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Runnin' with the Big Dogs
The Long, Twisted History of the Texas-OU Rivalry
You're Doing a Heckuva Job, Brownie
Either way it went, I knew it was going to hit the old-timers pretty hard, those UT guys now living on the shabby side of sixty. The anxiety that was building by the kickoff of that Rose Bowl was boiling out of the pot and hissing on the stove. The ones who didn't travel to Pasadena chose to watch the game at home, and alone. Husbands and wives mostly watched it in separate rooms. She knew what was going to happen, that he would be swinging around on the overhead light fixtures like some opium-crazed baboon, and she couldn't stand the sight of him by the fourth quarter. Southern Cal was handling the Longhorns, and, uh-oh, there went Reggie Bush, finally, and the man in the next room, he was not saying anything, but he was glaring hard at the new Samsung HDTV, and then he had an empty wine bottle in his right hand and was winding up like Roger Clemens. The only reason he didn't bring the high hard one is because he didn't have the guts to throw it. He put down the bottle and shouted at the television set. "Reggie Bush stole the Heisman, flat stole it, 'cause he went and gained a half a mile against Fresno State. Well, lemmee tell you what ol' Coach Thornton—God, was he a m-e-e-e-a-n sonufabitch—what he taught us in the eighth grade. THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS AN ALL-AMERICAN HALFBACK! THERE IS SUCH A THING AS CHICKENSHIT TACKLING!"
In one Austin household, the tension became so dire that an old and loyal follower of the Orange employed his Last Resort ritual, which dates back to the 1969Arkansas game, in which he puts his wallet on the TV set and sings "The Eyes of Texas" in Spanish, knowing full well that if there's stress in the marriage already, that little show won't do it much good. Back in Dallas, a man that we'll call Brad, UT class of '76, decided to take his Fourth Quarter Rally Whiz in his front yard. So while he did, his wife locked him out. Texas women are tough, and they're mean as hell, too. One had thought about concealing a video camera in the den so she could surprise the old Horn with the tape in the morning when he'd already be hung over and sad; let the fool see himself in action and then show it to the kids and put it on the Internet. That's one of the essential reasons that the 2005 Texas team was such a joy to its fan base; it was a lovely diversion from the harder demands of domestic reality and the cruelties of the work world.
These UT alums are ferociously loyal to the school. They might not have learned very much, at least inside the classroom. Yet to a person, everyone I ever knew who went to that school in Austin had a rip-roaring good time and afterward enjoyed prosperous business careers selling stuff to one another. God, they were revved for this USC battle for the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) championship game, but they weren't blind to the task of trying to stop the Trojans' LenDale White, who would be crashing relentlessly onward behind those linemen from the Pacific Isles, the ones the size of Texaco stations.
It got tense when the fourth-and-two play, the moment of truth, High Noon, came to pass in the fourth quarter, Trojans up by six and the life draining ever so gravely from the game clock. In a Texas den, a man with wispy white hair was on the floor on all fours, pawing the oak hardwood and shouting, "Dig deep, men! Grab a root and growl!" When Vince Young crossed the goal line with nineteen seconds to play in the Rose Bowl game, senior Longhorns felt that their collective lifetime experience on planet Earth was verified as something worthwhile. When the game was finally over, they clutched their chests and fell to the floor while their wives crept cautiously into the room, inquiring, "Do you want me to call 911?"
No. Within minutes, old Longhorns throughout the land had struggled back to their feet, knowing the moment of Young running the ball on fourth down to defeat those cocky-ass Trojans—the team that nine of ten media people in Pasadena deemed unbeatable by Texas or anybody else—would be etched in their memory banks for the remainder of their days. So instead of calling an ambulance, by midnight they were on the phone to people they had not spoken with for two generations, shouting, "Can you fuckin' believe it!"
So Coach Mack Brown and the Longhorns won the national college football championship, the first time Texas had done that in thirty-five years. Lee Corso, the ex-coach and ESPN commentator, was on television the morning after in full gush, claiming that the win over USC was the greatest game, at any level, in the history of football. For fans who were old enough to recall the last time UT had won the national title, this Rose Bowl happening was like watching their thirty-five-year-old kid finally graduate from high school. After all those years of underachievement, he not only finished but would be valedictorian of the whole damn class.
Everyone gathered at the temple on Sunday night, a week later, amid a merchandising frenzy that was as hot as the drought-driven wildfires that were threatening to devour the whole state. At Darrell K. RoyalTexas Memorial Stadium, the upper decks were closed, but about 50,000 jammed into the rest of the lower grandstands to see the confirmation ceremony. Away from the stadium the famous and ever-conspicuous UT stood bathed in orange light, and lights in the windows were arranged to make a numeral 1. People could see that for miles and miles, from nearby I-35, aka the NAFTA Expressway and from the distant . . .Runnin' with the Big Dogs
The Long, Twisted History of the Texas-OU Rivalry. Copyright © by Mike Shropshire. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.