Underdog Horns Bring Swagger To Tinseltown

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Texans are typically stereotyped as an arrogant lot. Even so, members of the national media have questioned why the swagger associated with the Lone Star State hasn't dulled among the visiting Longhorns, given USC's stature as modern college football's most dominant program. Head coach Mack Brown had an answer for them Friday.

"If you're in this game and you're not confident, then you're in bad trouble," Brown said during the first press conference in advance of the 2006 Rose Bowl National Championship Game. "People have talked about the SC team and their confidence. This isn't a week for a weak guy. You better walk with a swagger. You better feel good about yourself."

Heaven knows Brown's program has not always possessed the across-the-board swagger that is now so evident. It's been suggested that the team is mirroring the personality of the head guy who is no longer coaching scared in big games. Some players have said that, if there is any trickle-down effect, it derives from QB Vince Young's playful bravado.

"Insecurity is a disease," Brown said. "Self-confidence is like a drug."

I asked Brown what he thought accounted for the transformation, and when it became so apparent to him. It all started, he said, in the second quarter of the 2004 Oklahoma State game in which Texas mounted the biggest comeback win in school history.

"When you're down 35-7 in the first half and have the ability to come back and win 56-35 and it not even being a close game in the fourth quarter, that will give you a tremendous amount of confidence," Brown said. "Then there was the comeback at Kansas and we were even behind against Texas A&M at halftime. I remember at the Rose Bowl last year when there was five minutes left and we were still down by seven, a member of the (bowl) hosts came down and said, 'Coach, you'll need to be with me to receive the championship trophy after the game.' I said, 'Can you not see the score?' But this team has just continued to come back. I think it's a great story line. USC has done the same thing. You look at some of their early games. Every week it was like the Game of the Century for SC and sometimes they'd get behind early. Neither team has panicked. You can't win this many games in a row without a lot of confidence."

The national sports media may be focusing too much on LDT Rod Wright's and DE Tim Crowder's statements from a couple of weeks ago when both said, in essence, that the Texas defense has the mindset that it can dominate anybody. By the time the words found their way to USC bulletin boards, the phrasing suggested that Texas expected to 'dominate' the Trojan offense. USC coach Pete Carroll stated a few weeks ago that some of the comments emerging from the Longhorn camp is indicative of a program that "ain't been here." Yet, Brown believes his team's high level of confidence is indicative of a program that expects to be here (and should have been here four years ago, he added).

"I remember a couple of years ago, (Texas Men's AD) DeLoss (Dodds) and (Big 12 Commissioner) Kevin Weiberg had me go to the Forth Worth Bowl to represent the Big 12," he said, "and they told me that if I'm coaching in that bowl, I'm probably fired."

It is becoming well documented of the extent to which Brown has not only loosened up personally but is also loosening the reigns on his players. He not only has lifted the gag on his players during their pre-game meal, for example, but has allowed a certain amount of trash talking directed at the opponent.

"One of the keys to this week is being who you are," Brown said. "What you've been able to do in the past is what got you here, so don't try to change in a week. We told our guys that we want them to show their personality. They can smile, they can dance a little bit, they don't have to be stiff, and you don't have to walk around scared all the time. These two teams have had an ability to focus when it's time to play but also be kids when they walk off the field. To some that's construed as cockiness, but we like to think that our bunch is confident and classy."

The Horns practiced Friday morning at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California and will participate in the traditional Lawry's Beef Bowl in the late afternoon.

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