Bill Little commentary: Making a list, checking it twice
The message was basically the same, but it is worth repeating. As the Texas Longhorns broke for their Christmas intermission in the midst of preparation for the Rose Bowl National Championship game on January 4, Mack Brown and Cleve Bryant had some words of advice for them.
Just as he did a year ago, Bryant, the Associate AD for Football Operations, went over the logistics of moving an army of 130 players to Los Angeles. First, however, he gave them fatherly suggestions on the importance of good will.
“Prepare for something to go wrong,” he said, as he and Assistant AD George Wynn asked the players for their itineraries which will get them to Los Angeles on the afternoon of December 28. “And when it does, remember that ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are going to get you a lot farther than being rude. The person behind the counter didn’t cause your problem, and you need their help. At the end of the day, they will go home…it’s not their problem, it’s yours.”
The team held its final meeting in Moncrief-Neuhaus on Thursday morning, after the staff decided to skip a final morning practice to allow the players to get on their way home.
They watched the highlights tape of the 2005 season, and had some fun participating in a shortened chorus of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”
Mack Brown’s message to his team was a continuation of a prevailing strain: allow yourself to enjoy the ride.
It had been a perfect Texas December day Wednesday as the Longhorns went through their final full-scale practice before breaking for the Christmas holiday. And when the workout was done, Brown and his staff realized that this was a good time to stop.
College football is a strange deal. It is the only sport where two teams play for the National Championship a full month after their last competition. And the fact is, both Mack Brown of Texas and Pete Carroll of USC can only hope the team they last saw on a field in early December shows up four days into the next year in Pasadena.
Brown, for one, celebrates the upcoming holiday break for his team.
“It’s easy for guys to get tired. They have the pressure of final exams, and that’s really important here. There were days when we had trouble fielding a team for practice,” said Brown.
Tiring, too, is the “all star” circuit. Since the Big 12 Championship game, Mack Brown alone traveled 9,236 miles. All together, Vince Young, Michael Huff, Rod Wright and Jonathan Scott traveled over 10,750 miles in the week following the game.
With all-American honors, and their respective position player of the year awards, they collected more hardware than any four Texas players in history. At the same time, players were working on final exams…busily posting one of the best academic semesters collectively to date.
Two days before the team meeting, Michael Huff, who had won the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s top defensive back, went by Brown’s office to be measured for his “T Ring” in recognition of his December graduation. David Thomas had missed the first bowl practice to go through graduation exercises. In so many ways, it has been a very good year.
Brown jokes, but with good reason, that his team will not lose a game in 2005. The calendar year, which began with the Rose Bowl victory over Michigan on January 1, will end before the National Championship game on January 4, 2006.
Brown applauded his team for its success, but he reinforced Bryant’s words.
“When you get to California,” Cleve had said, “understand that this is a business trip. We want to have fun, but we have a job to do.”
Mack echoed his assistant’s words, and he emphasized two major assets he wanted his team to take with them over the next two weeks.
“Understand that you have earned the right to be in that game, and be proud of it,” he said. And then he had a message for his team while they are at home on their break.
“Over the next five days, give something to somebody,” he said. “If you have nothing to give, then at least give a smile,” he said. “Realize how fortunate we are.”
He talked about being careful, about a phone call from a mother who had lost a son in an auto accident. He asked his team to remember Indianapolis Colt coach Tony Dungy, whose 18-year-old son was found dead Wednesday night.
He read a Christmas poem about a Marine who stands sentinel, and urged the players to remember the troops who are standing in harm’s way for them.
After the light-hearted singing, each senior picked up his travel information, a single rose, and adjourned to the equipment room area to be issued the first of his travel allowance.
It is, without question, the lull before the storm that will hit Los Angeles in a wave of attention when the two teams report. The extended date of January 4 changes Texas’ usual travel operations. On a typical January 1 game, the Longhorns have had to report on Christmas Day at the site of the game. This year, they are actually home for Christmas.
Well-meaning friends and family will tell them that they are counting on them, in fact the whole state and the university is. Brown’s tact with that is to remind the players to use that as a boost, not as a burden. It is not productive to feel you have the weight of everybody on your shoulders…they are behind you, not on top of you.
Just as Thanksgiving offered an opportunity to give thanks, this particular Christmas break provides a chance for reflection.
It is a moment well earned, and deserved. Because in California, business picks up a bunch. When the planes touch down, or the cars and pickups pull up to the hotel, it will be time to, as Coach Royal said, “Dance with who (or what) brung ya.”
And for eight days en route to a yet-determined destiny, it will be time, one last time, to Take Dead Aim.