Perhaps I shouldn't have been shocked by the pain and anguish gushing forth after last Saturday night's loss in Lubbock. I wasn't happy, not in the least, but my experiences had certainly inured me to a certain amount of despair. If the Horns had played the second half like the first, then I would have been more irascible.
However, the Longhorns came back like champions. The defense controlled Tech about as much as they could have, Colt and the offense made the big plays missing in the first half - with both a senior, Jordon Shipley, and a freshman, Malcolm Williams doing the honors, with Vondrell getting what was, if in a winning effort, the critical score and the kicker making the winning point - and I was particularly happy that the special teams were the real highlight of the night and instrumental in getting the Horns into the lead.
One of the things a professional sportswriter must do is put their emotions aside and get the real story down. Sure, those emotions can infuse your story with passion, but if you're writing for a home town team, you must write about the game with accuracy and truthfulness, you must see things for what they are. That last is essential if you want the public's long term respect. You can be much beloved or Merle Hoge. It's a choice you make.
So, you don't ignore your emotions but you don't wallow in them - you put them at a distance which is appropriate. Those are column material - your personal opinion - but they are not the news: the game is. Sometimes you hurt, the words don't flow out triumphantly, but you write nonetheless as the witness and the chief surgeon at the autopsy, for all after-game sports stories are autopsies of an event gone cold.
If you write sports it is because you have had a life-long love for such spontaneous events. The rest of your life can be in shambles, but the spark of witnessing great games, win or lose, and great performances gives you a means of interpreting this life, for really, that's what writing comes down to. I grew up next to a football coach, a man I respect immensely, and his influence had a great deal to do with my love of the game. I played it and found it a truly wondrous experience, like no other.
Everyone wants an explication of what this life is about. It's not that they want to be spoon-fed, although some percentage does; no, they want validation for themselves and some level of understanding of how this life works in general, if only to know they have some perspective. One of my favorite essayist, the late Stephen J. Gould, entitled his monthly column "This View of Life" in Nature for precisely that reason. Even though his personal expertise was snails, that knowledge of the life of snails, translated to all life. I found that so does football, although I never pretend to have the mastery of SJG of the essay or of science and history itself.
One of the great things about this nation is that it is set-up to engender conflict, whether from our Constitutional set-up, the federated nature of the states, the structure of the courts, the nature of capitalist competition or the simple challenges on the fields of sports. In a totalitarian state, the emotional conflicts build to a boiling point and the key elements are repression, oppression, propaganda and eventually revolution. There is no daily, weekly or yearly relief much less resolution. Stability is imposed and currents run deep, sometimes for generations if not centuries before exploding into new horrors.We're only experienced that once internally, in our Civil War, and it was horrendous by any standard and still not completely resolved.
Football is physical conflict resolution on about as equal terms as can be determined. It reminds us that this life is very much a predatory affair; the big fish eat the little ones, within the nation and among the community of nations. But football also reminds us of the rewards of community, of pulling for a common goals and, despite our various composition, we can and are one at a given time; and that the sacrifice and work of those we are inspired to support benefit not just themselves, but a whole range of individuals outside their venue.
The tubes have changed - and will continue to change - our equations. A new medium reorganizes all elements within a society invisibly and immediately. In the game live blogs, we suddenly can interact and express wide ranging emotions not just toward the team and the game, but with each other; we're in the cyber stadium in real time and so emotionally plugged in that there is little difference between being there and being here reacting in real time. The real notion in this is that this will be going on at all levels within our nation, even with governmental entities. Football, in this sense, is prelude to change with in-depth involvement and the expression of a ever-expanding community. The crowd roars here just as it does in DKR-Memorial Stadium; there is no difference except that you don't have to drive home. Being there is a richer experience, no doubt, but this has a richness of its own, because we share the depths of our emotions.
This game didn't hurt me because the Horns forced the other team to make the championship play. That's the best we could have asked outside of victory. Perhaps I speak more as a father here, consoling a child who has done their best and yet still feels the agony of losing. Life is full of loss; it is one of the daily outcomes we endure, just as victory is, too. Seldom is it so concentrated, but it also points to the undeniable understanding that the celebration of victory is earned and without the losses, they would be empty and meaningless.
Being older, I've had my share of painful memories; I've spent weeks walking around under a dark cloud that no one could lift. It's not that you get used to such pain - unless, of course, you live on the Brazos - but that you come to understand the real context it plays in life. So, even in the darkest hour I can see - and even feel - the resolution that the next victory can bring. Because the truth is there are greater victories to be won. We are fortunate to have the kind of team that can win those victories. Last Saturday was a battle, but just because you lost the battle does not mean you've lost the war.
You've just learned something about yourself that you didn't know - and hopefully found a reserve within yourself that you needed to know about for the future. We humans are capable of extraordinary feats, and in the normal course of life, we generally must be put against the wall to perform them.
This is not just the lesson about football, but about life. Football is an endurance sport in a way no other is...and life itself is an endurance. Sometimes you never know how you will survive. Nonetheless, your will is to survive.
I have always found Baylor to be a tough adversary. There haven't been that many loses to them but some of those have been very dark experiences. They are vindictive; if they can't win, they will still strive to create pain. We've exited that game in recent years with big scores in big wins and a beat-up team. This is a dangerous game.
As a reflection on the season, I will ask you to name the one team that you wouldn't want the Horns to play again. You could even list the top three. My choice would be OSU, without a doubt: dangerous balance.