Okay, quickly now, name the only three teams in college football that have been ranked in the top dozen of the BCS Standings at the end of each of the last two seasons and were ranked there this year going into last Saturday.
If you said Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma and Texas, you were right. If you want to take it a step further and mention the only two teams who were ranked in the Top 10 of the BCS standings last year and were in that elite crew as of day break last Saturday, that would be down to only Texas and Miami.
When UT head coach Mack Brown sat down at a press conference at the Big 12 Championship game at the close of the 1999 season, he talked about the neighborhood of college football's prime real estate. At that point, he said the Longhorns had visited the neighborhood. Now, they wanted to buy a house.
With Brown on that trip was a freshman class with great dreams, and today, we say good bye to some of them. As they prepare to play their final game in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, it is appropriate that we pause to pay tribute to the house they have built and the land that they have purchased.
Purchased and built are appropriate words. They bought it with a lot of sacrifice and commitment and built it with hard work and exceptional talent.
Including transfers and a sizeable contingent of volunteer players known as walk-ons, this group of seniors has helped re-establish Texas as a force in college football. The last four years has produced a 38-12 record with two games remaining in this season. That equals the most number of wins recorded by a four-year senior class, set by last year's at 38-15. One more win and these guys will have won more football games than any Longhorns class since freshmen became eligible in 1972.
Perhaps more significantly, however, is that fact that the last three years of Texas football have produced the best three-year period in 20 years. In the last three seasons, Texas is 29-7, the best mark since the teams of 1981-83 finished with a 30-5-1 record.
From the moment since Georgia recovered a fumbled punt late in the 1984 Cotton Bowl, consistent excellence had disappeared from the Texas landscape. David McWilliams' team of 1990 did, in fact, "shock the nation," as it finished the regular season ranked third nationally. But the very fact that they used the term "shock" tells you a lot about where the program had fallen.
Unfortunately, the success could not be sustained.
The Cinderella season of 1998 produced a lot of fun things and a Heisman trophy for Ricky Williams, but what got the most attention was the signing of a heralded recruiting class in Brown's first full year in the trenches of the recruiting wars. Today, we bid farewell to some of them.
Of the 27 signees, this will be the final game for seven of them. In the 24-member senior class, they are joined by four scholarship seniors from Brown's first signing class in 1998 and 13 players who joined the troops along the way. Eight other members of the class were redshirted and are playing in their junior seasons.
However, for CB Rod Babers, OT Robbie Doane, OG/T Derrick Dockery, DE Cory Redding, QB Chris Simms, TE Chad Stevens and FB Matt Trissel, this will be their last trip out of the smoke and into the brightness of the most beautiful stadium in the nation. OG Beau Baker, LB Lee Jackson, DT Miguel McKay and ST Beau Trahan are the representatives of Brown's inaugural class. Those four guys have been a part of five consecutive teams that have won at least nine games, the first time in school history that has happened.
The list of seniors bidding farewell also includes ST Richard Hightower, WR Kyle Shanahan and ST Michael Ungar, as well as P Brian Bradford and OT Alfio Randall-Veasey. The rest of the class includes DB Paul Campion, TE Josh Doiron, DB Brandon Hedgecock, RB Casey Martin, PK Dan Smith, OL Keith Virdell, LB Cory Weideman and DB Billy Wright, all guys who worked hard every day in trying to help this team be successful.
The recruiting class of '99 was ranked as the best in the country, and if this was all about a house in the neighborhood, credit these guys with laying the solid foundation. In a perfect world, more of them would have been able to redshirt. The Longhorns are redshirting 19 players this year, but when those guys arrived in fall 1999, the talent pool was exceptionally thin, so many of them had to play immediately.
Little could they have realized, just those short four years ago, how their lives would change after they became the last signing class of the 20th century.
There would be victories and joy — they won two Big 12 South Division Championships along with all of the wins they notched and they will have played in four bowl games. However, they also would witness heartache, on and off the field. When they were only freshmen, they saw tragedy for the first time when the Texas A&M Bonfire fell in 1999 and kids passed away before the game.
In spring 2001, it would come even closer to home, when a teammate died in a car accident on his way back to school from home. For some, it would be the first funeral they ever attended. It is significant to note that this would have been Cole Pittman's last home game too.
They set their goals high and were determined to play at the highest level of college football. When you risk much, you can lose much. That was the pain of the oh-so-close runs for the chance to play for a National Championship the last two seasons. However, it is important to note again that the only two teams in the country to be in that position both now and at the end of last year were Texas and Miami.
The final 10 a year ago included Miami, Nebraska, Colorado, Oregon, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Illinois, Stanford and Maryland. Last week's Top 10 BCS Poll ranked Miami, Ohio State, Washington State, Oklahoma, Georgia, Notre Dame, Iowa, Southern Cal, Michigan and Texas.
In terms of numbers, this collection of seniors we recognize today is a small class, but each person has a story and leaves us with a memory. Most of all, the gift they have given us is the right to be prideful again. The chance to celebrate young men, not only for what they have done, but for who they are.
The years will be kind to them, as the record and history books tell their story at Texas. The memories, both good and bad, will blend together.
Darrell Royal, in speaking to Brown's first senior class, gave them a saying that is posted in big letters outside the dressing room door in the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletics Complex.
"What I gave, I have," it reads. "What I kept, I lost."
His message was about team, and more than any single factor, that is what these guys have been about.
It has been about joy and sadness, commitment and sacrifice, glory and honor, legends and legacies.
Most of all, however, it has been about each other and that is what they will have long after the records are broken and the games are played only in the memory. It is then that they can truly take a look at the neighborhood, with its grown scrubs and climbing ivy and manicured lawns. They will remember a time when they took Texas and put it there.