Bill Little commentary: Ole ugly is better than ole nuthin
Funny how some things stick with you.
In the late 1960s, at some sporting event, a friend handed me one of those pencil drawings of a cartoon character. This guy was bedraggled, standing waist deep in water, with vicious reptiles snapping at him.
Cleaned up a bit for a "G" rating, the caption read, "When you are up to your (rear end) in alligators, it is important to remember that your initial objective was to DRAIN THE SWAMP."
And Friday in College Station, the Texas Longhorns did not forget.
The 40-29 victory over Texas A&M wasn't necessarily pretty, but then Darrell Royal did say that "Ole Ugly is better than Ole Nuthin'."
For most of this season, this football team has impressed us with many things. They went into Columbus and won. They overpowered rival Oklahoma in Dallas. They ran and passed their way past Oklahoma State in Stillwater. They annihilated Baylor on the road and Kansas at home.
They averaged 50 points and 500 yards a game, and that was without the first team playing in the fourth quarter. We marveled at their speed, depth, talent, toughness.
And Saturday in College Station, they showed us their heart.
For two weeks, all everybody had talked about was how Texas was going to humiliate Texas A&M. What we know about the game of college football is that good players don't get into it without having pride. For two weeks, all the Aggies heard was how cruddy they were. And when it seems the whole world is against you, guys with pride go out to prove them wrong.
Even more, Texas A&M knew it could salvage far more than just a trip to a mid-level bowl game with a victory. It could establish itself as part of one of the greatest moments in school history ... the team that knocked its archrival out of the National Championship race.
It was the opportunity of the age. Win Friday, and their names would be remembered with those of the greatest of Aggies.
Texas, on the other hand, was heading into a trap. Despite the record, Texas A&M had excellent football players, top recruits who came with dreams, just like the Longhorns.
It is really hard to win all the games.Darrell Royal and Fred Akers both told Mack Brown that during the past two weeks. Brown understood it. He had seen his own hopes dashed by Florida State and Oklahoma over the last 10 years. He had heard about how the 1961 Texas team lost to TCU, 6-0, when the Frogs crossed the 50 yard line just once, on a flea-flicker pass. He knew that Royal's 1959 Cotton Bowl bound team trailed Texas A&M, 10-0 at halftime, before rallying to win.
He had heard how the 1963 National Champions survived in the mud in College Station, 15-13. He knew Royal had made his famous halftime move in 1965, trailing 17-0 at Kyle Field, and writing the final winning score of 21-17 on a chalkboard as intermission ended. And he knew the last Texas team to go unbeaten through the regular season, the 1983 Longhorns, had trailed 13-0 before coming from behind to win, 45-13. The oldest of the Longhorn followers recalled even 1941, when No. 1 Texas saw their national championship hopes dashed by a tie to Baylor and a loss to TCU.
There is an old rodeo saying "There never was a hoss that couldn't be rode ... there never was a cowboy that couldn't be throwd."
All that they knew, and all of that was true.
But when Texas jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, it appeared it was just another day at the office.
"They'll hang half a hundred on them," folks had predicted, and Texas was on its way.
But college football games are not played with computer icons, and sometimes the human factor, call it biorhythms or whatever, just won't cooperate with the predictors. That is when it gets dicey, that is when upsets are born.
It was not the best of days for some of the best of the Longhorns, but in that space, it really revealed what this team is all about. Suddenly, after what appeared to be a routine beginning, the game was turning out to be something more than anyone expected. And with only four minutes left in the first half, Texas trailed, 15-14, and faced third and seven at the Aggie 14, and that was only because Limas Sweed had scrambled to recover a Vince Young fumble that could have ended the drive.
At that point, offensive coordinator Greg Davis did what any red-blooded American would do.
He sent in the Marines.
And there, wide open in the right flat, was Sgt. Ahmard Hall, who took Young's pass and ran untouched for 14 yards into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
The scoring play and Ahmard are particularly important here, because his is the first name you hear from a stable of unsung heroes who stepped up to help bail out their team, on a day where it would all be about "team."
Rashad Bobino, not the tallest of the Longhorn linebackers, knocks away a pass, and then took a fake field goal on fourth down for a first down on a drive that would overcome Texas A&M's second lead in the game. And with the Longhorns clinging to a 34-29 lead late in the third quarter, there was Young hooking up with that Marine again, and this time, Hall fought his way for 25 yards to set up David Pino's field goal which took the cushion to eight points at 37-29.
And in a game where field position was so important, it would be redshirt freshman Ryan Palmer who would scratch and claw and recover a fumbled punt that helped turn the field around in the fourth quarter.
The game could not have been won, of course, without the contribution of everybody. Michael Griffin blocked a punt when Duane Akina adjusted a punt rush that gave him a straight shot, and Cedric Griffin took it in for a touchdown. Pino missed an extra point and a field goal, but hit two field goals that helped ice the game. Ramonce Taylor had one of his best days at running back, rushing for 102 yards and two of the touchdowns, and David Thomas, Quan Cosby and Limas Sweed all had three catches. Big Henry Melton had some impressive runs. Michael Griffin was credited with 21 tackles, Robert Killebrew had 15 and Michael Huff and Aaron Harris had nine apiece. It wasn't a perfect day for anybody, but in the end, it was a good day for everybody.
Young would be the first to give credit to his teammates. In a day that was not his best, he did what a quarterback is supposed to do:he won. Texas didn't reach the "half a hundred," but when you score 40 points against your rival on the road and win by 11, it's not a bad day.
In the locker room after the game, Libby Wright, the nice lady who is president of the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, told the Longhorns she was proud of them, and hoped they would win their next game so they could come back to the site of the miracle of the valley when the Longhorns beat Michigan on January 1 to start all of this. The State Farm people gave Texas the trophy for the "Lone Star Showdown" between the two schools, and one more time, the Texas Longhorns sang "Texas Fight," as they do after every victory.
For 11 football games, this team has answered every challenge. It is the first unbeaten regular season for UT in 22 years, and only the sixth in the last 80. It is, after all, hard to win all the games.
There are moments, in games and in life, when you have to go to Plan B. On the day when it's not your best day, you still have to go to work. And in that space, it often isn't about skill and talent and size and strength, although those are certainly qualities that sustain you. When you want something bad enough, you sometimes just have to play with your heart.
With only Texas and Southern Cal unbeaten, and ranked as the No. 2 and No. 1 teams in the country heading into the very last weekend of the regular college football season, the Longhorns met and overcame the trap that had been set for them.
They did "drain the swamp." They met their primary objective--they won.
In some quarters, it may not have been pretty.
But for the Longhorns of 2005, all in all, it was down right beautiful.