Bill Little commentary: A moment for the soul
Oct. 28, 2012
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Some people live for the moment; some moments live because of the people. All season long, Mack Brown and his co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin have insisted that the 2012 Texas Longhorns had two capable quarterbacks. Sophomore starter David Ash had pitched Texas to five wins in its first seven games. Junior Case McCoy had spent most of those games on a headset in communication with Harsin, joining freshman Conner Brewer in signaling in plays.
When he came to Texas from Boise State, Harsin described the role of the backup quarterback in his system. "He will be on the headset and play every play as if he were in the game. He has to know exactly what we are trying to do. He has to prepare as if he is going to play every down, even though he may never get into the game," Harsin said.
Every day at practice, the two quarterbacks split the offensive snaps, and both work with the No. 1 offense. All summer, as he worked in the off-season, McCoy worked hours with football strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie. He gained more than 20 pounds of muscle. He renewed his love affair with the game of football, and he committed to do whatever he could to help his teammates win. He and Ash were selected as members of the team's leadership committee, which offers input on the celebratory good days and togetherness in the moments of concern.
Regardless of how hard the coaches tried to paint an accurate picture, it was impossible for a very young team to understand the task they were facing in Saturday's trip to Lawrence. In the original Big 12, Texas visited Lawrence every four years. This year the game fell on the schedule after a rugged four-game league string that included games with Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Baylor. The fans and the media had long ago written off the Jayhawks, and despite what they had been told, the team likely was taking a collective deep breath between that gauntlet and next Saturday's visit to Texas Tech in Lubbock.
And for much of the game, that is how they played. Mack Brown had seen it before. In the much discussed victory here in 2004, Vince Young had to extract Texas from the jaws of defeat in the closing seconds, converting an unimaginable fourth and eighteen into a first down on the game winning drive that help carry the Horns to their first ever Rose Bowl appearance.
I remember my time as a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman standing in a Rice locker room in 1965 when the legendary Jess Neely's Owls (a 24-point underdog) had upset a Texas team which had been ranked No. 1 the week before. When he was asked how he could explain the fact that his team had defied the "experts" and beaten Texas, Neely looked the reporter squarely in the eye and asked in his finest Southern drawl, "Who are the ex-purts? There are no ex-purts when young boys get together and play."
Sadly, in a world where cynics and critics get mired in the morose, it is easy to diminish the joy of success. And when Texas needed a hero, all of a sudden, here came Case McCoy.
"It wasn't anything that David didn't do," he would say after the game. "We just needed to go score." He had done as Harsin had asked. He had watched and listened. He had remained committed to his school and his teammates, and had heard his head coach tell the team which was trailing at half 14-7 that they had to believe. What he found was, believing is contagious. He believed, and others believed in him.
The game has started easily enough -- in fact probably too easy -- for the Texas offense. Texas had converted a 43-yard drive on its first possession into a 7-0 lead. But when Kansas got its run game going and scored on consecutive second quarter drives, the Jayhawks took control. Four times between late in the first quarter through midway through the third, Texas started drives inside Kansas territory. One ended with a Jayhawk goal line stand at the one, the other two with interceptions. The second one of those brought Harsin, the offensive staff and Brown to take the headset off of McCoy and tell him to warm up.
Texas had the ball at its own 16 yard line when McCoy came into the game. In seven plays, he engineered a scoring drive that tied the game at 14-14 with just less than ten minutes to play. Kansas, however, answered. Grudgingly, the Texas defense surrendered 61 yards on 14 plays as the Jayhawks used seven minutes and thirteen seconds to drive to a field goal that made it 17-14.
When D.J. Monroe returned the kickoff to the Texas 30, only two minutes and twenty-two seconds remained. As McCoy and his teammates came back onto the field, Texas was seventy yards away from the north end zone. The significance was not lost on the Longhorn faithful who had been in Lawrence eight years ago. Case McCoy was driving his team toward the same place that Vince Young had made history in 2004 with a fourth down play and a touchdown pass.
But when his first pass fell just short of a possible interception, another was incomplete and the third went for only four yards, security folks were scurried into place to help prevent the KU students from rushing the field. It was a celebration that would never come.
As Case remembers it, he was in the fourth grade at Jim Ned Elementary in Tuscola and Jaxon Shipley was in the third grade at Rotan the first time the two ever played catch with a football. The early morning cold was turning into a sunshiny chill as Texas broke the huddle. Jaxon Shipley cut across the middle, toward the east side and the Texas bench. He knew if he could get open, McCoy would somehow find him. It may seem a long way from West Texas to the plains of Kansas, but for two kids who have grown up to fit into those white "storm trooper" Texas road uniforms, it really isn't very far at all. "McCoy to Shipley." Has a ring to it. And 18 yards downfield, Jaxon had a first down at the Kansas 48.
Mike Davis has embraced the fact that his middle name is "Magic," and two plays later he was streaking past the Kansas bench down the left sideline when McCoy -- with the strength of all that off-season work -- laid a perfectly thrown pass into his arms at full stride. He ran 39 yards to the three. It would be third and goal from the one when McCoy dropped back to pass after a brilliant run fake. The senior tight end D. J. Grant had drifted into the end zone all alone as the Jayhawks tried to duplicate their goal line stand of earlier in the game. Allen Field House -- Kansas' basketball arena, which is four blocks to the south -- was closer than the nearest defender as Grant cradled the victory and Anthony Fera kicked the extra point with twelve seconds remaining.
Texas had won, 21-17.
The Longhorns will take the victory and continue to work on getting better. The victory may have been a lot harder to get than it probably should have been, and it would be wrong to discount a Kansas team which fought so hard and came so close. There is nothing in sport that matches the joy of a comeback, particularly one that occurs when the odds seem against you.
The blessed ones are those who do, in fact, live for that moment and embrace that role. It is for the rest of us to celebrate them and respect them. It gives us a chance to feel good because in playing a kids' game, they have excelled, and achieved. That is part of the human spirit, which transcends to heart, and resides in the soul.