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When things go wrong?

When I played for UT, there was only a single time that we did not review the game film of our performance for learning experience. That fateful game?

The 50-7 debacle in Austin against the Baylor Bears in 1989. 

You have probably been successful in blocking that performance from your memory and moved on with life.  Since I was involved in it and had a small piece of ownership of it, I don’t have the same luxury of forgetting.  Players on this Longhorn squad will perhaps feel the same way about Saturday’s disturbing loss at the hands of UCLA.

So much time and ink has been devoted to UCLA’s last visit to Austin, I hesitate to bring it up here.  But the noteworthy point is players in the locker room prior to that contest speak of Coach John Mackovic dramatically changing the game plan immediately prior to kickoff.  Texas went out and tried to execute strategies that had gone, in large part, completely unpracticed.  The result, as we all know, created the worst loss in UT history and sealed the fate of that particular Coach Mac, clearing the way for the current.  But this last minute change of heart certainly wasn’t to blame this time around.   

This was not the look or feel of any Mack Brown coached Texas team we have ever known and loved.  Total ineptitude on offense, stupid mental lapses, careless penalties, huge special teams blunders and, perhaps most disheartening, an opposing run attack having their way with our defensive front.  As much as we would like to believe these types of days simply can’t happen, they always do.  I can only hope this game, too, stays in the can and we begin the attempt of putting this event behind us as quickly as possible.

The good and bad news is that we have but a mere six days to do repair our confidence and make certain this one stumble does not become the catalyst for a disastrous season.

The real travesty in this situation is also the biggest drag on the sport of college football in the modern era; the fact that a single mistake costs a team with aspirations for the national title their dream, with no hope of redemption.  For all practical purposes, the season is lost.

In all levels of football except for the FBS, you do have that chance for redemption.   Make a mistake, but have the ability to fix it.  Suffer an injury, but have some time to heal. 

The Dallas Cowboys could, even after their sloppy start of 0-2, may still very make the playoffs and have a run at that daunting task of being the first team to play the Superbowl on their home turf.  I know, you probably disagree, but that’s a discussion for a different time.  Hell, even my son’s 8 year-old flag football team can change strategy and overcome an opening day loss and vie for that holy grail of a YMCA title.  But not so with our beloved Longhorns.  The only trip to Glendale they can salvage is to line up in the Fiesta Bowl against a yet to be determined foe, but one not named Alabama. 

The irony in that realization is perhaps that exact destination is just where I, and many other orangebloods, expected them to be over the New Year’s holiday.  Getting there however, given yesterday’s disappointment, might be harder than winning the title itself.

How exactly do you regroup and refocus a team coming off such a huge letdown and adequately prepare them for the biggest rivalry game of the season?  How can you change the ultimate prize of the season from a national championship ring to a run at the Big XII title, or perhaps just for pride alone?

It’s at this turning point in a season where you find out the true value of the leadership of a team.  Mack Brown has proven on numerous occasions that he is, in fact, the best man for the job of rebuilding a team around a new vision and keeping focus on the true prize of any sports organization, winning the game in front of you.  Not because it represents a rivalry or because it’s the next step to something bigger.  Instead, to win because that’s the only thing you control at the time.  All other factors will have to play out without our influence, and then we reset for the following week’s task… win again.

In 1989, we didn’t have time to recover from the wounds Baylor inflicted.  We lost a hard fought battle to Texas A&M the following week and stayed home to watch the bowl games on TV.  But we used the bitter taste that loss left behind, and an overall sense of controlled anger, to come together as a group that summer and launch a season which I’m sure many do choose to remember; the 1990 “Shock the Nation Tour” which brought the Southwest Conference title back to Taxes after a 7 year hiatus. 

The fate of the 2010 Longhorns, though?

 I’m going to be bold here and predict Texas does rally and find a way to beat OU in Dallas.  Might not be pretty, mind you.  But at this point, I’ll be all the more proud of gritty Texas wins against any opponent, than Ohio State fans should be with a cake walk against Eastern Michigan. 

We have the talent on the field needed to win, we have the leader on the sidelines to refocus and reenergize, and we have the backing of the best school and the best fans in the country.  Now we just need to accomplish the hardest task in sport; shaking off a dream crushing loss and getting back to winning ways against our biggest rivalry in a very short period of time.  While I will understand if they fall short, I will also be all the more proud Longhorn fan when they do.

Go ‘Horns!