It was a little after 3 o'clock when the Continental Airlines jet touched down at LaGuardia Airport, and Mack Brown and DeLoss Dodds looked at each other as Dodds quickly turned on his cell phone. The destination was the annual trip to the National Football Foundation's Hall of Fame dinner, but the subject at hand was a different destination entirely.
As DeLoss activated his phone, he immediately made a phone call, and he turned to Brown, who was sitting across the aisle.
"You are playing Michigan in the Rose Bowl," he said. "But we can't say that until the official announcement."
Fat chance. The official announcement would come at 5 p. m., and in two hours word travels fast. As the dominoes fell in the bowl picture, other Big 12 teams learned that their fate had changed. Texas A&M had already been told they would not be going to San Diego to play in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, and that they would be the Big 12 rep in the SBC Cotton Bowl. And so it was with Texas Tech, which went from the Alamo in San Antonio to San Diego, etc., etc., etc.
Brown and Dodds made a few phone calls as they waited for their luggage. The assistant coaches were alerted, and told to call the team for a meeting. They told the players to watch the BCS Announcement show. Leaning against the rail across from the luggage carrier, Brown made one last phone call. Darrell Royal had called three times trying to find out what time the announcement would come.
And so it was that, on a sunny Sunday in New York, history united with history. Brown told Royal that Texas, for the first time ever, was going to the Rose Bowl.
Meanwhile, defensive end Tim Crowder was practically screaming at his position coach, Dick Tomey, who verified that what he had heard wasn't a joke.
The ascension of the Longhorns to a BCS bowl this season very much followed the pattern of the year. One more time, they came from behind. On October 9, Texas had lost to Oklahoma, 12-0. The same day, California fell to Southern California. For a long time, it looked as though both of those deserving teams were going to make the BCS.
But when unbeaten Wisconsin was knocked off, Utah suddenly crashed the party. The Utes, from the non BCS Mountain West Conference, by rule grabbed one of the so-called "at large" bids by moving into the BCS' top six. By rule, that put them into the mix. The second qualification for guaranteeing an "at large bid" (which in reality, weren't "at large" at all...they were designated) is to finish third or fourth in the final BCS standings.
With Oklahoma, Southern Cal, and Auburn finishing unbeaten and covering the first three places, the only remaining BCS position went to the team that finished fourth.
There are disenchanted folks who feel that this thing was decided by voters and machines, and there is some truth to that. But the fact is, it all came down to the final day of the college football season.
Entering Saturday ranked fifth behind California's fourth, Texas could only sit and wait. They had made their case: an impressive final game against arch rival Texas A&M, and then a plea for the voters to take a close look. And that day, they did.
Texas' first opening came when Southern Cal struggled, almost losing to rival UCLA, which finished 6-5. All season long, California's most notable moment was the narrow loss to the Trojans. Fifteen minutes before Oklahoma and Colorado kicked off in the Big 12 Championship game, Southern Mississippi and California started on ESPN.
And because of the awareness created, the whole country watched. The option for non-aligned viewers soon disappeared as Oklahoma quickly dispatched Colorado. Now, it was up to California. And there they were, struggling with an inspired Southern Miss team trying to protect its home turf. In truth, this was not the typical Eagle powerhouse. This was a team that had become bowl eligible the week before, was 6-4, and had been humiliated in two of its previous three games.
A handful of Texas fans made the trip to Hattiesburg. With a little over five minutes left in the game, Southern Mississippi was within one point. It turned out to be a loss, but in the scrutiny of the viewers, it was enough to net a win for Texas.
What we know is, it is the system, and not Cal or Texas, that failed. There is no way that both of them should not be in the nation's top eight teams. And that is reflected in the voting by the coaches in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Not a single coach ranked either team lower than eighth.
In the world of computers, there is an all too familiar phrase: "access denied." And that is what happened to California. Nobody understands better than Texas. Despite being in the top 10 in the BCS poll every year since 2001, the Longhorns had been turned away at the door.
You can make a case that it is tremendously sad for California, because this game is about the players, and they had fought hard to get there.
Which brings us to the real point of this story. I remember asking a question to none other than John Mackovic, who was doing the color on an NCAA Women's basketball radio broadcast with me, what Jody Conradt could say to her team after they lost a heartbreaker in the regional finals, missing a game-tying shot at the buzzer.
"There is nothing you can say," he said. "You tell your team to work hard, you get them up early in the morning, you watch film, you practice as hard as you can. You tell them that if they do all of those things, good things will happen. But what is important to remember is, the other team has gotten up early in the morning and worked hard. They too, have done everything they could to win. Sometimes, there are no answers."
That is why, as Mack Brown headed into the ABC Studios in New York, a group of Longhorn players were gathering in their meeting room at Moncrief-Neuhaus back in Austin.
On the football field, they had done everything they could do to earn this. They had lost one game, to a bitter rival, by 12 points. They had come from behind, over and over again. They had won decisively, and they had won bravely.
This night, after years of Texas waiting, they would get their reward.
In the first hour and a half after the announcement, the Texas ticket office sold tickets at phenomenal rate of 100 per minute. That's worth repeating. One hundred per minute.
For the first time in history, Texas was going to the Rose Bowl. It was about a lot of things, including a dream over 60 years old, when the Longhorns last smelled the Roses, but never got to the garden. For the first time ever, Texas and Michigan, two of the nation's four winningest football programs, will meet.
In the midst of final exams, there is a sense of gratification. Shortly, the challenge will be to begin to prepare for a very good football team.
"The good news is, you are going to the Rose Bowl," Tomey had told Crowder. "The rest of the news is, you need to get ready to play Michigan."
On Thanksgiving morning, the team had gathered there, in that same meeting room, to talk about what they were thankful for. The overwhelming message of togetherness, caring, and just flat out love had prevailed.
This has been a very special team, not only for what it has done on the field, but for the bond of friendship they have created. Destiny, as we have said, has unique traveling companions. Down 35-7 just before the half? Trailing by 10 on the road with only five minutes left? Fourth and 18? A 14-point swing just before half?
Sometimes, nice guys get a break.
But that is only part of the story with this team. The old commercial would say "they did it the old fashioned way...they earned it."
For in the end, it is they who have brought us here.
It is history. Texas is going to the Rose Bowl.
And it's a great time to be a Longhorn.