In the end, it was about the game.
All season long, folks had tried to make it something else.
It's funny how we do that to ourselves. We put so much pressure to arrive at a destination, we forget to enjoy the trip.
On Thursday, as the team gathered for its annual Thanksgiving chapel, the message of each player who stood and talked was private. The next day, however, the commitment to each other and the determination to see the seniors win their final game in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium became very public. Feel-good Friday wasn't about rankings and records. It was about pride and resolve.
That is why Friday was fun. It was about the joy of seeing people do something they really enjoy and doing it very well.
That is why, when it was all over, the people spoke. For 15 games, senior QB Chris Simms walked into his home stadium and 15 times, he left a winner. The young man who was touched enough in his final home game to hug his mom and almost cry before it ever started finally heard from the silent majority.
The roar of the crowd as he exited the field and ran triumphantly, almost like a colt running in a meadow, when he headed to the dressing room obliterated the sting of those people who criticized him no matter what he accomplished as a Longhorn.
The great thing about Simms is that he never let the negative minority affect him. He loved his teammates, liked his school, enjoyed Austin, hurt in defeat and celebrated victory. However, he never let the bad guys win.
They always made it about him and he always made it about the team. For him, it was never about records or image. Nothing they did could match the pain of a loss or erase the joy of victory.
In the press conference after the game, Simms and senior DE Cory Redding, who had played an absolutely splendid game himself, sat together at the interview table. They asked Redding to talk about Simms, but they never asked Simms to talk about Redding.
For whatever reason, Simms remained the focus of every media question, even as his team celebrated their second consecutive 10-win season. The senior class had just recorded its 39th victory, more than any senior class in school history.
On Saturday, when Oklahoma lost to Oklahoma State, the Longhorns secured a share of the Big 12 South Division Championship, and even though Oklahoma advanced to the league championship game by virtue of its win against UT in October, the trophy represents their third league division title in the past four years for the Texas seniors. The class assured itself of finishing in a New Year's Day bowl game — either as the second pick from the Big 12 in the Cotton or perhaps even as a BCS selection.
The remarkable part of the 10-2 season and the share of the division title is that to get it Texas had to withstand critical injuries throughout the season.
Darrell Royal reflected on seasons with such injuries and thought of 1965, when the Longhorns finished 6-4, and his final season of 1976, when Texas wound up 5-5-1. Fred Akers stared a distant stare when the subject of injury seasons came up, remembering his final season of 1986, when as many as 19 starters missed at least one game.
However, this team and this staff were determined not to fold. It survived an incredibly tough stretch of games, beginning with Oklahoma State and including Oklahoma, at Kansas State, Iowa State and at Nebraska, and coming away with a 4-1 record. The final road trip of the season finally tripped the Longhorns, as Texas Tech won in Lubbock. That set up the game Friday when UT had to rebound from a lot of lost dreams and play their intra-state rival.
In a team meeting before the game, Associate AD for Football Operations Cleve Bryant brought up the legend of the red candles. It is an old story about a fortune teller named Mrs. Augusta Hipple, who in 1941, told a group of students to burn red candles prior to the Texas A&M game in an effort to help the Longhorns win.
The years since have seen the candles used on specific games and recently there has been an annual "Hex Rally." Mrs. Hipple died last year and a few years ago, I talked to her about her meeting with the students. What I learned was this.
The burning of the candles was an idea to show solidarity. It never was about a "hex." It wasn't about them. It was about us.
As the big red candle burned in the dressing room prior to Friday's game, what the players came to learn was that the flame was about the commitment and desire.
When they put it out, after they had sung "Texas Fight" twice for good measure after Friday's victory, Mack Brown put it into perspective.
"It is the flame that burns within you and it comes out as one heartbeat," Brown said.
Rudyard Kipling, a great poet who probably would have been a great football fan, probably would put things like this.
Kipling could have seen Simms in his final victory lap in the stadium or seen him stop for the cheering fans going under the tunnel by the dressing room for a celebration cheer. Then he could have looked back on the empty stadium, in the midst of a perfect late fall day.
This is what Kipling wrote, years before they played even the first game in this 109-year rivalry.
"The tumult and the shouting dies, the captains and the kings depart. Still stands Thine ancient sacrificean humble and a contrite heart."
That is what Friday was about for Simms, Redding and their fellow seniors, coaches and teammates. It was about humility and it was about heart.