Bill Little commentary: The Alamo Bowl chronicles -- Vol. 1
As the Texas Longhorns gathered to begin their preparations for Saturday's Alamo Bowl game against Iowa, that was all that was left in the season of the defending National Champions of college football.
And that was what Cleve Bryant asked the team to commit to.
"Give us six days," he had said.
And as practice finished and the players, student staff and coaches finished their team day at SeaWorld on Wednesday, the number was really down to three.
Beginning Christmas Day and lasting through the morning workout on Wednesday, the Longhorns had the opportunity to practice in the Alamodome, the site of the game Saturday.
And as the players sat on the field after the drills, Mack Brown conjured one final image.
First, Brown had introduced two special guests. Representing former players who were there, Tom Stolhandske had told the team how happy San Antonio was to have Texas in the game. As he looked back over the more than 50 years since he was an All-American at Texas, the former Bexar County Commissioner told the players they really couldn't yet know what it means to be a Longhorn. Only time and distance could truly seal that deal.
Then came Red McCombs, who had become a great friend of the football program through the years, and that has only intensified during Brown's tenure. He, too, spoke about the pride of finishing right.
Mack reminded Red that next year's Big 12 Championship game would be in the Alamodome, and both agreed this was the perfect setup opportunity for the future.
But it was Brown's final comments to the team that really drove home the importance of the moment to the team.
"Look around you," he had said. "This is the last time you will sit on this field like this. The next time you are here, this place will be filled with the largest crowd in the history of this stadium. And most of them will be wearing burnt orange."
Fans don't get excited, he had said, unless teams do something to stir them up.
"We want to put our fans in position to get excited," he had said. "We need to do some things down on this field to give them a chance to get involved."
Brown also saluted the team for its academic success over the past semester. The team had 44 players who posted at least a 3.0 GPA, 21 had a 3.5, and Brown had three players stand and be recognized who had made a perfect 4.0.
San Antonio as a venue for the Longhorns' final game of 2006 has turned out to be an excellent fit. While other non-BCS bowls have struggled to sell their tickets, the Alamo Bowl sold out in 36 hours after it was announced that the Longhorns were coming. Depending on your resource, there is documentation that San Antonio is rapidly becoming one of the largest cities in America.
And while the Alamo Bowl folks are courting at least three serious candidates as a title sponsor, the football venue of the Alamodome is well used for high school games throughout the year. It is busy, but well kept, and Saturday it should prove a perfect setting for the match up between Texas and Iowa.
In a media conference Wednesday, defensive coordinator Duane Akina was hopeful that his injury-plagued secondary was going to be at its healthiest for the game, and he and the Longhorns players demonstrated great respect for Iowa. The Hawkeyes raced to a 5-1 record over the first half of the season, then lost five of their last six.
So Saturday's game provides a "get well" opportunity for both teams. The Longhorns lost their last two by a total of eight points.
But as the sun set on the Alamo City, a crisp burnt orange in the western sky on Wednesday, it was no longer about what could have been for this Texas team.
What we know is, if teams are not playing in the final Championship game of the year, this thing is really not complicated.
You play the game because you enjoy playing it, and you play it to win. There was a window during the final two games when Brown realized his team, battered by injuries and worn down from dodging arrows as the defending National Champions, wasn't smiling any more.
This is not rocket science. You play games to have fun. And you have a lot more fun when you win.
Cleve had asked for six days.
Three of them remain.