History is a record of events as they happen. Legend is history's barometer. When history touches the soul, it becomes legend and as Texas gathered to begin preparations for this year's SBC Cotton Bowl Classic matchup with LSU, a legend was a good thing to remember.
It was thirty years ago in the Cotton Bowl on a gray New Year's Day in 1973. Managers — those kindred folk who toil long hours for little financial gain — have a way of remembering and Bob Kaye remembers. The first half had just ended in the Texas/Alabama game following the 1972 regular season. They were in the midst of a solid 9-1 season with the only loss to a very good Oklahoma team.
If the scenario sounds familiar, it should. The Longhorns had lost four straight games in the stadium and All-American offensive tackle Jerry Sisemore was determined that losing streak was coming to an end that cold January day.
Three decades later, as the Texas team gathered on Thursday for their first practice for this year's SBC Cotton Bowl Classic, the current Longhorns also have lost four straight in the storied old stadium.
So it was appropriate that the legend of Sisemore, who was just inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame three weeks ago, surfaced. It seems that the Longhorns were trailing the Crimson Tide of Coach Bear Bryant, 13-3, at intermission as they trudged up the famous "tunnel" to the locker room.
Sisemore, according to Kaye, was a quiet giant who let his world-class playing do the talking for him. As Kaye tells the story, Sisemore walked in the locker room, slammed his helmet to the floor (splitting it down the middle) and exclaimed, "I am NOT taking this uniform off for the last time as a loser!"
Sisemore doesn't remember breaking the helmet, but Kaye recalls finding a reserve player with a head as big as Jerry's so he could finish the game. So that's his story, and he's sticking with it. That and the fact that Texas came back in the second half and won the game, 17-13.
However, the message Sisemore left with the Longhorns when he spoke to the team just before it left for Dallas was clear. There is some business to be done here before the lights go out on the stellar season of 2002.
The bowl season has already begun to affirm the power of the schedule that this team played in carding a 10-2 regular season record. Eight of the teams UT played are in postseason bowls and three of them — North Texas, Tulane and Texas Tech — have already recorded victories.
For the first time since early in a season that has been plagued with an inordinate amount of injuries, the Longhorns are significantly healthier than they were for much of the year. The pulled hamstrings that slowed receivers Roy Williams and Sloan Thomas are vastly improved, as is Nathan Vasher's ankle.
When the team met for the first time late Christmas night, Brown repeated Sisemore's challenge to the seniors.
"Don't allow yourselves to go out on the short end of the scoreboard," he said. "You will remember your last game for the rest of your life, so make it a good one."
Brown also pointed out to the team that LSU is only a year removed from the Southeastern Conference Championship and a Sugar Bowl victory last year. Had the Tigers not sustained injuries at quarterback and running back, they might well be back in the BCS this season. So it is a deceiving record they bring into the game.
The SBC Cotton Bowl Classic will begin the New Year's Day bowl games in a nationally televised appearance on FOX and with that 10 a.m. kickoff will come Judgment Day for a lot of things for this Longhorns team.
How will they be remembered?
As the first group in Texas history to win 11 games in back-to-back seasons?
As the first team to record back-to-back top 10 finishes in more than 20 years?
As the first group of seniors ever to record 40 victories in their time at Texas?
As the team which ended that Cotton Bowl stadium win drought?
When you add it all up, this game is, perhaps more than any in quite some time, about pride. It is about how you want to be remembered and how the uniform looks to you when you leave it in the locker room for the last time.
The week will be busy with activities and it is an immense opportunity for the young Longhorns to learn for the future as more than a third of the team is so young it is on its first bowl experience.
However, for the seniors, this is about the present. It is about history and legends and they get a chance to write their own ending.