Mack Brown entered Floyd Casey Stadium in his favorite Texas jacket, the one with the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lining, and he pulled tight his mittens. He surveyed the scene. A lot of memories. A lot of Saturdays. He thought about his journey from the rolling hills of Tennessee, his ambitious, meteoric rise from Ames to Norman, from Chapel Hill to Austin, where he'd built programs, changed lives, antiqued, and amassed hundreds of wins.
"Steve, Chet, Bingo, El Gordo, Bob, Fred."
He called out to the officials, who were huddled together against the cold, discussing whether Case McCoy's throwing motion could be considered a balk.
He had an easy familiarity with these men. He used their first names - Steve, Chet, Fred, Bob - and their nicknames - Bingo and El Gordo - because of that friendship; Bingo was called Bingo because he played ten cards every Thursday at the Shriner's Hall while chain-smoking Marlboros and had once stabbed a man with a windshield wiper in the parking lot for calling out fake winners; El Gordo had earned his nickname by being just some fat Mexican, probably.
Mack knew these men from his years on the sideline, and even when he raged at them, he respected them. He had done dozens of small favors and kindnesses for them over the years - pictures, autographed footballs, convincing Chet's wife that she gave him the gonorrhea and not vice versa, working El Gordo's daughter's quinceanera doing balloon animals.
These men loved Mack Brown. Because Mack Brown was a good, decent man.
The officials jogged towards Brown, greeting the coach warmly, their breath visible against the frigid air.
His icy visage stopped them in their tracks.
"Well, fellas...I don't know how to say this." Brown swallowed hard. The men could see the torment and conflict on the old coach's face. He was weeping. Brown was a proud man. A man's man. Brown did not wish to be seen weeping. Such men were used poorly in prison. But Brown took a deep breath and continued.
"I expect you've heard the rumors. That this is my last game. That I'm being replaced by that mercenary midget Saban. That 'ol Mack is getting shelved. Well..." He swallowed hard. The bitter bile stuck in his throat.
The men in striped shirts gasped. El Gordo broke the silence, his words hanging frozen in the air like Lyle Lovett lyrics or maybe just a water hose that froze overnight.
"Coach, that's awful. We're stunned. You're a legend. How can it end like this?"
Ken spoke next. "We love you a lot, coach. You're a class act."
Brown nodded. He shook each man's hand and looked deep in his eyes, thanking them for their invaluable role in collegiate athletics.
Mack broke the tension with a warm smile.
"Hey, let's play a football game. Let's just remember what this is about. These kids." He gestured to the Longhorn players warming up, with tight end coach Bruce Chambers doing a tai chi kata in the foreground wearing a track suit and a cape.
With that, Mack Brown trotted off to join his team.
The officials stood there. No one wanted to say it. No one had to. But Fred did.
Fred called out to Mack: "We're going to do the right thing here. Do you understand me, coach? The right thing."
It was Fred. Fred the Mute who said it. Fred who had not spoken since the dirigible explosion and communicated only through whistles and eyebrow scrunching.
Fred had spoken.
And the steely resolve in Fred's voice nearly gave Bingo an erection.
The crowd groaned again. Penalty, Baylor Bears. The referees paced off the yardage that reversed Antwan Goodley's five yard touchdown catch, crossing the 50, eventually stopping at the Baylor 29. It was a 66 yard penalty.
Bingo switched on his field mic:
"Holding AND/OR grasping, Baylor #54. Personal foul, flaunting of convention #5. Illegal crack back block, number not important. Extra holding, #54. Personal foul, blow to the face, his own, #5. Somewhere between 10-14 men on the field, Baylor. Sideline violation, Baylor. Illegal formation, Baylor."
The crowd gasped in disbelief. As if they'd finally been told the truth that all of their teenage kids were getting laid at Bible Camp and doing incredible amounts of heroin. The Baylor players stood dumbstruck on the sideline. Ahmad Dixon clapped excitedly and did a Horns down.
"Stop clapping, Ahmad, those penalties are on us. Antwan Goodley is our teammate and we're on offense." Dejected, Dixon sat down on his helmet to do Sudoku. "Damn, man."
"That's 3rd and 71, Baylor!"
Art Briles took a bite out of his visor and threw his headset into the fifth row of the stadium.
"ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY SHITTING ME RIGHT NOW?"
Briles was very angry. It made him look even more like a dead-eyed homicide detective who was actually the serial killer all along on a bad police procedural drama. Maybe it was his beady eyes, dead stare, balding head, or cruel mouth. Or the fact that he had killed many, many people. No one could quite peg it.
"No, coach we are not. And another outburst like that and we'll add another personal foul. You'll be looking at 3rd and 86."
I don't think I have a play for that, thought Briles.
Case McCoy was confused. The official was motioning him towards the football. Baylor was huddled on the sideline for a television time out. His teammates were on their sideline. He had simply wandered on to the field to look for fire ant mounds. But artificial turf. The Baylor cheerleaders were on the field, resplendent in their modest woolens, revealing intriguing flashes of ankle and neck.
"Line up and run a play son."
"There's a timeout."
"I determine proper time outs, McCoy. Run your play."
McCoy hiked the ball to himself and began running. His feet slipped on the ice and he almost fell at the 30, but he recovered and begin to churn ahead. The Baylor players stared, confused. Had an enraged goose been trapped in a Texas uniform? And why was it running towards the end zone?
McCoy somersaulted into the end zone from the five and made snow angels in the hail. "I AM COLT," he screamed.
Art Briles looked at the scoreboard. He looked back at the official signaling touchdown. He looked back at the scoreboard. And he knew right then, with perfect clarity, that God was a freaking Methodist.
The scoreboard's lights cut through the dreary Waco sky like a lighthouse bathed in napalm lasers pulled by Apollo's chariot.
Texas- 45, Baylor- 0.
The Bears had been penalized a NCAA Record 31 times for 405 yards. Case McCoy had run for a 90 yard touchdown during a television timeout. When Baylor's Bobby Lackey snagged an errant pass and began sprinting to the Texas end zone, Chet the head linesman commandeered a policeman's horse, captured him with a hooked net, and trampled him.
The Longhorns had played a flawless game - no penalties, no turnovers, and they had capitalized on Baylor's sloppy brand of gimmicky offense. Because Baylor was SOFT. At least that's how it was explained by the broadcasters.
The postgame was pandemonium. Exuberant Texas players celebrated their conference championship along with a confused Ahmad Dixon. Disgruntled Baylor fans were chasing Fred the Mute around the end zone. And Mack Brown stood in the center of it all, taking it all in one last time. The exuberant referees approached.
There was a charismatic man, dressed impeccably, shaking Brown's hand. The new Texas AD Steve Patterson. That sonofabitch.
They ignored Patterson. "Well, coach. You went out a winner." El Gordo winked. Chet beamed.
Patterson interrupted, chuckling. "Went out? To a BCS bowl! Hell, I just re-upped him for five more years last Thursday. Mack Brown is getting this thing turned around. As evidenced by today's epic destruction of a Top 10 team!"
Brown shrugged and grinned.
Chet gasped. El Gordo hissed. Bingo began to fondle his switchblade comb. Fred The Mute scrunched his eyebrows.
Mack Brown leaned in close, so only they could hear.
"I recorded your little pregame promise to help me win the game. LBJ said never trust a man unless you have his pecker in your pocket. I got a pocket full of peckers. And I'm winning this league every year from now on. Y'all cross me and I'll send my pecker-packed pants to an irresponsible dry cleaner who may lose them or use an inappropriate amount of steam or bleach. Got it?"
The men were terrified at the prospect of their peckers being treated so roughly by a shoddy dry cleaner. They gasped again.
Mack smiled. As if he'd kissed a sweet-smelling baby.
"Y'all been Macked."