Mack won't admit it, but OU win one to enjoy
Mack Brown wouldn't dare show that beating the team that has been his crimson letter for the last five years meant anything special to him. But deep down, it had to.
DALLAS -- Hey, we tried. We tried and failed.
We asked Mack Brown 20 different times, in 20 different ways, about the feeling of finally winning the game that has tortured him for five years. We poked and prodded and tried to peel back the Texas coach's defenses, worked for a glimpse of his inner exultation, begged for a bit of unrestrained, uncensored glee.
We didn't get it. We got plenty of hugs from players and staff, and we got some smiles. But mostly we got Roy Williams redux: a coach whose vindication would be a bigger event internally than externally.
Mack's Moment would include no public display of emotion. (Maybe he spun on his head in the locker room.) You got the feeling Brown would rather kiss a member of the Texas A&M corps of cadets than admit how good it felt -- for him, personally, not the Texas fans or the players or Bevo -- to beat the snot out of Oklahoma 45-12.
"I'm really happy that today's game wasn't about me," he said. "If we'd lost it, it wasn't going to be about me."
Ohhhh, yes it would have been. Today was all about Mack Brown, win or lose.
National championship chase? That's tomorrow's discussion. Vince Young? Nice sidebar. The coach whose career has been overly defined by the Red River Rivalry was the story.
And for once, the story is a happy one. A guy who can't seem to get anyone to notice that he's won 10 or more games the past four seasons now has the validating victory he needed.
Just don't expect Brown to wallow in it.
"As hard as this game's been on us, what we need to do, really and truly, is go back to work tomorrow and get ready for Colorado," Coach Party Pooper said. "... I don't want to be a little complacent and sit around here gloating. Let's not mess up something special."
Fine. Be that way. But what Brown wouldn't admit, his wife at least acknowledged.
"I'm sure he's just elated," Sally Brown said on the Cotton Bowl sideline, moments after the final gun and several minutes after a congratulatory hug from athletic director DeLoss Dodds. "I think he'll sleep so well tonight."
This was the ultimate must-win for Mack. Oklahoma is a shell of its former national contender self, and this is Brown's most talented Texas team. There would be no acceptable excuse for a sixth straight loss to the Sooners.
"Really and truly, we were expected to win today," Brown said. "We thought we were going to win today."
Fact is, Texas was favored in 2000, 2001 and 2002 -- and lost by a combined 71 points. The Horns lost the next two years, as underdogs, by a combined 64 points. So there was a jarring past precedent to overcome.
This game doesn't wipe the slate clean, but it does supply the final eradication to the knock that Brown can't win the big one. Beating Michigan last January in the Rose Bowl, then Ohio State last month in Columbus, then Oklahoma on Saturday -- that's a pretty solid 10 months of work.
And now, for the first time under Brown, Texas heads into the second half of the season unbeaten and at the forefront of the national title chase.
"We now have a chance to go accomplish the things that this game has cost us in the past," Brown said.
The word had always been that Brown's teams played too uptight and too conservatively on the big stage. But the 10-year contract he received from Dodds before that Rose Bowl seems to have liberated the coach and his entire program.
"When you come to a place like Texas, I don't think you know truly what you're into," Brown said. "I think I've grown into the job."
And now, apparently, he's grown into this game. Brown said on Monday that he intended to enjoy Oklahoma week, and he succeeded.
"When our guys are doing what you want them to do, it's fun," he said. "Instead of backing away from [the stakes of this game], we said, 'How lucky are we? We've got a good team and a chance to do something we haven't done.' That's exciting.
"You have to embrace that here. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy being Texas football players."
That enjoyment translated into a bolder Brown than in recent Red River meetings.
When faced with a fourth-and-1 from the Oklahoma 24 on the first possession of the game, he never hesitated: Texas was going for it. Freshman Jamaal Charles followed his stampeding linemen for 11 yards, and two plays later the Longhorns were up 7-0. In the third quarter Texas went for it again on fourth-and-short, and Young got it with a quarterback sneak.
And at the end of the first half, with the ball on the Horns' 30, up 17-6 and 55 seconds on the clock, Brown refused to play it safe. Texas was not going to sit on the ball, and as a result Young found speedy sophomore Billy Pittman all alone on a wheel route down the sideline for a 64-yard touchdown. It broke Oklahoma's back.
"When it works," Brown pointed out, "you look smarter than taking a knee."
For the first time in a long time, Mack Brown looks awfully smart five games into the season. His personal crimson-and-cream nightmare is over. The national title chase is clearly in focus. And maybe, behind closed doors, Brown is admitting that it feels damn good to be him right now.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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