Oct. 9, 2011
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
DALLAS - It was prophetic that Pastor Rickie Rush brought an old wagon wheel to the chapel service of the Texas Longhorns on Friday before the Texas-Oklahoma game on Saturday. It was a wheel, he said, that he had been carrying with him everywhere he goes lately.
The highly successful preacher at the 20,000 member Inspiring Body of Christ Church in Dallas takes the wheel along to make a point. A former high school friend of Longhorn assistant coach Bruce Chambers, Rush has overcome paralysis and a diminutive stature to become a dynamic speaker and minister.
The wheel is weather-worn, but Rush uses the spokes and the hub to make life's points. And for emphasis on Friday, he tied a bandana at the top of the wheel, and then rolled it forward.
"Life," he had said, "is like this wheel. Right now you are rolling, but you will find there are bumps in the road. The bandana represents the good times you are having right now. As it rolls, it will be at the bottom of the wheel. Does that mean it is gone? No, it simply means it will be coming around again, and you will be at the top. The good times will always come around again.
And then he addressed life's challenges: "What would you do, if you could do anything in the world, and knew that you could not fail?"
The answer, of course, was, "do it anyway."
All of which leads us to Saturday's football game in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma. Like a kid brother who would like to whip his big brother, Texas tried, and failed, to see if youth and enthusiasm could whip age and experience. It wasn't a case of the Longhorns' lack of effort, it was more the simple fact that on this day, Oklahoma played superbly.
You have heard the story before of the conversation between Longhorn legend James Street and his equally legendary son, Huston, after Huston's Westlake football team lost to Cedric Benson and company in the state championship football game.
"Were you as prepared as you could be, and did you play as hard as you could?" James had asked. When the answers were both "yes," he then said, "Then walk across that field and shake their hands and congratulate them, because that day, they were the better team."
In retrospect, the events of the day seemed to reflect one fact about the game that even the best intentions and preparations cannot overcome. Priest Holmes, the former Longhorns running back who went on to become one of the best ever in the NFL is now an analyst on the Longhorn Network's postgame show. In the press box Saturday, he said the thing the Longhorns had trouble solving was "the speed of this particular game."
You can practice it, you can hear about it, but the only way you learn it is to live it. And when a young team sees it for the first time, it sometimes is almost impossible to adjust. It is important to note that Mack Brown has often quoted Darrell Royal about judging the performance of a day. There are, and were, individuals who played their best games. They are the spokes of the wheel. If enough spokes hold - even if some fail - the wheel can go on. The wheel fails when not enough spokes hold their stability.
Senior running back Fozzy Whitaker gave the Longhorns one of their brightest moments in the game with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Junior defensive end Alex Okafor and several defenders had outstanding games, and while the result of the whole was not good, players on both sides of the ball did enough good things for the coaches to see an opportunity to eliminate mistakes and get better. Senior punter-kicker Justin Tucker was excellent, hitting on a 49-yard field goal attempt and averaging 44.6 yards per punt. It was Tucker who stood at the dressing room door as the Longhorns came off the field after the game and exhorted them to, "get your heads up. We've got a big game next week!" Others encouraged, "freshmen, remember this. Remember how it feels."
That, perhaps, is the most important fact to understand. Losses, particularly in rivalry games, bother fans and observers, but nobody hurts like the team and the coaches. But lesson number two in the school of hard knocks is that when you get knocked down, you have to get back up. That's why the Longhorns have a 24-hour rule. After Sunday's film review, the game is recorded as a moment of success or a lesson learned, regardless of its outcome. The Texas-Oklahoma game, with the demise of the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry this year, takes full center stage as the biggest game of the year. It has always been that for the Sooners. It is part of the fiber of the state of Oklahoma. And as time progresses, it will be important for UT to not only deal with the magnitude of the game prior to mid-season, but understand the implications of what is ahead.
In the days before these two became conference partners, the game was a showcase where, afterwards, each team went away to determine its own success in its own league. Now, it is an early league game in a ten-team conference. For both teams, there is still much to do.
That is particularly true in this season. Where Oklahoma may have played as a juggernaut Saturday, there are a bunch of Big 12 challengers out there who will take both the Sooners and the Longhorns to the limit. Few expected Texas to be 4-0 and No. 10 in the country after coming from nowhere in the early season. Where Texas came into the game Saturday with enthusiasm and high hopes, Oklahoma was a decided favorite, and won decisively. That should not surprise.
This "brick by brick" season has been all about reconstruction, and there are days in that business where a rainy day comes, and the work is delayed. Then, you go back to work. There are no easy losses - whether in the last seconds or in a blowout. A loss is a loss. The key, as Mack has often said, is to not let one loss beat you twice. After a month away from Austin, Texas gets to play at home Saturday against a very good Oklahoma State team. It is a challenge, and an opportunity, for the team and the legion of Texas fans.
The lesson of Rickie Rush's wheel is important here, because his imagery includes life as the wheel, the spokes as the team or the people around you, and the hub as the all-important center of self. It is in that space where, for everything to work, you have to keep moving.
That is why he carries the wheel with him. In its turning, it is sometimes blocked and goes up and down hills - each spoke sharing the effort, and the speed of the other. Its only promise is in its consistency, and the fact that if you keep it working, the good times will roll around to the top again. And there, you decide if you are willing to try something, even if some judge your effort futile.
It is, after all, your wheel.