Bill Little commentary: The Rose Bowl chronicles -- Chapter I
LOS ANGELES -- The state-of-the-art Continental Airlines jumbo jet with the video screens in the back of the seat in front of you mapped the journey...two hours and 39 minutes from Austin to LA.
And with each mile, achieved at a ground speed of over 500 MPH, the tiny airplane icon moved steadily across the country, to a touchdown at Los Angeles International Airport. Forty-five minutes later, the coaches, staff and student support staff pulled up to the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza -- the Texas Longhorns' home for the Rose Bowl game on January 4.
The Southern California skies were partly cloudy, a significant improvement from the rains which seemed to plague the area during bowl week a year ago. So much had changed since that Christmas Day arrival in 2004.
"This," Mack Brown would tell his team at a squad meeting later, "is just like the Michigan game last year...only the stakes are much higher."
Thirty-six seasons since it last finished the 1970 regular season as National Champions, Texas has a chance to play for the championship for the first time in the format of the BCS. All of that was part of Brown's speech to his team Wednesday night.
"We want you to have a fun time," Brown reminded his team. "You have a right to be proud to be here. Your coaches, the staff, and hopefully, you, should understand that."
But, Brown cautioned, there is much more to this trip than just being here.
"You have earned the right to play for the National Championship," he said. "This is the most scrutinized game in sports. In no other sport do people have a month to talk about the game. You worked to get here, now think about why you are here. Picture that moment in your mind where you can do something to help us win this football game."
The evening meeting was punctuated by stern warnings from a representative of the California Highway Patrol, and by detective Mike Winze, a 27-year veteran of the LA police department who hails from East Texas.
"I'm the self-anointed pride of Marshall, Texas," Winze told the team. "And I want you to go out and win this game for the people back home...for the guys who you played with as a kid...for the people from places like Marshall, who are looking up to you."
Winze brought the wisdom of the street combined with the understanding of a guy from back home as he cautioned the players about the high profile nature of the game, and of their visit. Brown had done the same thing, but the uniformed detective brought it home with some strong language and an authoritative warning.
It was all part of the standard opening meeting at a bowl site, where Brown has asked local police authorities to cover the areas of concerns of the particular city where the team is playing. This game, Brown and the officers both told the team, will be under the biggest microscope ever, because the whole country has anticipated this match up for most of the season.
Thursday, Texas began its practice at the massive Home Depot Center (the same facility it used last year), and both teams concluded the opening day of the bowl preparations in Los Angeles with a visit to Disneyland and its adjoining ESPN Zone.
"What we are asking every one of you to do," Brown said, "is to be accountable. For the next eight days, be unselfish, and do whatever it takes to help us win."
When practice began Thursday morning, the calendar was down to seven days.
"Figure out what your part is," Brown said. "And think about winning all week."
Thursday morning at the Home Depot Center, they began practice for the biggest game of this season, a game folks have said will be a football game for the ages. Southern Cal has won 34 straight games, Texas has won 19.
And on January 4 in the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, the two will play for the National Championship.
For the guys back home, for their school, for their coaches, for their friends, it will all be on the line. Most of all, however, for this Texas team of 2005, it is about themselves. The essence of unselfishness is manifested best in "team."
And that, more than anything, is what has brought these guys to this place, at this time.