Bill Little commentary: A Christmas story
Perhaps, just perhaps, it was the ghost of Christmas Past, but it seems as real today as it did then.
The Longhorns had played in Columbia, S.C., on Dec. 23, 1980, and as Abe Lemons, South Carolina coach Bill Foster and several of us sat in the hotel coffee shop the next morning waiting for a flight home, we heard a strange sound.
From somewhere above us in the old hotel that was being renovated, we heard the rhythmic tapping of a single hammer. Lemons and Foster joked that it was a workman, trapped on Christmas Eve, trying to get out of some long forgotten room.
Between the eggs and the pancakes, the salt and pepper and the butter and syrup, the lone "tap, tap, tap" continued.
I thought of the worker this week as the crews worked around the clock on the north end of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. And I realized that the invisible worker in South Carolina offers us all a chance to choose how we view life in this Christmas season, 2006.
Was the worker tearing something down?
Or was he or she building something?
Before Parkinson's disease attacked him, the Rev. Gerald Mann had been named one of the 10 most influential preachers in the English speaking world. He's retired now, but he still comes once a year to share a message with the Texas Football team at their annual Thanksgiving Day service.
And this year, he addressed the season after the National Championship. When you win it all, you want to do it again, and when you don't, you aren't satisfied. Gerald didn't indicate that you should ever be satisfied with less than your best shot, but what he did say spoke straight to the core of what can be a life-changing question.
"You can either live your life hatefully, or you can live it gratefully," he said.
Go with me here.
Now understand, Gerald Mann is not Pollyanna. An insidious disease has shortened one of the most meaningful and influential of careers. So he isn't saying that life will not deal you disappointments, sadness and tragedy.
What he is saying is that we are all given a choice as to how we will live with those, just as we get to pick how we celebrate the great and good things that happen to us. I have told the story before of the lone saxophone player on a Sunday morning in New Orleans who had packed away his horn and was headed to church.
He had said "Good morning," and I asked him how he was. His black suit was the best that he had, and his hat showed signs of years of wear, but all the same was neatly set on a gray head of hair.
"I choose," he said, "to be happy."
Live gratefully, or live hatefully.
If your pick is to live in anger, how's that working for you?
Are you building something, or tearing it down?
The Christmas season offers us all a time to be thankful. A time to remember the men and women of the military who daily are putting themselves in harm's way so that we can celebrate home, and play games. A time to think fondly of the good, and resolve to remember the past, honor the present, and look forward to the future.
And for Mack and Sally Brown and all of the Longhorns, it is a time to be grateful for the football family at Texas -- the players, their families, the staff and their families, and the legion of Longhorns fans. It is a time for hope, faith and believing.
Folks say sport imitates life, or maybe life imitates sport. What we know is, sport has more influence on the American way of life than any single factor save religion. Music and television are crowding into that company, but soccer moms and Little League football and baseball dads and the kids who play games will endorse the value of sport.
Football is particularly special because it is the ultimate team sport. Its lessons are many, but most of all, it teaches that if everybody works together and does their job, much can be accomplished.
The Longhorns football team will gather in San Antonio on Christmas Day to resume preparation for a new deal for Texas. It will be the Longhorns' first-ever appearance in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, a celebration in the nation's 10th largest city, just 78 miles from Austin.
If there ever has been a testament to togetherness, this has a chance to be it. Thousands of Longhorns fans snapped up all the tickets to the game, a giant show of support to a team that was in the hunt to repeat a trip to the National Championship game until two losses by a total of eight points ended that dream.
But the great thing about sport is that dreams follow dreams. Like mountain peaks, there is another just beyond, sometimes higher and bigger.
Maybe that is what Gerald and the old horn player in New Orleans were trying to tell us, and what the worker with the hammer drove home.
Life is about choices.
And you get to choose.
Merry Christmas, and I wish you well.