They had just finished their last practice in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The team had enjoyed the Texas sun, a prelude to the cold that would follow over the next couple of days.
The seniors had walked by Freddie Steinmark's picture on the scoreboard under the awning at the south end, and touched it for the final time.
Now, they were gathered in the team room, having fun as they belted out a kids' version of "Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer." Cleve Bryant had kiddingly threatened if they didn't sing, they might not get their travel checks for the bowl. But he probably didn't have to.this is a bunch that enjoys having fun, enjoys being together.
Bryant, who in his role as Associate Athletics Director for Football Operations, is Mack Brown's right-hand man on gigs like a bowl trip and has his speech to the team down well after seven straight bowl games at Texas.
What you see is not only the fun of the success and the season, it is the on-going responsibility of leading young men.
Teams travel to bowl games in different ways, but the preferred way at Texas is to allow the players travel money, and let them make their own arrangements. That means flights, or car pools, that the players arrange and execute. All that is required is for them to report at a certain time on Christmas evening at the team hotel in Los Angeles.
So here was Bryant, talking like a parent to his kids.
"Some of you older guys need to help the freshmen with this," he said. "Those of you who are traveling like this for the first time, realize that this is not like the charters we take to regular season games. You need to plan ahead. Make sure you are at the airport early, earlier than they tell you to be. Be prepared for problems.
"No jokes at security. Make sure you have a picture ID. If you have trouble with flights, call us.
"Most of all, remember this: when you have a problem, seek out an airline agent. And make sure you understand that 'yes sir,' 'yes ma'am,' please' and 'thank you,' will get you a lot farther than walking up with an attitude. Those folks are just doing their job."
The scene was a reminder of the basic principle of coaching. While at a school like Texas, winning is extremely important, the real reason you coach, or teach, is to try to prepare young people for life beyond a practice, a classroom or a holiday hoedown.
All of which, as we approach Christmas Day, 2004, brought up something that speaks to sport, and all that it can mean.
A little over 10 years ago, The University of Texas held a symposium on "Issues of Integrity in Athletics."
The panelists were many and varied. In the morning session, one of the panelists was H. G. Bissinger, who had just written his controversial book "Friday Night Lights," which was pretty critical of high school football in Texas. Coincidentally, a movie based on the book hit the theatres this fall.
Bissinger was seated, if you faced the stage at the LBJ auditorium, at the far right end, and he was speaking on the things wrong with amateur sports, particularly high school football, as we know them.
Finally, at the opposite end of the long tables filled with potential speakers, a voice rose in defiance.
Barbara Jordan, the distinguished former Congresswoman who was a guest lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, had had enough.
With a voice that boomed like the voice of God, she pile-drived Bissinger like a hammer pounding down a nail.
"Why does sport matter so much?" she asked, as the room felt silent.
"It matters because sport is vital, it is viable, it is basic, and it is essential. Sport is not a frivolous distraction as one may first, without thinking, believe. Sport is an equal-opportunity teacher. It is a non-partisan event. It is universal in its application."
By now, Bissinger was sinking lower in his chair, and she had the room's undivided attention.
"I see sport as an antidote to some of the balkanization that we see occurring in our society; everybody wanting their own private little piece of turf; an absolute abandonment of any sense of common purpose, of common good. It is almost a cliché' to say there is no 'I' in the word team. If you are so focused on self, you cannot have any awareness of the common good.
"Another reason why I believe sport is essential is self-esteem. In order to be a contributor to American life, each individual needs to have a high regard for himself, or herself, first. Sport can do that. If you get out there and you have never been recognized for anything before in your life, if you show some capability, some particular tilt and talent for a sport, it gives you self-esteem.
"I believe that sport can teach lessons in ethics and values for out society. It is attractive to the young, and how many times have we heard someone despair over the plight of our young people? If you give them something to engage their energies, you would see that it might be something which lures them into the community of mankind and womankind."
We lost Barbara Jordan a few years later, struggling with an illness she couldn't overcome. But the words which she gave us, speaking without any notes that April day in 1994, address the real value in working with young people in sport.
As Cleve Bryant talked to the team, it was in that spirit which he spoke. The team members would get to go home and celebrate Christmas with their folks, and then travel to California to prepare for the Rose Bowl Game with Michigan.
The session in the team room, however, was not about winning a game, although that certainly was tremendously important to everyone there. The session was about "getting there."
Which is why, on this Christmas Day, Barbara Jordan's words are important. Life, like sports, is not about the destination, it is about the journey.
And what we need to know, most of all, is how to get there.
Merry Christmas, and I wish you well.