Bill Little commentary: The Alamo Bowl chronicles -- Vol. 2
SAN ANTONIO -- The final day before Saturday's Alamo Bowl game included a gala luncheon featuring both teams, complete with bands and ribbons and pennants and cheers.
It also included a team photo on the field of the Alamodome, and then the Texas Longhorns and the Iowa Hawkeyes went into their usual routine of game preparations. For Texas, it is an on-the-road schedule that has been successful for every single road trip except two since the 2003 football season ended. Only a loss to Oklahoma in Dallas in 2004 and the defeat at Kansas State in November have ended a road trip unsuccessfully.
All of that we know, and all of that is true.
There were 1,600 people at the luncheon.
And one very happy little boy.
In another time and in another sport, there was once a professional athlete who rejected publicly the idea that athletes should be role models. It was not, he had said, his responsibility.
But America thinks differently. We see our athletes as heroes, and youngsters from six to 60 revere them.
Friday's luncheon may have been about the celebration for San Antonio of what will be the largest crowd in Alamodome history for the hosts. It perhaps was anticipation of the next 30 or so hours for the players and coaches of the teams.
But for Sam, a 10-year-old little boy from North Carolina, it was about a wish that came true.
Sam, you see, is a Texas Longhorns fan who is suffering from a life-threatening form of pancreatitis. The Alamo Bowl, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Foundations of Central and South Texas, arranged for Sam, a Longhorns fan, and Ryan, a 13-year-old from Iowa who suffers from a life-threatening disease that attacks the muscular system, to travel with their families to the Alamo Bowl to see their favorite teams play.
That will happen on Saturday. The two will be on the field with a couple of coaching legends, Darrell Royal of Texas and Hayden Fry of Iowa, before the game.
But the one thing Sam wanted, through all the pain of his illness and his hope for a future, was a chance to meet Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy.
A 10-year-old, even with an entourage accompanying him, is a little fellow in a giant ballroom filled with fans dressed in gold and black and orange and white. And the chances of a single player being able to get through the crowd without being hounded for autographs is almost impossible.
So Sam's dream, folks said, would have to wait. Maybe before the game there would be a chance to at least see his hero.
The odyssey of Colt McCoy to that luncheon has been interesting as well. After a stellar start that earned him honors as a National Freshman of the Year, McCoy took a blow to the neck that pinched a nerve in the Kansas State game. He left that one, and played well below par against Texas A&M.
For a competitor, there is nothing more frustrating than being hurt. So McCoy has worked and tried to learn a little patience, all at the same time, and has reached a place where he is ready to play on Saturday.
When Colt McCoy learned that Sam was to be at the luncheon, he set his mind that he would do something about the little boy's dream.
So as the team gathered and the fans waited for the luncheon to start, Colt was escorted across the front of the ballroom to where Sam and his family were waiting to be seated.
Mack Brown would speak later in the luncheon about his team and his pride in who they are. It is a touchstone of the program-- do things the right way.
And that included McCoy walking through a crowd to see a little boy.
There are moments in life you never forget. There is that picture of Vince Young's touchdown against USC, of Dusty Mangum's kick tumbling end over end toward a victory over Michigan. Sport does that; it gives you thrills. You see it over and over again. Somebody does something remarkable as an athlete that inspires.
Such things are forever captured, hung like portraits in the hallways of the mind.
But as McCoy reached down and touched a little boy dressed in a tiny No. 12 orange jersey, and the child looked into Colt's blue eyes, there was a moment that may never be surpassed.
Because it was then that Colt, and all of us watching, saw it.
It was dark in the corner of the room where they were, but a bright light shown from Sam's face.
In that space, nobody else mattered.All of the rest of the people didn't matter. All that mattered was a kid and his dream.
There are cynics who criticize athletes, and there are some who really don't try to be role models. But when you can touch a life, as college players can do, there is a value that reaches far beyond the playing field, or even universities and luncheons. There, it is simply about people. And Colt and Sam gave us something very special Friday.
It was a moment never to forget, one that you don't see or feel very often.
And those of us watching knew that we had been touched, for we had seen absolute and complete joy.