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A Little Puzzle

Football season has officially arrived. And so has Bill Little, ever eager to confuse and enrage with his down-homey, sentimental musings on Texas football. This week, Bill focuses on the oft-discussed similarities of football, jigsaw puzzles and obstetrics.

Bill Little commentary: The puzzle
The 2010 team is a puzzle. You know what it should look like, but you still have to get the pieces to fit.

Sept. 5, 2010

Bill Little, Texas Media Relations

HOUSTON -- On the day that Jake Little (the youngest grandchild in the Little family) was choosing to come into this world in a delivery room in a southwest Austin hospital,

Dang. That's a pretty specific decision for a fetus to make.

...we sat in the waiting room working on a puzzle.

Hospital waiting rooms! Jigsaw puzzles! Sitting!

Take note, aspiring writers. That's the kind of intrigue that grabs your readers' attention from the get-go.

A thousand pieces or more it was, and some of them had to be tried all sorts of ways to make it work. The folks that made the puzzle had provided the beautiful picture of what it was supposed to look like, but we had to figure out how to get it, and young Jake, to come out just right.

The medical staff made Bill and his family figure out how to deliver the baby?

That's the way it is with season openers. You know what it looks like, and you may even know how to solve it. But you still have to get the pieces to fit.

Don't boss me, Bill.

The 2010 season opener against the Rice Owls in Reliant Stadium was one of the most anticipated inaugural appearances in recent years. For almost eight months to the day, Texas football and its young quarterback Garrett Gilbert had been frozen in time. It was like when we were kids and went to the ten cent movie on Main Street in Winters.

We did that? Honestly, I don't recall ever going to the movies with you, Bill.

...Each Saturday there was an episode of a western serial, and you had to wait until next week to see how your hero escaped impending disaster--kinda like the TV dramas of today.

Now, it was time to push the play button.

They had a play button at the ten cent movies?

To those who have never played it and never lived it, football seems a simple game. But when your life depends on what happens in and around a traveling entourage of 150 or so folks, it is the puzzle that occupies your time before the baby comes.

That is such an astute observation. It never occurred to me before, but it makes so much sense. Seriously. Just think about all the times in the past when your life has depended on what happens in and around a traveling entourage of 150 or so folks. Okay, now try to remember what you did before the baby came. You occupied your time with a puzzle, right? I mean, honestly, what else would you have done in that situation?

Bill has such keen insight into the human condition. It's almost eerie.

The hero this time was George Wynn, the Assistant Athletics Director for Football Operations, whose job it is to coordinate road trips. On Thursday, George and his right hand man, former Longhorn DT Marcus Tubbs, had journeyed to Houston and back to solidify operations at the team hotel near Hobby Airport.

Operations solidified.

By the time George got back to Houston on Friday morning, he learned that a generator fire at the hotel had rendered it unable to handle the rooms and the meals for the Longhorns.

Operations liquefied.

Fortunately, thanks to George's experience as a travel coordinator for folks such as the Harlem Globetrotters as well as the Longhorns and other teams -- he found an option.

A water pail full of confetti?

...To put it in perspective, the last time Texas had a problem like this on the road was in College Station when the team had to go without a pregame meal because the cook overslept on Thanksgiving morning in 1999.

This time it worked out better. Wynn was able to receive help from the Westin Galleria Hotel, which accommodated the team almost seamlessly.

In a game, Mack calls that "sudden change," and the team took it in stride.

I've honestly never seen the Westin Galleria Hotel - or any Westin hotel, for that matter - accommodate a team during a football game.

The primary trademark of Brown's Texas teams has been family, and family means lives are touched -- in great and sad ways.

Bill, please use this doll to show us where your family touched you.

...On Friday night, kicker Justin Tucker, who was about to assume the field goal kicking duties for the first time in his career, learned that a good friend from high school had died in a car wreck.

In a microcosm of America, the Longhorns have lots of family connections to the military.

That's all fine and good. But what about in the real America?

...The team carries American flags as it enters the field at games to show their support for those in service to the nation. In a show of hands at the team meeting on Thursday, Equipment Manager Chip Robertson collected the names of players who have relatives in the military. Fozzy Whitaker and Dustin Earnest were chosen as the first flag bearers. On the road, the Horns will also carry a Texas flag, and its inaugural carrier was Eddie Jones.

Which brings us to the game itself.

Seamless transitions like that are a Bill Little trademark.

...Eddie Jones, a defensive end who had outdone himself in a fun post-practice basketball three-point shooting contest after practice on Thursday,

Unlike most post-practice shooting contests, this one was held after practice.

...proved he can catch the ball as well, as he led the team in kickoff returns when Rice chose to avoid kicking to speedsters D. J. Monroe and Marquis Goodwin.

A crowd of over 70,000 -- the largest to see a Rice-Texas game in Houston in almost 50 years -- was decidedly burnt orange, and what it -- and the rest of the country got to see -- was a newborn accompanied by both labor pains and growing pains.

Jesus. I hope that was just a metaphor.

When expectations are as high as they are now at Texas, they often surpass reality. It is one of those quandaries --

That's what it is! It's one of those "quandaries!"

...logic tells you to be patient, while emotion wants a quick segue to the half-a-hundred offenses and shutout defenses of the finished puzzles of recent eras.

This is just apologist horseshit. Bill would have us believe that good Texas teams have routinely struggled in the season opener. Not true. Since 2002, the Horns' performance in the first game of the season has been a stunningly accurate predictor of the team's eventual success.

Okay, sorry for the digression into actual substantive college football analysis. We now return to the regularly-scheduled sophomoric mockery.

Coaching is a fun profession because it is challenging. And coaching can be a really hard profession because it is challenging.

And coaching is a profession because it is a fun challenge. But coaching is really hard fun because it is challengingly professional. And coaching can be a professional profession because it is fun and a hard challenge.

You coach because you love kids, and you also coach because you love the game.

Don't fucking tell me why I do what I do, Bill!

And the game is important, and offers its greatest rewards, because of the puzzle.

The one with the beautiful picture provided by the folks that made the puzzle? I already worked that one in a hospital, with a wandering band of 150 folks.

Mistakes cause frustration. The piece of the puzzle you thought fit didn't work.

Don't blame me for your jigsaw puzzle struggles, Bill. I had nothing to do with it.

...Mistakes also underscore the importance of the piece, every bit as much as the finished product.

And that inscrutable platitude underscores the meaninglessness of this piece.

...Pre-season work and evaluation emphasized what this team "can" be. That, then, is about the potential -- which Coach Royal once described as meaning "you ain't done it yet."

In the game in Reliant, a whole lot of really good things happened. Flashes of brilliance formed far more of a highlight reel than a collection of "what if" plays. Most of all, for Texas, it was an opening win. Mack was quick to point out to his team that while a lot of things were going to have to get fixed, you should never underestimate or under appreciate the value of an opening game win.

Mack Brown told the team that I shouldn't underestimate the value of an opening game win?

In the week that will come, rest assured that the team will be reminded over and over again that they have achieved a place at Texas where excellence is expected, and there are no excuses. It will be the blending of the "attaboys" and the "you are better than that."

In other words, it will be the attaboysyouarebetterthanthat.

It has been almost eight months since the Longhorns of 2009 seemed freeze-framed on that field in Pasadena.

At first, I thought Bill was using this "freeze-frame" idea figuratively. But I'm starting to believe that Bill inadvertently hit the "pause" button on his DVR at some point during the fourth quarter of the BCS National Championship Game and is now convinced that he controls the progress of space and time through the magical box in his living room.

...Many of the key participants who helped bring them there are gone, a celebration of the unique nature of the ever-evolving and revolving game of student athletes in college football.

And what a celebration that can be! In fact, "The unique nature of the ever-evolving and revolving game of student athletes in college football" was the theme for my senior prom.

The 2010 team is in the midst of the puzzle. New players, new schemes -- all got their first test against a live opponent on Saturday.

A couple of years ago, as we took turns laboring over that puzzle, Jake Little and his mom were busy with their work. Finally, near the end of the day, the puzzle was finished. In the labor and delivery room, after a lot of hard work and effort, the baby came out just fine.

Wait - the puzzle story that Bill based this entire pointless column on is two years old? Bill found that unremarkable anecdote about the time he worked a jigsaw puzzle in a hospital waiting room so entertaining that he saved it in his back pocket, waiting for just the right opportunity to share it with the world, for two years???

It's hopeless. Everything I'm trying to accomplish is a farce. A joke. A futile exercise in logic, reason and rhetorical pedantry. Nothing will stop this man from subjecting us to weekly Dream Wagon joyrides through the sunny streets of Vapidville, USA.

You win, Bill. You win.