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Great Expectations

He was slobbering all over himself, which I thought a little odd for someone with only two drinks under his belt. Normally he was sane and could hold his booze.  

No, this person was a football fan counting down the 24 hours before the first full Saturday of the season. He’d been panting since the first of August, feeding on every sliver of data the dog days could provide. Objective: he has none - forget it. He hadn’t been objective since the Fiesta Bowl. He had those glassy eyes, cut crystal reflecting the hopes and glories of the new season: 2009. If greatness was measured in slobber, this was one for the ages.

"Your days of lying around and pulling tongue all night are over!"

Your days of slinging insults to Okies and the prepuce-encrusted gators in a far pond infested and stirred by fork-tongued snakes and demented Notre Dame beautiful dreamers are over.

Your days of enduring aggies without a clue - or an offense or a defense - are flowing out to sea into an oblivion of monologue are over.

Hitch up the wagons, boys, and you girls get those pom-poms straight and check that damn elastic. Don’t need no sideshow when the real show is about to begin.

For as easy as 2005 seemed, there were still games when the future became blurry and the heroes of the day had to prove their real mettle. It wasn’t the dogfight of 1963 when nothing came easy, and the road was new at every twist and turn. The Horns had never been there before…nor had their fans. Fear rode through the stadiums of the Southwest Conference as the Horns proved their strength and determination as their cleats seem to dig into the very edge of oblivion. They worked their way up from #5 to #1. OU had beat the early #1, USC, and then Texas had crushed the Sooners, 28-7, with passing, of all things. And just a little defense, heh heh.  

Outside of Texas the press didn’t think the Horns were really #1 material, and as the Longhorns struggled through the conference gauntlet they didn’t quite realize the task was more like dealing with crazy relatives than top-ranked footballs teams, for those were few and far between (OU was it). The last six games had victory margins of 4, 4, 5, 7, 17 and 2 points. The season really came down to Baylor and A&M, the first in Austin and the last in a muddle green-painted miasma they called Kyle Field. With Baylor in the red zone, a Duke Carlyle interception saved the 7-0 victory. And an interception that wasn’t - the one the Brazos boys still scream about in their recurring dreams where the aggie safety slides out of the end zone on the back of a sheep - Texas then scored the winning TD in the mud, the blood and the tears for a 15-13 triumph. Then there was the pretty boy, the Heisman Trophy winner leading a Navy team ballyhooed and toasted by the eastern press so much they couldn’t get the lipstick of his ass. But Scott Appleton took care of that, rubbing Roger Staubach’s derriere into the turf of the Cotton Bowl until it was green and chagrined as the one-fingered typists on the east coast.

Expectations were high again in ’64, repeat time, but it didn’t happen thanks to the damn Hogs, although the Horns whipped #1 ranked Joe Willie and The Bear and set up even more expectations for ’65. My class, my time. But 1965, 66 and 67 were the doldrums. The offense became stale, the defense lost Nobis after ’65 and sadness crept into our hearts, the kind that comes with 6-4 seasons.

1968 proved to be very much like 2008. The wishbone got off to an inauspicious start and Superbill Bradley just didn’t have the kind of skill set needed. Bradley was like this year’s John Chiles, a great talent waiting to find a new position in which flourish. With a 20-20 tie to Houston and then a fumbling, bumbling day at Tech which resulted in a 31-22 sobering loss, Darrell Royal turned over the keys to the new hot rod to James Street. Bradley went to receiver, then to safety where he found a real home. The Horns dispatched the Okies, OSU and then OU, and soon were rushing for record-setting numbers. No defense in the country had a clue about how to stop them.

So, in 1969 everyone had a pretty good bead on the championship. With a cool hand in Street to guide the machine, with fine running backs, great kicking and a stifling defense, it was time to bust some ass. Very much like now. Not only did the rushing and scoring records continue to fall, at the end of the season, the second-team offense was the #32 scoring team in the nation, with the first team #1. When you see old timers eye glaze over about ’69, the wishbone is the reason: it was a tsunami sweeping across the land and the great herd of the Longhorns were leading the way. And with slobber flying all over the place, we did it again in 1970 right up to the bowl game, when the defense finally caught up with the wishbone and key injuries hamstrung the Horns.

The Arkansas game had been moved by ABC to the end of the season as a fitting finale for centennial year of football in ’69 and the network’s hope of #1 versus #2 was justified in the end, with a truly great game. You know, I never worried about losing, even down 14-0 at the half. I knew the Horns would find a way: that what champions do. I had great respect for the Hogs, this was one of their finest teams ever; they were local legends with songs and stories to their credit and damn fine football players. They had ever advantage up in the hills…and they still were beaten. There was no doubt.  

Before all the celebrating and the roosters start strutting around, first comes the fighting. While this year has the prospect to be a fine team, with excellent players on the field and unknown Saturday heroes hiding in the wings, it would be a grand presumption to think this will be easy.  It won’t be. The Horns will have to earn it. Saying "We’re Texas" is easy; proving it will be something else. The best asset the Horns have right now is that they are focusing outward. As Steve Wooster later said about the ’69 team, they were not very emotion and were very business-like about the games. This edition seems to share that outlook. If they can execute the offense and sustain a strong defense, the future is there for the taking.

I’m not emotional about this team either, neither high nor low and won’t be until kick off. Just waiting, steely eyed, with a hint of a smile, hoping these Horns can endure 12 weeks in the frying pan and then be ready to jump right in the fire come the Rose Bowl.

Colt achieved what he has by being a man of action. He wasn’t pushed by the great expectations of a five-star athlete; he earned it by working every day. Colt’s ethic of endurance and execution, of firm leadership and direction, is what propels this 2009 Longhorn squad. It’s his team and he can take it all the way. 

Of all the attributes of football, the key ones are endurance and perseverance. They are the backbone of champions.

It’s about time to strap it on. What are your real expectations? For those with a long history, how does this season feel compared to prior years?

Tomorrow will be a great day.

Hook ‘em!