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If You Can Do It, It Ain't Braggin'
Daily coverage up to and including the national championship game between USC and Texas.
Coin tosses normally don't give a team much chance to preen or intimidate, mainly because they aren't long enough to do much else than shake hands, flip a quarter and ask a question about kickoffs and end zones.
But that wasn't the case for a Texas-Texas A&M game 37 Novembers ago, when the referee turned to Longhorns defensive back Bill Bradley and asked him whether UT wanted to kick or receive. Bradley's response: "We don't give a (expletive)."
Darrell Royal, who coached the bunch that finished third in the country, recalled Bradley's response earlier this month. "He didn't do what I asked him to do," Royal said with a mischievous smile. After Bradley's comment thoroughly intimidated the Aggies in pre-game, Texas jumped to a 35-0 lead over its archrival for what would be its eighth straight win in an eventual school-record 30-game victory streak.
Flash forward to 2005 and a Texas team riding a 19-game winning streak, second longest in school history. Nothing so brazen has occurred for this year's Texas bunch, which is headed for the Rose Bowl to play Southern California for the national championship. But to say this year's Longhorn team is confident -- that's an understatement. Their talent, from the quarterback to the cornerbacks, intimidates as soon as they run out of the lockerroom. And they walk with an elusive swagger that most teams talk about but few can pull off.
Take what happened in the second half of the Missouri game, which kicked off the Longhorns Big 12 Conference schedule Oct. 1. The Longhorns were coasting, but the Tigers still were boasting. Lyle Sendlein, Texas' hardcore center with the floppy, beatnik blond hair and beard, pointed out the key linebacker on the play, as he usually does. Then he added something for good measure. He told the Tigers defense, which was backed up to its own end zone, what was coming. Henry Melton would get the ball, Sendlein promised. It would be a zone handoff to the right. He would score.
"Try and stop us," Sendlein bellowed.
"They were talking a lot," Sendlein said after a Rose Bowl practice earlier this month. "They were talking more than normal teams do."
Guard Kasey Studdard, Sendlein's running buddy, still smiles at the thought of the boast. "It was like 'OK, we own you.' "
Vince Young followed that game with a memorable braggadocio against Oklahoma. It was late in the second quarter and the Longhorns were trying to throw one more dagger play to decimate the Sooners before halftime.
As Young and the offense broke the huddle, the Sooners began shouting that Young was going to sprint out on the play. They were right. But it didn't matter enough to change the play. Young told the other 10 guys: "They can't stop us."
Young sprinted to his left. OU safety Reggie Smith temporarily was frozen in place as he tried to read the play. A wide open Billy Pittman then trotted in for the 64-yard touchdown.
Young believes the confidence started jetting skyward as soon as the Longhorns put last year's Oklahoma game, a 12-0 loss, behind them. It's no coincidence that Texas has won 19 straight games since then. He's promised that Texas won't back down when pitted against two-time defending national champion Southern California.
"We're relaxed and excited and happy," Young said of his team.
In fact, the first salvo for the season was promised last New Year's Day. That was when Young hoisted his Rose Bowl most valuable player trophy and told the crowd of 90,000-plus the Longhorns would be back in Pasadena the next January for the national title game.
'The hit list'
Of course, it's all fun when you're winning, even in those long Tuesday and Wednesday practice sessions, the ones divided into 24, five-minute periods. Pre-practice, radios and CDs are turned up to ear-splitting levels in the locker and weight rooms. And on the field, players practice, but they also entertain themselves by keeping score.
It seems the defense maintains a running list of their offensive counterparts who burned them on a play, maybe threw an extra elbow or blocked a bit excessively. In other words, the plays that made the defense look bad, the ones that drew "ooooohs" from the team. The names were written on a board in some of the defensive position meetings until someone could cross them off.
"We keep a hit list," said safety Michael Griffin. He then added a bit deviously, "we can't tell you who's on it."
Rest assured, though, "no one hits Vince -- he's off limits," Griffin adds.
The Texas defensive backs, in particular, are chatty, confident and borderline arrogant. The attitude is encouraged by their animated secondary coach, co-defensive coordinator Duane Akina, who often is shooed back to the sideline by officials during the games.
"I'm going to talk and say whatever's on my mind," said cornerback Tarell Brown. "I feel we are the best secondary in the country. Coach tells us to have a swagger, but not to get cocky."
The Longhorns secondary showed that overflowing confidence as early as the Ohio State game, Sept. 10. That's when Michael Huff and Griffin challenged Ted Ginn, the Buckeyes extraordinary gamebreaker who is thought to be the fastest player in college football, to a post-game race. Ginn declined.
Griffin got called for a personal foul for a late hit out of bounds on Ginn during a kickoff return. According to Griffin, he gave Ginn an extra nudge because Ginn had done the same to the Longhorn kicker on an earlier play.
According to the players, it's all about protecting the backs of their teammates. That's why tight end David Thomas, known for his pass-catching, spent a great part of the Texas Tech game driving blocking linebacker Sylvester Brinkley into the ground. Brinkley was one of the few defenders this season who got a clean shot on Young, and the Texas quarterback wanted one of his bodyguards to do something extra to prevent another hit.
The confident Longhorn chatter continued throughout the season. Kansas' Charles Gordon, a receiver/cornerback and one of the few two-way standouts in the game, talked trash all the way through Texas' 66-14 victory. The Longhorns gave it right back. Huff constantly told Gordon "you can't win the Thorpe playing offense." By the way, Huff won the Thorpe Award a month later to signify his status as the top defensive back in the nation.
By Texas' 70-3 victory over Colorado in the Big 12 title game, there wasn't much left to say. But the Longhorns still had fun on even the most mundane of plays.
Brown threw a block for fellow cornerback Aaron Ross on Ross' 10-yard punt return. Brown, who is the smallest defensive starter at 6-feet, 200 pounds, turned to the Buffalo he just manhandled and said: "You're too small to be playing this game."