January 2, 2009

Blake Gideon stands tall under pressure on Media Day

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. - Texas freshman safety Blake Gideon was made available to the media today for the first time since failing to hang onto an interception against Texas Tech in the closing seconds of that game.

The occasion was the Fiesta Bowl's Media Day, where tables with starting players' names on them were spread across a giant ballroom.

Before Gideon even made it to the table with his name on it, there were TV cameras camped out and other reporters waiting for the chance to get the freshman safety's thoughts.

But this was no episode of Leon Lett sitting through Super Bowl media day, sweating while talking about bonehead plays like getting stripped of the ball while show-boating in the Super Bowl the year previous. This was a great showing by a rock of a kid, who can now take ribbing from teammates about letting one get away.

Let's just say Gideon's answers were a lot better than some of the questions. Here's how the questioning went from the reporters who gathered around Gideon …

Q: How long did it take for you to get over the Texas Tech game?

Whenever the next practice rolled around. As defensive backs you have to have a short memory. So all the coaches and my teammates were very supportive and they knew it was important for us to move on.

Q: What was your overall feeling after that loss?

It was tough. As a competitor you always want to win. Losses aren't easy to take. But you have to get ready for the next week because there's another game to play.

Q: How were your teammates after the Texas Tech game?

They've been great. We finished up the season the way we wanted to and put ourselves in position to play a great team in Ohio State. We're looking forward to it.

Q: What was that the toughest thing that's ever happened to you on the field?

I haven't thought about it much. You try to move on from things like that. If you dwell on it longer than you should, it could affect you later in the season. I haven't thought about it too much.

Q: How glad are you to finally be talking about the Texas Tech play?

Walking around campus, people will ask you about it. But that's to be expected. You have to take it in stride, and it's part of the game. That's what comes with playing at this level. There's great things and blessings too.

Q: How many times have you seen the replays of Michael Crabtree's touchdown from that game?

It seems like every time I turn on the TV. As a DB, you are going to make plays and give up some plays. Coach (Duane) Akina always tells us as DBs we have to have a short memory. So we've moved on and we're ready to play.

Q: How many times out of 100 do you think you make that catch?

Most of the time. It was a play that obviously should have been made, but we've moved on and we're ready for Ohio State.

Q: What's the positive you take from the Tech experience?

It showed our overall maturity as a team. Not one of my teammates said something negative to me. And they didn't make it this huge deal to console me either. It was like we've just moved on. They said, 'We're playing Baylor this next week, and that's all we need to focus on.'

Q: Was it better that your teammates didn't try to go over the top to console you?

I didn't know what to expect. I knew I was going to have a lot coming because that was a big game and a big stage. So obviously I'll be ready for it the next time it comes around.

Q: Did you have one day where you felt sorry for yourself and then moved on?

No. You can't feel sorry for yourself. It's a team. We had to come out and play the next week, and it would have been selfish of me to think about myself and what I could have done differently and whether my feelings were hurt or not.

Q: Your play in the Tech game was overshadowed by Michael Crabtree's touchdown against Curtis Brown and Earl Thomas, so have they gotten the worst of it? They are reminded it of it constantly.

We all know we win as a team and lose as a team. And all of us know we could have done things differently. But it would be selfish for us to think we did one thing that lost the game for us, so it was important that we all understood that.

Q: Two weeks after the Tech game, you suffered a concussion against Kansas. The hits just kept on coming.

You're going to face some trials, and there's going to be some times when you have to endure some trials and tribulations. With all my teammates around me, and the support we get from them, it's easy to come back from things like that. I didn't practice for a few days on doctors orders but I was able to come back and play in the A&M game.

Q: How many times have you thought, 'If I only caught the ball' (against Texas Tech)?

That is natural. You're going to think about what might have been. But we really made it a point whenever we met the next Monday that it's over. There's nothing we can do about it except finish off the season right, and that's what we did.

Q: How many times have you seen replays of your dropped interception?

I'm going to say about 50 times - on TV, there's some stuff in Sports Illustrated there's a picture of it. A couple of my buddies said, 'That's your first Sports Illustrated feature.' Hopefully, my next feature will be holding up the Fiesta Bowl trophy.

Q: How tough was it the day after that (Texas Tech) game?

It was tough the next day. That's either your celebration day or your mourning day. Coaches customarily tell us, 'You have 24 hours to celebrate or get over it.

Q: Is it to the point where your teammates give you a hard time about it?

Yeah. We joke about it now. I can laugh about it. That's part of it. All these other guys wearing the Texas jersey, we're family, so we can joke about it now. We pride ourselves in being a family. It's been said a lot that we're closer than any team in the last 10 years. I can believe that. I wasn't in those other locker rooms. But we're able to joke with each other about things in practice in a competitive spirit.

Q: Do you have any regrets about that Texas Tech play?

I'll think about that whenever there's no more games to be played. It's selfish for me to dwell on that play and think about what I could have done differently. That wouldn't be fair to my coaches and teammates, when we've got more games to play and focus on. So I'm not going to think about it any longer than I have to.

Q: Do you think it might linger with the fans?

There's that 24-hour mourning period and then we had to be over it because we had more good teams to play. As a competitor, it's tough to lose. But it showed the maturity of our team to move on, because you have to win together and lose together. We were able to move on and win out.

MY TAKE: I'm telling you all, Blake Gideon is a strong-willed, great kid. Surrounded by reporters, cameras, microphones and tape recorders, he didn't have deer-in-the-headlight looks in his eyes. Not a bead of sweat formed on his brow. Nothing. He really has a handle on this. I had the chance to talk to his dad, Steve, at the Texas football banquet, and Steve was also philosophical about the Texas Tech play. Steve, who coaches Leander High School, said football is a lot like life, and deals you adversity when you least expect it, and that there's a huge growth opportunity in responding to it.

The bottom line is Blake Gideon is one of the BEST stories on this year's Texas team. There's no way Texas is 11-1 at this point if he and Earl Thomas don't gel together as true freshmen safeties and make play after play in a year in which the Big 12 may have had the most prolific collection of offenses in the history of college football. From sniffing out that screen to start the Florida Atlantic game, Gideon had no plays this season where his man was just roaming free behind him. And Gideon was often the safety Will Muschamp loaded up with information to impart to the rest of the defensive backfield. The kid has had to handle massive responsibility this season.

The dropped interception was a heartbreaker for fans and something some will probably point to for years as some type of Bill Buckner or Leon Lett gaffe. But that would be totally unfair. It's one thing if Texas came into the season No. 1, and the Longhorns were loaded with veterans in the secondary and a kid who always makes big plays let one slip away. But this was a kid no one expected to be in position to make that play, who had helped hold the defense together all season.

We did a story at The Dallas Morning News on Craig Curry right before UT's national title game against USC. Curry is the former Longhorn who muffed a punt for Texas in the 1984 Cotton Bowl that led to a game-winning touchdown by Georgia in a 10-9 loss to the Bulldogs. Texas was No. 2 and probably would have won its first national title since 1970 that day because No. 5 Miami knocked off No. 1 Nebraska that night.

Curry described that play as a life-altering nightmare. He said he stopped going to games, afraid he would draw negative attention. He said he was so relieved when Texas won the national title in 2005 because it felt like a curse had been lifted off of him.

There's no way Gideon should ever be seen in this light. Ever. For all the reasons previously mentioned. If anything, he should be hailed as a kid who answered the challenge of anchoring a secondary against 11 returning starting quarterbacks.

"If you mention that play, you have to mention all the other plays in that game that contributed to the loss," Mack Brown said of Gideon. "Whether it be an interception returned for a touchdown, a holding penalty or a missed tackle or dropped pass or a bad play-call by us (against Tech).

"We told Blake there will be a perception by some that that play lost the game. In truth, that play could have won the game, but it didn't lose the game. We had a lot of plays that lost the game.

"You go and look at the body of work for the year, if you're going to be critical of him for that play, then you have to give him credit for all the plays he made to help get us to 11-1.

"If we tackle Crabtree on that last play, the game's over, they don't even get a field goal. There were so many plays you can look back on.

"You want to win and you're disappointed if you do something that's not good, so it's a tough deal. You want to forget it, but there's no doubt it lingers some.

"That's a tough deal. But the fact he's got strong faith helps him. His dad is a coach, so he's been around the game long enough to know he's going to make a play to help us win a game like that."

There were some non-Texas Tech questions posed to Gideon Friday. Here's a look at those …

Q: What's the plan to bring down Ohio State's 240-pound Beanie Wells, who is known for his stiff-arms?

It's going to be a blast. Coach Akina is always looking for that physical secondary. He told us he's not going to be associated with a soft secondary. We pride ourselves on not being scared and being willing to stick our heads in there and make something happen.

(Various Ohio State players had some advice for Gideon, whose nickname is "Slim Gid" because he's a little light for a safety, about tackling Beanie Wells head up. Said Ohio State DB Kurt Coleman, "He can run over you and he can hurdle you, so I would just say to grab something, hold on and hope your teammates get there quick." Added Ohio State offensive tackle Alex Boone, "Good luck." Beanie himself said, "Just hold on.")

Q: Who has been the toughest player for you to tackle this season?

There's three tight ends there three weeks in a row who are a handful to take down (Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham, Missouri's Chase Coffman and Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew). I'm going to be able to tell my grandkids I played against them, and hopefully we don't pull out the film and see me trying to tackle them.

Q: How do you describe Ohio State's offense?

They are a downhill hard-nosed team. That's the tradition of the Big Ten and the tradition of Ohio State. They pride themselves in being physical and bullying people around.

Q: What about the possibility of a split national championship?

That's not up to us. Our job is to go out and play our hearts out against Ohio State. It's not really up to us. That's when you get in trouble when you start worrying about things that are out of our hands.

Q: How has your dad, who coached you at Leander, helped you this season?

My dad has always been the one to keep me grounded and keep me in my place. Whenever I told him I would be starting in the first game, he made sure my head was screwed on right. He's not going to hype me up too much. But he's enjoyed this just as much as I have. It's a different role for him to just be dad and not also be my coach. It's been fun for me and my whole family. It's a blessing.

Q: What do you like most about playing with Earl Thomas?

Earl has a hot motor. It's fun playing with a guy who plays from whistle to whistle, no matter the situation. He's never going to stop. We have a bunch of guys on defense who have a passion for the game.

Q: Talk about the progress you've been able to make in the secondary with Earl Thomas.

We've come a long way - just Earl and I - the mistakes we were making early in the year were making Coach Akina grow older by the minute with some of the bonehead mistakes we were making in practice. I think we've matured a lot, us two, and within our whole secondary. Where you want to be is performing at your best at the end of the season, and I think that's where we are.

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