Finish the mission.
That is the way that Texas head coach Mack Brown and his team's spiritual leader Jeff Madden have described the upcoming Texas/Texas A&M game.
It would be easy, in view of Oklahoma's assumed successful clinching of the Big 12 South and the right to play in the championship game, to say this game is being played for pride. There is truth in that, but there is a whole lot more involved.
Greatness, in today's world of instant gratification, is often decreed prematurely. Time still is the enduring factor in its validity. So it is important to note, as Texas and Texas A&M kickoff Friday morning in their storied rivalry for the 108th time, what really is at stake here. For the last two seasons, Texas has come to the end of the season with the hope of ending an almost 20-year drought of finishing in the top 10. Not since 1983, when the Longhorns finished fifth after a dropped punt in the Cotton Bowl against Georgia denied a National Championship, has a Longhorns team finished in the nation's top 10.
The current murky status of the BCS is strong testimony to the value of such a finish. This team and the program under Brown have gone a long way to re-establishing Texas as a national power. Yet there is still work to be done. Florida, for example, loses to unranked Auburn, and Texas loses to defending National Champion Oklahoma, yet the Gators enter this next-to-last-week of the season ranked higher than both Oklahoma and Texas in the national polls. So this game is about proving something. It is about 10 wins, which a Texas team has achieved only twice since that 1983 season.
Already, with nine wins, Texas has put together four nine-victory seasons for the first time since 1961-64 and only the second time in school history. Quietly and efficiently, Texas has restored the foundation of the once mighty program. Now, it is time to solidify greatness.
It serves no purpose to fret over what might have been. It is of value, rather, to realize what could be.
Brown has said he appreciates the challenge facing his team. Texas A&M has a proud home tradition, but if Texas is to be the power it seeks, winning a tough game on the road needs to become a challenge met, rather than just a challenge. For the seniors, it means a chance to go out with three wins against their arch rival in four attempts.
For the program, it is a showcase on national television, played in an 11 a.m. window with no sports viewer competition.
And what does it mean for history?
In this moment, people are fretting over who will play in the BCS game in the Rose Bowl. Years from now, few will remember.
Texas has won three National Championships, but you could make a strong case that the three best Longhorns teams ever did not.
In 1941, Life magazine featured the Texas team on its cover, and for years, that team was regarded as the best in Longhorns history, even though it suffered a loss and a tie. The 1961 Texas team was the first under Darrell Royal to reach No. 1 and lost the national title because of a 6-0 upset by TCU. At 10-1 there are those who feel that was the best team in Royal's early years. The 1968 team, the first of the Wishbone era, tied the first game, lost the second and won nine straight to become the most dominant team in the country.
Each of those teams had some similar characteristics.
First, they had tremendous people who would go on to become some of the most distinguished former players in school history.
Second, they finished their mission. With impressive final games - wins over Texas A&M and postseason or bowl victories - they sealed their legacy.
So it is with this team and here's the good part.
Many Texas fans remember and celebrate those teams and few, if any, can tell you who the National Champion was in those years. This is in no way to diminish the importance of a national title. It is simply to say if fate says you're not going to get a chance to win that championship game at the end of the year, then win the games you can.
This is a team of unique togetherness, a team that has had fun and a team that is playing perhaps better than anybody in the country right now.
Finish the mission. That is what history will remember.