Bill Little commentary: The presents of the past
Nov. 19, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
This weekend brings two things to Austin and The University of Texas athletics. The first is the chance for a new beginning for a Longhorn football team that is trying to end its season with three straight wins. The second is the honoring of heroes of the past, as the men's and women's Longhorn Hall of Honor induct their latest classes.
The football connection is rich with some Florida roots.
First, of course, is the return of Ricky Williams, the Longhorns' 1998 Heisman Trophy winner who is now playing for the Miami Dolphins. He, along with Houston attorney Mike Perrin and Bill Wyman - whom Darrell Royal has called the best center he ever coached - will represent football at the Men's Hall of Honor induction on Friday night.
Primary for the 2010 season is the 2:30 p.m. game against Florida Atlantic, where the 4-6 Longhorns will try to take the first step in their effort to win two games within six days to even their record and earn the right to be considered for a post season bowl berth.
"Were you as prepared as you could be, and did you play as hard as you could?" James asked.
The names of the past are mostly familiar. The opponent in the football game is one of those dangerous foes that often can be overlooked and taken lightly. Mack Brown has pointed out that this 2010 team hasn't earned the right to take any opponent lightly, but that hasn't stopped the media and the pundits from discounting the Owls and looking past them to Thanksgiving night's game with Texas A&M.
For the Texas football team, that scenario is far from reality. When Mack asked the team to commit to work for 12 days starting after Saturday's loss to Oklahoma State, it included a couple of interesting things for Saturday.
The first was the introduction by defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and assistant head coach Major Applewhite to the history of Florida Atlantic and the kind of talent the Owls have been stockpiling since becoming a football playing institution just ten years ago. Both had connections with, and recruited against, the Boca Raton school when Will was at Miami and Major was working at Alabama. That also included an introduction to the Owls coach Howard Schnellenberger, whose odyssey as a head coach has produced an interesting involvement with The University of Texas.
There is a great chance that Schnellenberger is the first person ever to serve as head coach of four different teams against the Longhorns. In 1981, he brought his Miami team to Austin to play a Texas team that eventually finished second in the nation. The Longhorns took a hard-fought 14-7 victory, but the star of the day was an unknown Hurricanes' quarterback named Jim Kelly. Schnellenberger also coached Louisville in two meetings with the Longhorns in 1993 and 1994, as well as a year at Oklahoma and the previous game with Florida Atlantic in 2008.
The fact that the Hall of Honor, which was started in 1957, will be inducting eight members including the three football players Friday, is a recognition of the great history of Texas athletics. The UT Women will honor a class at a noon luncheon, and the men's event will be on Friday evening. The class will be recognized in pre-game ceremonies prior to the game.
Perrin goes into the Hall as a "vintage" selection. It's hard to believe he meets the requirement to fit in that category of having played more than 40 years ago. He was part of the beginning of one of the greatest eras of Longhorn football--that window of time in the late 1960s. As a senior linebacker in 1968, he was on the team that became famous for starting the Wishbone offense--and for the first nine wins of what would turn into a 30-game winning streak.
Bill Wyman's time at Texas followed that era. He played on teams that won three straight Southwest Conference championships from 1971 through 1973, and was the All-American center who led the way in the Wishbone for the running of the legendary Roosevelt Leaks.
Most famous, of course, of the three is Ricky Williams, who still ranks as one of the greatest running backs in the history of college football. A dozen years ago, in that game in Austin against Texas A&M, he ran his way into the annals of the sport when he became the all-time leading rusher in the history of NCAA college football at the time. He was the Longhorns' second Heisman winner, and captured every award he was eligible for and set dozens of school and national records which still stand.
Just as important, however, were the things he taught us about life. Ricky Williams, with his dreadlocks and his captivating smile, showed us that it is who a person is on the inside that really matters. He still does that. As a star for the Miami Dolphins, he constantly works through the Ricky Williams Foundation to help kids who need help. In his own way as a player on the field and a person off of it, he's touched countless lives.
As those and the other distinguished inductees, such as Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and basketball great Chris Mihm enter the Hall, we are reminded of the essence of sport. It is always about another day, another game, another chance. Like life, it is about the next, and not the last, step.
That is the final piece of Saturday's football game for the Longhorns. In the midst of what has been a disappointing season, Saturday offers that. It's a new chance to shine, to show what you can do. Amazing how sport does mimic life. That is why Saturday will be important for the 2010 Longhorns. They get to go play a game they have played since they were kids. A contest of pitch and toss, tackle and block, run like the wind and play as if the day will never end.
That is, after all, why they call it a game.