Nearly three years ago, before the rumors and flight trackers and real estate watching even had time to settle down, Charlie Strong sat between the University of Texas’ then President and then Athletic Director to introduce himself to the Longhorn faithful.
“I will ask the Longhorn football team to believe and trust in one another,” he said. “We’re going to create a family atmosphere here…It will be a program that will represent not only this great university, but it will represent the great national stage.”
There hadn’t been much to believe in since that day. Strong steered the Horns to a 6-6 record his first year, only to go 5-7 the next. Quarterback play was a mess, only exacerbated by inept play calling. In the high-rolling Big 12, the Longhorns offense sputtered, and its defense couldn’t tackle. Strong was recruiting well, but that was it. And after all, it is Texas. You better recruit well.
Then, this offseason brought a quarterback controversy. There was the fresh-faced, gamer of a freshman in Shane Beuchele, and then there was Tyrone Swoopes, the senior who had proven time and time again that he was probably better suited for tight end than quarterback. As the season drew near, Strong kept his mouth shut, but reports near the end of training camp showed that Swoopes was going to get the start. Dread crept into opening day festivities.
There are few things in the world as powerful as belief. A psychology case I read about in school comes to mind. In 1965, a group of teachers gave every student in an elementary school a test and told them that it could predict who would become the smartest kids by the end of the year. They then picked names out of hat and informed those students they expected them to improve. Eight months later, they gave the test again, and the “smart” kids’ increased more than the rest of their class.
There are dozens of other examples: Santa Claus, conspiracy theories, and religion to name a few. Believing in something keeps us from falling into a trap of cynicism; it allows us to the relief of being blissfully naïve. It’s a happier state of mind to live in, and in it, everything around you starts to look different, full of possibility. After all, what led the Minutemen to fight the British, an emperor to build the Taj Mahal, and the Wright Brothers to fly their plane other than belief? You see, the first requirement when trying to accomplish something great isn’t to actually be great. It’s to believe that you’re great.
The Longhorn team that took the field Sunday night was already there. They made it through Strong and strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer’s grueling summer workouts. When they weren’t on the field or in the gym, teammates still stuck around the facilities even just to play ping-pong. Something was happening, and they wanted to be a part of it.
It didn’t take long Sunday for the fans to hop on board too. It’s only one win—and it was as narrow a win as you’ll see—but it convinced everybody to believe again. When the defense needed a stop late in the game, they got it. Then the offense marched down Notre Dame’s throat to take the lead.
That’s how a football team plays when they know they’re going to win before they even take the field.
There will be losses and hiccups along the way, but for the first time since Colt McCoy’s shoulder turned into linguine in the National Championship, there’s reason to trust the coach, the quarterback, and the team again.
It took him three years, but Strong finally lived up to his word2. His faithful finally see his vision alongside him. That’s the hardest part. Now comes making it reality.