longhorns chose to receive. And that was when Kansas coach Mark Mangino chose to roll the dice. Hoping to stay close in the third quarter, and have the wind in the fourth, Mangino elected to kick off into the wind.
Texas and Colt McCoy had 15 minutes to put the game away, and to do it, the guy from West Texas would have to do as he had done dozens of time from junior high through high school: he would have to ride the wind.
McCoy completed 4-of-5 passes and ran three times for 17 yards and holder Jordan Shipley rescued the drive on a fourth down fake field goal run and leap for six yards. When Chris Ogbonnaya ran the ball in from 10 yards out and Bailey again solved the wind on the extra point, Texas was up, 21-0.
Mangino's theory almost seemed to be working when the Jayhawks drove into the wind for a touchdown and came driving on their next possession. But the defense stiffened, and the Longhorn offense added a drive of 73 yards to make it 28-7. When Christian Scott caused and recovered a fumble at the Kansas 37, McCoy took two plays to hit Brandon Collins for a 36 yard touchdown pass. As the third quarter ended, Texas led, 35-7.
Texas had held the ball for almost 10 of the 15 minutes of the period. McCoy had completed 8-of-12 passes for 106 yards; the Texas offense had 10 first downs and 176 total yards in the quarter. Neither team would score again.
For McCoy, it was a lot like going home to the brush country around Tuscola and Buffalo Gap, where the knolls they fondly call mountains are enticing for young boys to climb, and where teenagers can hunt the farm lands and fish the stock tanks.
And that is why it was fitting that he had dedicated this game - this record-tying 30th win as a Texas starter - to his younger brothers. Much has been said about Colt's dedication of this season to his late cousin, Grant, who died earlier this year. And as he added his brothers to that dedication, this was the kind of day to remember.
As Mack would say after the game, this team has been about each other, and each person doing whatever they can to achieve success.
And so, as Texas finally gets to rest after that nine game run, it has some time to heal, and to reflect. That is why Mack's Dedication Game has been so important. As the Longhorns prepare for their Thanksgiving Night game with Texas A&M, they can rest with the realization that they have done all that they can do. No program in the country has posted at least 10 wins over each of the past eight seasons. There is reason to be proud of that. Saturday in Kansas, they played a rock-solid, tough football game. That is why the images are in black and white, reflecting the gray day.
And it is also why the wind and the cold reminds you of a time a long time ago, in a deer blind or on a search for a long-forgotten landmark. The mountains are still there to climb, although they are bigger now, and the artificial turf and the super-heated benches are part of a grown-up kind of world.
But even grown up brothers are heroes, and when you tell somebody that you love them, and you give them your best effort, that never changes. That is a gift that is about team. That is about family.