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November 8, 2013

A Family United



On Sept. 11, 1999, then-Baylor coach Kevin Steele wanted to make a statement about where he wanted to take his program. A 24-21 lead against UNLV evaporated in the final seconds. Darrell Bush's fumble was scooped by UNLV's Kevin Thomas at the Rebels' 1-yard line and returned 99 yards for a touchdown.

That night, more than 32,000 stunned Baylor fans walked out of Floyd Casey Stadium experiencing their version of a blackout as UNLV pulled out the unexplainable 27-24 win.

For the several decades, this is what the Baylor family endured. Near misses. Nightmarish seasons. Positive starts vanquished by crashing endings. And then questions of whether this program even belonged in the Big 12.

So as good as 7-0 and No. 6 in the BCS felt, you could still sense the Baylor family wasn't completely united. As Oklahoma week began, it felt as if there were two camps. There were the younger 20-somethings and students who only saw a program going to bowls, beating big-name opponents and bringing a Heisman Trophy back to Waco. They only knew how good their football program was.

For those alums and fans in their 30s or older, they wanted to embrace the same unbridled enthusiasm. But something held them back because they knew the history and didn't want the disappointment to sting.

Baylor 41, Oklahoma 12 may serve as the solidifying agent. Young and old, reserved and outgoing celebrated the euphoria of a program that is now in the conversation of the nation's elite and also in the middle of the national championship picture.

This version of the blackout felt good. The energy in Floyd Casey Stadium lifted Central Texas. There is no more hesitancy.

Finally, everybody is all in.

"We've got a mature football team,'' Baylor coach Art Briles said. "We've got a team that's done a lot. Look how we finished last year. Four teams in a row. All of them ranked. Baylor beat all of them.''

Briles always talks about this business being the proving business. Maybe the Baylor family just needed a little more affirmation that this dream season wasn't going to crash hard.

So when the first half was a little shaky and Baylor trailed (5-3) for the first time in two months and committing penalty after penalty, there had to be the, "Oh please not again,'' feeling.

That's understandable. When you have given your heart and soul to a program for years and never see it rewarded, you have to wonder if that day will ever come. Then that day sneaks up on you and catches you off guard and you don't know if you're ready.

But it's OK now. No matter how 2013 ends, the Baylor following knows this is a program that meets the moment, exceeds it and handles every scenario without flinching. This is a solvent program. This program has the infrastructure to sustain for years to come. This is the new Baylor.

"When we have a gameplan and guys put their mind to it,'' senior defensive end Chris McAlister said. "Guys execute and can do it. We can play with anybody.''

The new Baylor takes a possession and goes 93 yards for a touchdown on a night when the offense isn't sharp. The new Baylor watches its top two running backs - Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin - go down with groin and knee injuries and the third running back Shock Linwood rushes for a career-high 182 yards.

The new Baylor sees its speedster veteran wide receiver Tevin Reese dislocate his right wrist and his replacement Levi Norwood catches two touchdown passes.

On this night, the BCS and national championship talk had their place, but they stayed in the distance.

It's not a perfect team. But it's undeterred by the negatives. It just moves forward. It's united.

So is the Baylor family.





SicEmSports videographer Stephen Cook contributed to this story




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