Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bleeding Burnt Orange During A Rough Season

I bleed burnt orange and have since James Street led the Texas Longhorns to the 1969 national football championships, as well as pitching two no-hitters for the baseball team. Street graduated from Longview High School — as I did, though he was seven years ahead of me. He spoke at an assembly at Foster Junior High in Longview when I was in the ninth grade, after the Horns beat Arkansas 15-14 to take the Southwest Conference title and then beat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. I was hooked after hearing him speak and have been since.

In the ensuing decades, I managed to get a master’s degree in journalism from The University. My middle brother received his degree there, as did my two older daughters. In the course of researching a book I wrote a few years ago, I spent hundreds of hours on campus doing research at the Center for American History and in the Perry CastaƱeda library. I love walking around that campus and do so every chance I get. I buy tickets to at least one football game each season and rarely miss watching the rest on television when possible.

As it turned out, the game I picked this year was last Saturday night’s against Oklahoma State. Worse, I bought the tickets a couple months ago when I learned I was coming back to Texas and escaping Kansas before snowfall hit. So I paid premium prices for a quartet of tickets. Texas was ranked fourth in the nation at the time, undefeated at 3-0. I am embarrassed to admit how much I spent for the tickets, compared to what they’re selling for these days.

But you know what? I’m really not particularly upset the Horns are having a lousy season. We fans are long overdue a dose of humility. The success of this team in the Mack Brown era since 1997 has led most of us to expect Texas to vie for the national championship every year. After all, until this year the team has appeared in two national title game in 13 years and come close a number of times. Until this year, Brown had led the Horns to at least nine wins in each season and completed six seasons with 11 or more victories. That’s pretty darned impressive.

This has led to a sense of entitlement that borders on arrogance. I read blogs and have heard folks in the stands talking about players in ways that is just cruel. These are kids, for goodness’ sakes. They’re big kids, to be sure, playing in a first-class program in which they are treated like royalty. But many are still as young as 18. Those of us who have raised children of that age know how immature they often still are.

I don’t have as much sympathy for the coaches. They make a boatload of money — a ridiculous amount, in fact. Mack Brown now makes $5.1 million a year, which might end up being about a million bucks or more per victory this season. Defensive coordinator and heir-apparent Will Muschamp pulls in $900,000 annually. Sheesh. That seems excessive even for a program that makes a healthy profit.

All that aside, I still had a good time last Saturday night, watching the pageantry of a big-time college football game, singing the “Eyes of Texas,” and — for a short while — holding out hope that Texas might actually beat OSU. That hope was gone by halftime. Texas simply doesn’t have a very good football team this year. But the sun will still rise in the east tomorrow, and the world will keep spinning on its axis. I have never lost any sleep over a football game.

The highlight of the night was halftime, when the Show Band of the Southwest performed three John Philip Sousa marches to honor our veterans — a number of whom were present and recognized.

As my old buddy, the late Sam Malone — a hard-drinking country editor who kept a bottle of whiskey in the desk drawer and a shotgun in the corner — used to say when the home team got beat badly, “Well, at least we won the halftime show.”
Even the best football programs have bad years, and this is ours. Hope we don’t make a habit of it.

Originally published in the Hill Country News, Cedar Park, Texas, November 18, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. I was in The Band from 1966 to 1969. I worked with Big Bertha. We ALWAYS win the half time. Thanks for the kind words as well as the realistic words about this year's team. I agree wholeheartedly. Remember, we will have a winning season when we beat A&M.

    Call me sometime and I will tell you a James Street story. Not for printing...


    Jay, still behind the Pine Curtain...