The alarm clock will be set for 6 a.m., but it won't be necessary. Waking up has never been an issue for me on Gameday.
Not since I was an impressionable kid trying to keep up with my Dad as he pushed the pace to make sure we arrived at Memorial Stadium before kickoff in the late 70's and 80's under head coaches Fred Akers and David McWilliams.
Not during the years I attended UT in the 90's suiting up on Saturdays as a walk-on defensive end under John Mackovic. And never while chasing the Longhorns as an unapologetic Texas fan the past sixteen seasons under Mack Brown.
Provided my flight is on time, I should arrive in San Antonio around 9 a.m. this Monday, December 30, 2013. My best friend, Clay, who is also a former defensive lineman for UT, will hopefully be waiting for me outside baggage claim with that familiar "oh hell, here we go again" grin and a couple of cold ones to drink a toast to a good man and the end of an era as we kick off one last pre-game tailgate with Mack Brown at the helm of our mutual obsession, Texas Longhorns Football.
Since graduating in '97, Clay and I have stayed in touch largely because there are few things in life that we enjoy more (or will find any excuse to do) than attending UT football games. For the better part of Coach Brown's tenure at Texas, Clay and I have averaged attending 10 games per season, including the bowl games.
We even managed to make it to every game during the fabled championship run in 2005. Interestingly, I don't recall the final scores from many games that season but I can tell you exactly what it felt like walking out of every one of those games with another W.
Truth be told I don't remember the final scores of just about any Longhorns games I've attended the past sixteen years. The beer might have had something to do with that, but I do vividly recall the joy and excitement of being a Longhorns fan during the last decade and a half, particularly on road games.
Some of my favorite memories are of arriving in such highly charged locales as Lincoln, Columbus, Fayetteville and every Godforsaken trip to College Station. Wearing the burnt orange meant the locals could spot you coming from a mile away and rarely would let you pass by without at least letting you know in some "less than welcoming" fashion that they wished you'd just turn right back around and go home. But I loved it because I knew the more they protested the more they respected and feared the Longhorns. And I give the lion share of the credit to Mack Brown for instilling in me that confidence.
As midlife looms larger on the horizon, life's little distractions -- marriage, kids, mortgages, careers, etc. -- have rightfully conspired to increasingly lessen the number of games Clay and I can attend each season. But as many similar fan friendships that have grown stronger chasing the 'Horns can attest, there can be no complaints or regrets, only the admission that it has been one hell of a ride.
We've been so fortunate to experience first-hand wins so heartening we relished every fleeting second, futilely attempting to prolong the euphoric aftermath, and humbled with losses so painful we'd actually swear aloud that "that" was the last game we'd ever put our hearts on the line for again. Of course we also never parted ways before confirming plans to meet up before the next game.
Well because it was never only about the outcome. Obviously winning matters. We wouldn't be having this conversation if it didn't. But I honestly believe that it's not the titles and the trophies that matter most. It's the reciprocation of our love for Longhorns Football and the ability to share that affirmation with our friends and family.
To his credit, and though his efforts in making the Texas football program a perennial contender, Mack Brown made our bonds with friends, family members, and the football program we love, stronger than most who've coached before him and I expect most that will follow. And there is no higher compliment one can pay a football coach.
So it is with bittersweet emotion that Clay and I -- and 90,000 of our fellow burnt orange-clad friends -- make our way to the Alamodome this Monday to "arrive early, be loud, stay late and wear orange" for Coach Brown as he puts the final touches on his magnificent contribution to the University of Texas.
And while I'm excited about the next coaching regime and relish the opportunity to attend games with Clay for as long as we're able, upon reflection these past few weeks, I've begun to realize that I've unintentionally taken for granted the overall uniqueness of the past decade and a half and lament that it's unlikely that another run quite like it will occur again in my lifetime.
That's certainly not to say that the next coach at Texas won't be as successful or perhaps even more so than Coach Brown. Having met the man briefly on multiple occasions, I'd be willing to bet that he also hopes and expects the next coach will be more successful. Otherwise, all of his efforts to return the Texas program to a place of national relevance would go for not.
It's only to say that as the memories and emotions from this era fade with time, we should appreciate all the more the bonds that remain and the love for Texas Longhorns Football that grew all the more stronger under Mack Brown's watch.
Thank you and Hook 'em, Coach Brown.
Cory "54b" Davies