Sorry, Old Yeller doesn’t die in this movie.
Actually, with their mustard-splashed uniforms, maybe the fightin’ Baylors are less a yellow mastiff than they are a bunch of Honey Bears. Because this season couldn’t have unfolded much sweeter for Baylor.
The Bears are headed to the Big 12 championship game. Say it louder, not for the hard of hearing, but because it warrants repeating: Baylor – two years removed from 1-11 — will play for a Big 12 title.
Incredible, isn’t it?
Saturday’s 24-10 win over Texas illustrated what we’ve come to know and appreciate about these Bears. They’re tough. They’re resilient. Even when dressed like a bunch of road flares, they’re not flashy as much as they are tenacious.
“However it is – cute, ugly, beautiful, we’ve got to go win,” Baylor running back John Lovett said. “However we do it, doesn’t matter.”
Matt Rhule is a process guy. He constantly talks about guys “just doing their jobs.” The Baylor coach wants players who will be willing to grind as hard as they do in a Sunday morning film session or a Monday morning weightlifting workout or a Tuesday afternoon practice as they will on Saturday afternoons and evenings, when the crowd is screaming and the jets are roaring and the fireworks are popping from every corner of the house.
Just go 1-0 this week. That’s been the mantra that Baylor’s players and coaches have repeated ad nauseam all season. So, after the game when the video board celebrated the Bears’ clinching achievement of reaching the Big 12 title game, Rhule really wasn’t ready to go there yet.
“To win 10 games in college football is really, really hard,” Rhule said. “To go 1-0 and beat a school like the University of Texas in good fashion is hard. So, I’m really proud of them. I’m proud to know them. And as I told them, enjoy this tonight, don’t think about anything else, then wake up tomorrow and get ready for Kansas.”
He’s right. It’s hard to beat Texas. (Baylor hadn’t topped the Longhorns since Art Briles’ penultimate season of 2014.) It’s hard to win 10 games. (The Bears’ 10-win campaign marked just the sixth such season in a football history that dates back to 1899.)
When you work in the processing department, you should take pride not only in the finished product, but in the work that led to it. Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.
“I really don’t want to minimize what it means to beat Texas for us, and how good of a football team that is,” Rhule said. “They won the Sugar Bowl last year, and Sam Ehlinger is such a great player, and (they’ve got) a great defense. … I don’t want our guys to let that go by.
“Two years ago it wasn’t a very pretty game. Last year, it was four shots from the 20 (yard-line) and we couldn’t get in. For us to win this year and win that way, running the football and playing defense at the end, I’m just really proud of the process of our players.”
Behold, the process in action – on the first play of the second quarter, Lovett crawled up the backs of his blockers, who finished off their assignments with ferocity. Lovett rewarded that effort with a hardy display of his own, burrowing 28 yards for the first touchdown of the game.
“I saw my linemen grinding for me,” Lovett said. “They made the hole, and I just had to finish it. It wouldn’t be fair to them if I didn’t finish it.”
More processing evidence – in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, the ever-elusive Ehlinger squirted free on a couple of nice gainers to push the Longhorns to the doorstep of the end zone. UT called a timeout with five seconds left, then running back Daniel Young scored on a 4-yard run after the stoppage. Only one second remained.
It was a meaningless score, and yet it wasn’t. Not to Texas, but to Baylor. The Bears had played well enough defensively to leave with an end-zone blanking (if not an altogether shutout), but they didn’t get it. And they were ticked about it.
“Our defense walked off at the end disappointed,” Rhule said. “That speaks to who they are. They’re competitors. It wasn’t about the scoreboard, they wanted to hold them out of there.”
As Rhule talked, his hoarse voice occasionally wavered. He chalked it up to an illness that he’s been battling for the past couple of weeks – even the allergies are bigger in Texas – but he wasn’t about to take a sick day.
“I tried to coach really, really hard tonight,” he said.
Again, that’s the process in action. Are you sick? Are you hurting? Are you trailing on the scoreboard? Just keep grinding.
So, officially, Baylor’s bright banana jerseys and pants are known as “University Gold.” And when you think about it, that makes sense.
These Honey Bears are anything but yellow.