College football is what it is because of the memories - those tucked carefully with the millions of fans who are given the gift to remember.
Nov. 26, 2011
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
COLLEGE STATION - Everyone thought that final Texas-Texas A&M football game on Thanksgiving Night would be about memories.
Instead, it was about dreams.
Case McCoy was 14 years old the first time his brother, Colt, came to Kyle Field in College Station as a member of the 2005 Longhorn team. He was just two years removed from seven years of grueling treatment for a rare auto-immune disease called scleroderma that had begun when he was five.
"I have dreamed of playing in this game for a long time," he would say late Thursday night.
Justin Tucker used to go with his dad to Westlake High School when he was a kid, kick the football at the uprights on the football field, and imagine one final swing of his leg to win the game for Texas against Texas A&M.
And somewhere along the way, "make believe" and "play like" were transformed to a surreal reality on a night when the defense played incredibly well against a really good Texas A&M team, and dreams transcended hope, and wove their way into believing.
For much of the game, Manny Diaz' defense had fought tenaciously and successfully to protect their goal line against a Texas A&M offense that has been as good as any in the country this season. After the Aggies scored on their opening drive, the UT defense limited Texas A&M to four field goals. They intercepted three passes, including one which Carrington Byndom returned 58 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter. Led by seniors Emmanuel Acho, Blake Gideon and Keenan Robinson, they recorded eight tackles for a loss. Until the final Texas A&M scoring drive of 68 yards, they had given up only 260 total yards and one touchdown for the game. In fact, in the final statistics, removing the first and last Aggie drives, the Longhorn defense allowed only 193 yards on 68 snaps of the ball.
Still, that valiant effort hung in the balance when Texas A&M scored with 1:48 remaining in the game to take the lead at 25-24. But Diaz and his crew had one arrow left to shoot, and they turned it loose on one of the three most important plays in the series' final game. As the Aggies went for two, Texas went for the throat. Aggie quarterback Ryan Tannehill had barely gotten the snap when Acho and Keenan Robinson came untouched on a full gallop blitz. As Tannehill rolled right, running for his life, he spotted a receiver at the right edge of the end zone. But Kenny Vaccaro slowed the intended target's progress, and Adrian Phillips stepped in front and knocked the ball away.
"At that moment," Mack Brown would say later, "I knew we were going to win the game."
It had been two years since the last of those clutch comebacks that had become a trademark of Texas. Memories of Vince Young's run against Kansas, the two Rose Bowl wins, the victory in the Fiesta Bowl over Ohio State, and last second game winning field goals by Dusty Mangum, Ryan Bailey, and Hunter Lawrence seemed a distance away. Longhorn magic, it seemed, had been on vacation for awhile.
For most of the game, the Longhorns had been trapped deep in their own territory. Positive field position had been non-existent. Texas had managed only 189 yards on offense against those odds, and now, here they were, back at their own 29-yard line, with just 1:48 left in the game.
Dr. Ruben Pizarro, who does the Longhorns' Spanish language broadcast, has given Longhorn players fun nicknames in Spanish during his years with the team, and at the UCLA game he came up with one for Case McCoy.
Harry Houdini was a famous escape artist in the 1930s, and that's what Ruben thought of when he saw McCoy against the Bruins. He named him after Houdini and called him "El Mago" - the magician. Locked deep in their own territory for most of the game, it was time for the Longhorns to escape.
Nothing that had occurred to that point foresaw what would happen next. Mack Brown remembers telling McCoy, "It's your time. God has given you another chance."
It was first down, just inside Texas A&M territory when it happened. McCoy rolled left, then spun to an open middle of the field and began running.
"It was instinct," he would say. In the stands, Brad and Debra McCoy watched as their youngest son, who had gone through so much as a child, began to run. Twenty-five yards down field, he was hit by one, then two, then another and another Aggie. Four finally surrounded him, trying desperately to pull the ball from the iron-lock grasp of his right arm. But little boys who dream don't give up easily, and neither did Case McCoy. The kid's never quit in his life, and he wasn't about to then. When the play ended at the Texas A&M 23 yard line, twenty-eight seconds remained. Justin Tucker was in range.
Texas stopped the clock with three seconds showing, and Tucker, along with his kick team including deep snapper Alex Zumberge and holder Cade McCrary, came onto the field. The jumbotron at the south end of the field loomed over a stadium now totally involved in emotion. Texas A&M called the obligatory timeout to freeze the kicker as he lined up for a 40-yard kick into a soft breeze, but it served no purpose. Justin Tucker was frozen in time, lost in his moment with his dad so long ago.
It was a perfect kick, it was a joyous celebration, and an historic series finished with an ending for the ages. Texas had won, 27-25. Big games do make interesting heroes, and history will place this one with the best. And when they remember, they will think of two little kids and their teammates who grew up to be big boy heroes, all part of one of the more valiant efforts ever by a Texas team. Never, in the 118 years of the rivalry, had it been decided on the game's final play.
In the locker room after the game, as the celebration had wound down and the interviews were over, Case McCoy sat unwinding the wrappings that had covered his body. His field and sweat stained No. 6 jersey lay nearby. But his mind was no longer on the events in the once-maroon filled cavern outside.
"We've got Baylor next week," he said. "That's all I am thinking about right now."
In a way, it was the fitting comment to close the chapter. College football is what it is because of the memories - those tucked carefully with the millions of fans who are given the gift to remember. History is huge there. But most of all, college football is about those who play it, the young men who come of age in a myriad of circumstances. It is they who dream, and they who do. They may be pieces of adults who both thrill and frustrate us, but it really is their world - their moment, and their time.