Nov. 22, 2008
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
Much of the last two weeks, as Texas beat Kansas and Oklahoma and Texas Tech waited to play each other, has been spent in "what if" speculation. It is a manifestation of what the folks who argue for the BCS as the means to decide the end absolutely love. If you wanted interest and conversation, you got it.
And as the Longhorns take some time on their open date before Thanksgiving Night's game with Texas A&M, it is interesting to ponder the options, and reflect on options past.
And just to show you how much can change and the things that can happen before the final gun is sounded, it is worth a look at history to help us understand the present.
Almost 40 years later, everybody remembers the "Game of the Century," the famous battle in Fayetteville where No. 1 Texas came from behind in a storybook finish to beat No. 2 Arkansas, 15-14, and win the Longhorns' second National Championship.
To be sure, it is etched in memory. President Nixon in the dressing room…James Street to Randy Peschel…Darrell Royal's gutsy fourth down call…a critical two point conversion…the cold, foggy day that would give way to snow flurries. In its own way, that game in 1969 fits absolutely into the surreal category.
But history does not readily reflect the events of this coming weekend, 39 years ago.
The schedule was nearly the same. On November 22, 1969, Texas had an open date, preparing for its final regular season game with Texas A&M, only in College Station, on Thanksgiving.
Texas had won its first National Championship in 1963, and while Royal's unique Wishbone offense was pounding out victory after victory, the idea of being involved in a game for the National Championship seemed remote.
Ohio State was the reigning defending national champ, and in the day when the title was awarded before the bowl game, all the Buckeyes had to do was dispose of rival Michigan on November 22 to secure their second straight crown.
It was a time when the NCAA television package restricted the airing of the vast number of games we see today, and it was long before satellites could bring the world to wherever in the world you were. In Austin, the Longhorn players were going about their business on that Saturday. Some were watching a "game of the week," which had nothing to do with what was happening in the Big Ten Conference.
But when Texas fullback Steve Worster heard the news flash on his car radio, he almost had a wreck. In the brand new Jester Center, one wing of which had opened that year as the "home of the Horns," cheers erupted when the shocking score was shown on television. Michigan, under new head coach Bo Schembechler, had beaten Woody Hayes' juggernaut, 24-12.
Suddenly, Texas was No. 1, but the Longhorns had regular season games with Texas A&M and then Arkansas remaining.
The Longhorns crushed the Aggies, 49-12, setting up the meeting in Arkansas.
That was the most dramatic of the numerous reminders of caution that are available as you try to figure out tomorrow, today.
In 1983, Nebraska and Texas were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 from the second week of the season until the bowl game. The two teams were so powerful, so far ahead of their competition, that television networks even toyed with the idea of trying to get the NCAA to allow them to play each other in the first ever "National Championship game" after both had won their bowl games.
Problem was, it never happened. Texas waited all season for the Cornhuskers to stumble, but when the fateful bowl game day came, the Longhorns fell to Georgia, 10-9, and Miami tied Nebraska that night in the Orange Bowl and won the title.
Most recent among the musical chairs for Texas came in 2001. The Big 12 championship game was expected to be a showdown between two old Big Eight rivals, Oklahoma and Nebraska. The Longhorns beat Texas A&M in College Station on Friday after Thanksgiving to finish its regular season at 10-1, and the Horns had virtually sewed up a trip to a BCS bowl.
On the bus ride home to Austin, the staff and team listened incredulously as Colorado stunned Nebraska to win the North Division. Then, the next day, Oklahoma State upended Oklahoma. Suddenly, the championship game a week later would match Colorado and Texas.
The day of the game, further upsets suddenly thrust the Horns into a position where a win would have put them in the National Championship Game against Miami in the Rose Bowl. But Colorado upset Texas, and Nebraska, which had been trounced by Colorado, went to the big game instead.
Within a week, Texas had gone from a second place division finish and a lock for a BCS berth to zone champion, playing for the league title, and finally, playing for a chance to go to the National Championship. And when midnight came that Saturday, Cinderella had turned into a pumpkin, and the Horns were headed back to the Holiday Bowl.
All of that is why Mack Brown has been so adamant with his team about concentrating on the one thing they can control, and that is playing well and beating Texas A&M. In an era where anything can happen in college football (and generally does), it may be fun to speculate, but it is also futile.
I have told this story before, but it is worth repeating here:
In 1965, Texas was in much the same position it faced earlier this year after the Texas Tech game. The Longhorns had been ranked No. 1 in the nation for three weeks when they played No. 3 Arkansas in Fayetteville.
The Hogs jumped to a 20-0 lead, and Texas-much as this 2008 crowd did-fought valiantly back, erasing the deficit and taking a 24-20 late in the game before the Razorbacks drove the length of the field to win, 27-24-almost a mirror image of the events in Lubbock earlier this month.
The next week, Texas played Rice, coached by the legendary Jess Neely, and the 24-point underdog Owls upset the Longhorns.
In the dressing room after the game, a sports writer gushed at Neely, "Coach, how do you explain this? The experts had you a 24-point underdog, and you won."
To which Neely, in his finest dripping southern drawl answered, "Who arhr the ex-purts? Are you an ex-purt? (to which the cringing writer shook his head). There arhr no ex-purts when young boys get together and play."
That, my friends, pretty well sums up the pondering task before us over the next couple of weeks. And that is why they play the game.