There are moments when time seems to stand still, or at least the world goes in slow motion.
There are games between two teams which it seems neither deserves to lose.
There is the line from the movie "The Shawshank Redemption," where Morgan Freeman reads a letter from Tim Robbins that says, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things."
And so it was, with 2:03 left in one of the more dramatic games in the almost 80 years of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Chance Mock and his friends trotted onto the field 86 yards away from that space where hope and dreams sometimes magically seem to come together.
It doesn't happen very often. And when it does, they tell stories and make movies and we all celebrate that phenomenon that takes ordinary people and uplifts them to the status of heroes. Some of us will get teary eyed, and some will simply feel that rush of adrenaline that somehow lets us live, and relive the feeling.
Mack Brown had just finished his television interview on Joe Jamail Field on the floor of the stadium, an "Eyes of Texas" and a good 10 minutes after the game had ended. As he started for the locker room, he stopped, and looked at the stands. They were still orange, and still full. This time, "staying late" was a privilege. When kids and coaches from both side give that much, they have earned that salute.
Or, maybe, it was simply that the crowd was too exhausted to leave just yet.
All week, Chance Mock had dreamed of beating Texas Tech. It was a special game for him. He was born in Lubbock, his Dad played at Texas Tech. He even had his picture on a Red Raider poster as a little kid. Yet Chance knew that the Texas offense was rolling behind his friend Vince Young, and he knew that most likely, his playing time would be limited.
Now, with just over two minutes left in the game and the Longhorns trailing, 40-35, the dream became a hope, and if you want to make hopes and dreams work, you have to take action. And that is exactly what happened in those 123 seconds of the game clock.
There have been other drives in other years, and other defensive stops. But it has been a long, long time since so much was on the line for Texas, with so little time to do it in. You had the drama of the Holiday Bowl a couple of years ago. There was the comeback to beat Texas A&M with a field goal in the game where Ricky Williams set the NCAA rushing record. Phil Dawson kicked a field goal on the final play to beat Virginia back in 1995.
But this one was different because it was about a team which had had its character, its toughness, and its determination challenged. In the early season losses to Arkansas and Oklahoma, people had questioned a lot about this team, these players and their coaches.
From the ashes of Dallas, they had risen like the legendary Phoenix, and boy can you get some symbolism there. In myth, the Phoenix was a great bird that would destroy itself by fire, only to rise stronger and more powerful from the ruins. Perhaps it was no accident that in its drive to resurrect its season, Texas had put itself in position to perhaps receive a BCS bid to the Fiesta Bowl, played outside Phoenix, Arizona, on January 2.
It is true, that a top national ranking was on the line. But there was so much more.
Friday night, at the Longhorn Hall of Honor, Hon. Olen Underwood, a distinguished federal judge who was an outstanding linebacker in the early 1960s for Darrell Royal, recalled the moment in the famous Texas-Arkansas game of 1962. Ranked No. 1 in the nation, trailing 3-0 and 85 yards away in the closing minutes of the game, the Texas offense trotted onto the field in the same general spot where Mock and his teammates stood Saturday night. As the quarterback prepared to call the play, a big offensive tackle named Staley Faulkner interrupted him.
"If we don't do it now," he said, "we ain't ever gonna do it."
That night, that team rode into legend. They drove the 85 yards that it took, and scored with 36 seconds remaining to win, 7-3.
Saturday was senior night, but it was more about Texas than it was about a single class. It was Cedric Benson running hard and, and with the red-shirt junior Mock and the freshman Young throwing, the senior receiving corps left their mark. Sloan Thomas had a brilliant catch for the first touchdown, while B.J. Johnson completed a brilliant moment with the last touchdown. Roy Williams had 8 catches for 136 yards, including a 54 yarder that was the catalyst for the winning drive. Bo Scaife, shed the scars of years of injuries, had two critical catches, including one for a touchdown. Tillman Holloway had been massive in the offensive line, Brock Edwards battled and Brett Robin had contributed offensively and on special teams.
In this game, while people will remember offense, it would be wrong to forget about the defense. Derrick Johnson played like a Butkus finalist should. Kalen Thornton, Marcus Tubbs, Reed Boyd and Nathan Vasher led a defense that fought its collective heart out against a Tech team that has turned football into a grass version of fast break basketball. Texas Tech ran 88 plays, including 58 passes. Texas ran 73. It was like watching the dollar sign on the gas pump when petrol was a buck-fifty a gallon. The numbers were amazing. The result was breathtaking. Folks were just plain worn out, and that didn't even come close to describing how the players felt.
All of which brings us to that final play from the Texas offense.
Mock had played brilliantly during the drive. He had passed and scrambled and taken his team to the nine yard line. And then, he threw the fade rout to Johnson, who caught it as he made sure his knees touched the grass in the southwest corner of the end zone. For a full 30 seconds, Mock sat on his knees in the middle of the south end of the field.
The two-point conversion gave a three-point cushion at 43-40, but the 83,596 in the stadium and a national television audience somehow knew that this one wasn't over with 46 seconds left in the game.
The kickoff return took eight seconds. Then, B. J. Symons went to work. The clock had 38 seconds on it. Symons drove his team to the Texas 31. There were five seconds left.
Texas had never punted in the game. The Longhorns had turned the ball over three times. Despite some near misses, Texas Tech hadn't turned it over at all.
Back when Royal was coaching that team that Olen Underwood remembered, he drilled a lot of phrases in the players' minds, but the one most of them will remember the most, and recite at the ready, is "Press the kicking game, for here the breaks are made."
Two blocked extra points surely weighed on Keith Toogood. Now, he was lining up for a 48-yard field goal that would tie the game.
And that is when life went into slow motion.
From the end zone camera, you could see it all the way. Look closely, and you will see Brian Robison, the freshman linebacker and track weight man with the incredible leap, vaulting high over the left side of the Texas defense. Whether Toogood anticipated him, we will never know. But his kick went to the left of Brian, and to the left of the goal post.
They chased down Chance Mock and dog-piled him, like a team that just won the baseball World Series. They jumped and cheered and cried and sang, all at the same time.
Roy Williams finished his night with a final lap around the stands, as people who had been touched by him reached out to touch him. The seniors left the field 21-1. Mack Brown and his staff had taken the gutsy decision to insert Mock in the game in the final two minutes and made it work.
Somewhere high above the stadium, Darrell Royal smiled when a well-meaning fan said, "Coach, how do you think Vince Young feels about being taken out there at the end of the game?"
"I would imagine"" said Royal, "that he is as happy as hell. Because we won."
And that, perhaps better than anything, sums up the night.
The team that had "finish" as its motto had stayed the course. They accepted the challenge, and they responded.
In sports, that is the final test. Adversity in sports, as in life, is a given.
It is in the dealing with it, in determining if hopes and dreams will become reality, that can be the defining of a person.
And in this case, a team.