WACO — In 2010, Art Briles convinced 24 players, the remainder of whom comprise the current senior class, to follow his dream for Baylor football.
On Saturday, a record 51,728 witnessed that dream become reality when No. 6 Baylor clinched its first Big 12 championship and a Fiesta Bowl berth with a 30-10 victory against Texas in the Bears’ final game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
And for Briles and his team, the first ones to believe in his vision, the fact that they never stopped believing made the celebration — complete with tears and Tostitos chips flying around the locker room — even sweeter.
“He always put that in us,” senior guard Cyril Richardson said, “and we took it and we just ran with it. We weren’t going to disappoint him.”
Once a doormat in the Big 12 South, Baylor proudly spoke of its lean years as if they were battle scars Saturday, embracing the lessons learned and the motivation it provided.
Junior quarterback Bryce Petty, who was 21 of 37 passing for 287 yards and two touchdowns that busted the game open in the third, referenced a quote he’d heard recently to sum up the Bears’ journey.
“If mountains were smooth then you couldn’t climb them,” Petty said. “That’s what this program’s been about. There’s plenty of adversity, there’s a lot of challenges, but that’s what gets you to the top is overcoming those.”
Yet at the end of his five-plus minutes at the podium, Petty offered his two cents on a subject no one bothered to ask the leader of the best offense in college football — his defense.
“I’ve got to say it, they played a heck of a game,” he said, “the MVP of this team for sure.”
For this current group of Bears, the defense has faced perhaps the most mountains in the past two years.
Maligned last season for not being able to keep up with its offensive counterparts, the Bears gave up an average of 50.4 points per game in five losses and allowed 30-plus points eight times in 2012.
On Saturday, many members of that same unit matched the Longhorns stop for stop while the offense warmed up in 24-degree weather.
It wasn’t the first time this season the defense has held the fort while the offense waited to get going in the first half.
And later in the game, that same unit all but sealed the Baylor victory with a fourth-quarter interception that led directly to the Bears’ final score of the game on an 18-yard run by Glasco Martin, who totaled 105 yards on the ground, with 4:04 to play.
Afterward, senior K.J. Morton, who reeled in the late interception, said knowing what the defense contributed to the Big 12 title run only enhanced the feeling after the game.
“It feels very sweet,” he said, “because we knew that last year the defense wasn’t where we wanted to be.
“And right now we’re still growing, we’ve got one more game and we’re going to go back and watch film and learn from our corrections and just get prepared for this Fiesta Bowl,” Morton said, savoring every letter of the final two words.
And while the Bears, who will face Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, reveled in victory and relished the adversity overcome late Saturday, they also noted that they hope Saturday will begin a new chapter in Baylor football — one that will start next season in the new $260 million Baylor Stadium on campus.
“This is a defining moment for Baylor University and Baylor football,” coach Art Briles said in a speech to the crowd at Floyd Casey Stadium, “and we’re all part of it.”
That’d be Briles and everyone who believed in his dream, a list that is growing by the day.