AUSTIN — More than two hours before kickoff, Matt Rhule gathered his troops at midfield of DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium.
They weren’t wearing helmets and pads. Rather, they were still adorned in their travel wear — suits and ties. If you had just been strolling through the stadium and stumbled on the scene, you might have thought, “What a strange place for a Fortune 500 company to hold its board meeting.”
Baylor didn’t finalize the deal it wanted on this particular business trip. Minus its starting quarterback, ninth-ranked Texas managed to escape with a 23-17 skin-of-the-horns victory.
In the Bears’ locker room afterward, guys stewed. Some tears fell. There were many hugs of consolation.
It’s not just business for these guys. It’s personal. And that’s not a bad thing.
“For the first time since I’ve been here, I saw tears in guys’ eyes,” Rhule said. “I saw older guys telling people they were hurting. That’s a step in the right direction.”
The Bears’ pregame gathering in their GQ best didn’t signal the start of a new tradition. Rhule mentioned that they’ve been holding such forums since last year at Kansas. They even maintain the ritual at McLane Stadium.
The message differs each game day, though. And on Saturday under a sun-splashed sky in downtown Austin, Rhule brought forth a very self-centered sermon.
Again, it wasn’t a bad thing.
“My message to them was just to make it about us,” Rhule said. “Let’s go play together. That’s the biggest thing I saw today, man. We played together.”
They played together, and ultimately lost together. Texas is undeniably on the rise under Tom Herman. Following six straight wins, the Longhorns have every reason to believe that a Big 12 title is in their cross hairs. They’ve got some Grade A quality beef on both sides of the ball.
Even taking all that into account, the Bears had every reason to feel like they lost this one as much as Texas won it. In a weird sort of way, that’s progress.
“What you learn from this loss is if we just don’t — you list about seven things — we might win the game,” Rhule said. “If we have to go 77 (yards) instead of 97 (on the final drive). If we don’t have to burn a timeout earlier. All those things.”
In the postgame memorial (stadium) service — for Baylor, it carried a subdued, funeral-like vibe — the Baylor players stepped up and took ownership of their own mistakes. These kids are growing up, folks. Leaders are emerging.
“I know we’re there, really,” said quarterback Charlie Brewer, when asked about how close Baylor was to victory. “There’s a few plays I’d like to have back myself, where I could’ve put my team in a better situation. That’s on me.”
Certainly Brewer would love to have the one pass that resulted in an interception back. And while we’re on the subject of picks, let’s address the elephant in the (replay) room. Yes, Baylor absolutely suffered from the officials’ ruling on Jameson Houston’s was-it-a-catch, near-interception near the end of the first half. The official on the scene in the end zone immediately ruled that the ball hit the turf, and then the replay booth upheld the call, using the verbiage “confirmed” to twist the knife in a little further for the BU sideline.
Watching it live, I thought Houston had it. Watching it a second time on replay, I thought he had it again. Watching it a few more times — the old frame-by-frame method — I became less sure. Certainly it would have been tough for the officials to overturn the call on the field, based on the video evidence. But neither was there enough there to “confirm” the call. (Though I’d dispute any notion, espoused by some Baylor fans, that suggested there’s some larger, let’s-crown-the-Longhorns conspiracy at play. That’s ludicrous.)
Here’s the thing about that call — you might say it was a game-changer, but that would ignore the fact that there were still two quarters to play.
And give credit to the Bears. They didn’t let the call define their day. If anything, they moved on and played some of their best football, shutting out the Longhorns in the second half.
“At halftime, I said, I’m not going to talk to the officials any more, worry about a thing,” Rhule said. “I’ve always been the type of guy, I like to talk to the officials a lot so our players don’t. They feel like there’s someone standing up for them.
“I thought in the second half our guys played the game the right way. I hope everybody that’s a Baylor fan is proud of the way our team played. But — no moral victory now. We’re hurting because we feel like we should have won the football game, but we didn’t.”
The Bears are a work in progress. Rhule used those very words to describe the team after the game. But they’re at least progressing.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s painful.
But that’s probably the way it’s supposed to be.
“I know we’re always trying to take the passion out of the game,” Rhule said. “This is a game of passion. I saw our guys play with passion, and so did (Texas).”
Baylor offensive lineman Blake Blackmar has been around the block in Waco a few times. He’s experienced a little bit of everything. He ranked Saturday’s defeat among the top two he had ever experienced.
“That deep hurt, it almost feels like losing a loved one,” Blackmar said.
When you’re dressed for business, you’re also kind of dressed for a funeral. There’s a rule on the Baylor team, however. Win the game, and you get to ditch the suits for the trip home. It’s all fuzzy warm-ups and sneakers at that point.
Because when you take care of business, you’ve earned the right to party. But for today, the Windsor knots felt a little tighter around the Bears’ collars than usual.
And that’s not a bad thing.
Back in Austin for the first time in his college career, Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer nearly wrote the perfect homecoming story.
Baylor sophomore defensive end Deonte Williams’ season appears to be over after breaking his arm in the second half of Saturday’s 23-17 loss to No. 9 Texas.