Ruthless Memories

When we're mired in a period of relative misfortune, we often find a scapegoat for our problems. Our wisest course of action is to accept that no matter how we fell into our situation, chances are we should be focusing outward, looking for solutions to our dilemma as opposed to feeling sorry for ourselves and blaming someone else.

In sports, such wisdom doesn't always apply so easily because we are an abstraction removed from being able to actually do anything about our team's misfortune: we don't play in the game and we don't coach. We are merely witnesses who invest some amount of emotion into our teams. The amount of our investment dictates how great our final rewards are. We have some control over ourselves as we tie our fate to our teams. We actually don't need any dogma or out sized hype - although there is plenty of both to go around - to make our highly personal decisions. 
In the past, except for those close to us, few know how high the ecstasy or low the depression when our teams didn't perform to our expectations unless we had a public means of expression or confession. Of course, there is always Okies and Aggies around to sink the barb in the bad years, but for the most part these emotions remained private expressions to your friends and buddies around the proverbial water cooler.

With the advent of sports blogs, there is wide range of public expression available, especially the immediate revelation and spontaneous interactions of live-blogging the games. I have found those live blogs to be one of the most enjoyable and pleasurable aspects of BON. While I can't be at the game, the virtual audience amplifies the game for me. In great games we get excited and holler and yell, able to sneak in quick projections of the near future and rejoicing within our herd when we triumph. In slow games when the outcome is decided, we can spice up the proceeding and have a lot of fun playing with the pencils, abusing the announcers and each other, joking, laughing and enjoying the glow of victory and looking at the next game. When it goes all bad, we hear recriminations (GDGD), disgust and usually some reconciliations - we taste the anger as well as the bitterness of defeat and of those with little faith or forbearance.

I'm sorta glad we didn't have live-blogging in the dark ages. The things I would have said about Jackie Sherrill would have burned up the ether and melted all the innerwebs. Hold on milevin, we'll have to go over the ledge for this one.

I described in the July 5 post regarding some of the games that pissed me off and the comments revealed more bile, eventually forcing milevin to drink even more. Hang on milevin, we're going to return to the period when the Longhorns lost their way,  Ruthless, yes, but it will be sweet in the end.

Out of that dark period there was one coach I would give a stunning lack of affection...still do really, but not with the enmity I once did: Jackie Sherrill. {You may boo at will.) Whether it was at A&M or Mississippi State or smiling on my TV, he provoked a deep and enduring reaction.

Of course, if we had been kicking his ass right proper, I wouldn't have felt this way at all. Maybe. But that was not the case. Hell no, it wasn't.

Jackie Sherrill symbolized something much larger for Longhorn fans, something that he had relatively little to do with him personally, except at the time, he poured snake venom into our gaping wounds when he wasn't actually making them.  (You aggies don't be slobbering, now.)

What did his teams do to us?

Date     Ranking/Score                UT Record

1982    #14 UT 53, A&M 16                  1-0
1983    #2 UT 45, A&M 13                    2-0
1984    A&M 37, #13 UT 12                  2-1
1985    #15 A&M 42, #18 UT 10           2-2
1986    #10 A&M 16, UT 3                    2-3
1987    #15 A&M 20, UT 13                  2-4
1988    A&M 28, Texas 24                    2-5
1991    Miss. St. 13, #13 UT 6              2-6
1992    #21 Miss. St. 28, #25 UT 10     2-7
1999    *#20 UT 38, #25 Miss. St. 10    3-7
* Cotton Bowl, January 1,1999

These were gut-wrenching times for the Horns and their fans. The fall from the North Carolina Cotton Bowl loss became a free-fall infected by five consecutive losses to A&M under Sherrill, And then another to RC Slocum, ultimately losing nine of 10 and 11 of 15. If you think losing five in a row to the Okies was tough, try nine of 10. While we malingered, Sherrill was creating the Wrecking Crew, the 12th Man Kick-Off team, winning three SWC championships, with Cotton Bowl victories over Auburn and Notre Dame. He was 52-28-1 at A&M and those teams, as well as those of RC Slocum who succeeded him, still inspire the lonely delirium of nostalgia-soaked Brazoids everywhere with each new season, more so this year than ever before.

In 1988, the NCAA sanctioned A&M for two years for "improper employment, extra benefits, unethical conduct and lack of institutional control." That was a spear in the chest. Sherrill would resign in December. For several years before there had been rumors about his program and recruiting. He was famous for tossing out assistant coaches but he never touched his defensive (and recruiting) coordinator R. C. Slocum, who then went on to win the most games in A&M history.

Sherrill popped back up in 1991 to take over a demoralized Mississippi State program. In his first game, the Bulldogs hosted the Longhorns. This - and the game the next year - were major piss-me-off games. The '91 game started David McWilliams' last year. Mississippi State completely neutralized the Longhorns, who managed only two meager field goals to lose 13-6. The prior game was the Miami Cotton Bowl and the team still seemed shell shocked nine months later. It was the beginning of the end for McWilliams, who went 5-6. Then we wiped the slate clean.

In John Mackovic's very first game the next year, the Horns hosted Mississippi State's return visit The 'Dogs utilized offensive signals and calls at the last possible second from the sideline to confuse the Horns defense and a staff in its first game, which they did. At practice the week before the game, Sherrill had brought in a bull and his team watched it being castrated - and then came to Memorial Stadium and rolled over the Horns, 28-10. I was so damn mad I would have fired Mackovic on the spot... I kept yelling at the TV, dammit, it's Sherrill, wake the f**k up, this is no ordinary game. But they never did and I always thought they just had no reliable institutional memory of what it meant to play Jackie Sherrill. There are certain coaches and teams that must bear your greatest attention. This will be one of those years when we have a schedule littered with such landmines.

Fortunately, the Mississippi State series had a good finale as far as the Horns fans were concerned: a great running back put an end to our collective misery in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1999. Although an out manned Mississippi State team played gamely in the first quarter, Major Applewhite hit Wane McGarity with TD passes of 59 and 52 yards to set the tone early and Ricky Williams ran for 205 yards on 30 carries and personally punished the ‘Dogs  SEC-leading secondary with a couple of knocked-down shoulders and a concussion in his last performance as a Longhorn to lead the 38-11 victory. Thanks, Ricky.

Despite an inauspicious start, the Mack Brown Era began with a big bowl and blazed the path to right now with the type of offense we may see again this season, without the turnovers, of course, and with a more mature defense than the youngsters that year.

What Jackie Sherrill symbolized for the Horn was the basement experience of that time. The core of that is what was happening to our program. there seemed to be a serious loss of internal, systemic coaching continuity, a loss of memory and intelligence with the team and its opponents, with alumni, recruiting and the HS coaches in the state. Not all at one time, but in aggregation over the three coaching cycles involved.

In terms of the process, the same thing happened to Oklahoma when Barry Switzer bombed and to A&M when R.C. Slocum went down. They didn't promote from within.  Each team lost some system knowledge due to coaching changes and new staff. Sometimes the slate needs to be wiped clean, if only out of desperation. Each school had problems restoring the program continuity. In the short term it looked great at times: two close MNCs under Akers, the 1990 season under McWilliams and the Big XII championship under Mackovic. All of those were ultimately springboards to greater frustration in the end. In each there was just enough to think we'd almost made elite status, but losses to North Carolina, Miami and Penn State would prove we weren't there. And the added toll of the losses to A&M just underscored the sense of futility.

Finally, DeLoss Dodds cleared the deck with Mack, who had the good sense to re-write and update most everything...and we as fans had the patience to endure until VY and 2005 burned away the past. When A&M again rose up in 2006 and 2007, it was a call to arms for fans, alumni and the coaching staff...and this time they corrected the situation before it got out of hand.

The current tactic of designating Will Muschamp as the Coach-in-Waiting represents to me an attempt to maintain institutional continuity into the future. Whether he stays or goes is almost immaterial - Major or someone else within who is ready can take over. What is more important is the University's commitment to continuity of the system of success at this time by promoting upward. The institution memory remains continuous. We've survived the alternative, at least for now.

Although these ruthless memories are not so pleasant, neither is the alternative. This is the context in which the Longhorns now operate and the basis of optimism we commonly display. 'Twas not always so and we need to remember each season how we got to this status. We earned it the hard way just like everyone else. We don't play this game for the Nebraskas of the world to like us...but you damn well better respect us on the football field because that's where the real game ultimately takes place. 

************

Sometimes you can find a statistic that embraces an era in some small manner but reveals the real level of frustration and hopelessness involved. I found one that fits the bill, with videos.

From 1978 until December 29, 2000, the University of Texas went 265 football games without a kickoff return for a touchdown. That's 22 years and a few days. In Mack's second year, in the Holiday Bowl against Oregon, Victor Ike finally returned one 93 yards to tie the game in what would be a 35-30 loss.

This broke the drought. Love the viewing angle and the announcer.

Lam Jones, 103 yards. This was probably the last TD before the long drought and it is the Texas record: I haven't nailed that down precisely...there were several games after this so one of you might have access to records which could validate this.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to all the kick returners in the Mack Brown Era. You make me jump right out of my seat and scream like a maniac...and I love the feeling of that moment.

Even milevin will drink to that one.

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