Ever have one of those “Holy cow!” moments? I did, at approximately the 12:00 mark of the first quarter in the Jan. 7, 2010 BCS National Championship game between Alabama and Texas.
I am talking about that singular moment, frozen in time for Longhorns fans everywhere. It was the moment the world saw Colt McCoy, after absorbing a solid shot to his throwing shoulder on the fifth play of the game, come jogging out toward the sideline signaling with his left hand, right arm dangling limp, lifeless beside him.
It was at that moment I had an epiphany as a 150 year-old quote came to mind: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way."
After reading it again, I wondered aloud if Charles Dickens had a Nostradamus moment when he wrote his 1859 classic, A Tale Of Two Cities .
Longhorns past and present all knew the story, and they knew, by God, that it was not supposed to end this way.
I mean, it was as if Odin had reached his mighty hand down and plucked up McCoy (a gridiron warrior for the ages, decorated beyond compare, surely worthy of his legacy in Texas and in collegiate lore) and brought him straight to Valhalla! My mind was racing, and the analogies were flowing.
And so, in a flash, one legendary career was over, and one promising career was beginning, albeit about eight months earlier than anticipated.
Please understand this in no way means to undermine anything our brave fighting service men and women in uniform have, are, or will do in the future, but football is often compared to war and combat and, thus, so, too will I do here.
In football, as in combat, when one leader falls, another must follow and take his place, “step up”, if you will, and lead his team/platoon. And so it was no different that fateful Thursday night when a young, true freshman quarterback named Garrett Gilbert stepped onto the field in Pasadena, California.
In this instance, however, it was like watching a revered general, whose decorations and the respect of his men had been earned on the field of battle, being replaced by a young, wet-behind-the-ears “butter bars” lieutenant just out of West Point.
For those who have served, you understand the Dickens quote even more now.
So, on came young Master Gilbert who, in his defense that night, though having been physically trained, was not properly prepared emotionally for the events which unfolded that night. Then again, how many freshmen truly are?
It was similar, in a way, to exactly four years ago when, after winning a national title, Texas fans were asking how a freshman (McCoy) was going to replace the greatest QB in Texas history, in Vince Young, a man who went 30-2 as a starter for the Longhorns?
But, this time, it all happened so fast, and so differently. A fallen hero being replaced by…who?? So, for those who do not know him, a brief introduction, if I may?
Make no mistake, folks. Garrett Gilbert, like McCoy, and like Young before him, was born and raised to play quarterback at The University of Texas at Austin.
Gilbert, the 6’4” 215-pound son of former NFL QB Gale Gilbert, was born in July 1991 and has been playing football in the Austin area since 1996. He attended local Lake Travis High School where, as McCoy has done is college, set numerous records and accomplished things no Texas high school player ever has.
For instance, in Gilbert’s junior campaign at Lake Travis High, in leading his team to the UIL Class 4A Division II State Title, he broke the Texas state single-season records for completions (359), attempts (555), and passing yards (4,827), all of which were previously held by a guy by the name of Graham Harrell. Remember him? Yeah. He’s the guy who engineered the drive in Lubbock in 2008 that ended Texas’ hopes of a national title.
“Wow. Those are feats hard to top. So, what did he do in his senior season?” I’m glad you asked.
Well, after having the greatest year a quarterback has ever had in Texas High School history as a Junior, all Gilbert did was lead his team to a perfect 16-0 record, a second straight State Championship, and broke, yes, I said BROKE his own records, throwing for 4,851 yards and 55 TD’s.
By the way, people, I did the math. That equates to 303.2 yards and 3.4 touchdowns PER GAME…in high school. That is sick.
And Mack Brown and his staff thought so, too, which is why on Feb. 7, 2008, not five minutes after the ink had dried on his scholarship offer, Gilbert gave his verbal commitment to Coach Brown and Texas. “I never really considered anyone else,” he would later say.
Fast-forward exactly two years (730 days) from the day he gave his verbal commit, and we saw young Garrett Gilbert replacing one of his two idols at quarterback (the other being VY, of course).
We witnessed the end of an era.
We witnessed a career of epic and legendary proportions, ending tragically, an unmitigated, colossal hell for a player, a leader, and a young man of such character, that much of the college football world, to include the Crimson Tide Nation, could not help but feel cheated.
And yet, after the first half, when the coaches came up to Gilbert and were able to calm him down, we witnessed something on the sidelines and during the second half, one of those memories that sport so often produces.
We witnessed a fallen leader, still in his battle dress, yet unable to perform, pull his troops together, encourage them and implore them to fight and, more importantly, trust in their new leader.
We witnessed a young man, now battle tested; grow up right before our eyes.
And, while watching these two leaders, old and new, encourage and rally their team to fight, I couldn’t help but hear the words of Bob Dylan ringing in my mind.
“Eden is burning. Either brace yourself for elimination, or else your heart must have the courage, for the changing of the guard.”