A Stroll Down Memory Pain

Every true fan remembers that cathartic moment or game when their passing interest for a team or a program became a personal passion. From that point forth, every loss was a prelude to death, every win, a glimpse of immortality.

A few months ago one of BON's members unabashedly shared the moment he fell in love with the Longhorns football team, pinpointing the exact game when it became more than just a game. In the midst of a tumultuous 5-7 season by Texas standards, many including myself found solace in rehashing better times and were moved to share our own personal bonding moments with the 'Horns.

With that popular thread still fresh in my heart, it dawned on me that the Longhorns basketball team made a similar impression on me against the same Arkansas Razorbacks program Texas meets on the hardwood at 8pm CST tonight.

After the jump, my cathartic moment with the Runnin' Horns and an invitation to you BON basketball faithful to extoll your own personal love connection with Texas Hoops.

Those of you born after 1980 probably don't remember a time when the Longhorns basketball team wasn't a perennial invitee to the Big Dance. As incredulous as it may seem, prior to 1989, Texas basketball served as little more than a footnote in the Longhorns Athletic Program. The decades of disillusionment - toiling in the cellar of the Southwest Conference - leading up to that year are still manifested in the relatively apathetic response many diehard Longhorns football fans direct towards the basketball program even today.

That being admitted to the record, in the spring of 1988, Deloss Dodds renewed his determination to change the moribund culture surrounding the basketball program by dismissing the old school authoritarian Bob Weltlich after six rather unceremonious seasons. In his place, Dodds hired a fiery, progressive coach from back East, Tom Penders.

Penders went to work immediately changing the face of the Longhorns with a mix of JC transfers, New York blacktop influence and local Texas talent, all of whom would serve as catalysts for his breathtaking, up-tempo brand of basketball. The results of his radical conversion were felt immediately on the court and in the stands as the 'Horns went 25-9 in Penders' first year, and attendance at the Drum increased from an average of around 4,000 to 10,000.

Yeah, read that again. 

Coincidentally, two seats on that souped-up bandwagon belonged to my dad and I. He'd gone in halvsies with a business associate on four tickets and viewed the investment as a front row seat to his inconsonant sixteen-year old son's rite of passage through the blunder years .

For me, it was just fodder for the idle high school hallway chatter that seemed more important at the time than the interminable biology and english and social studies classes those "too cool for school" conversations bisected. However, that all changed on February 4, 1990.

It was a rare Sunday afternoon game on the Longhorns docket and Texas was facing the #6 Arkansas Razorbacks. The only reason why I knew the game was of greater import was the two tickets my dad's friend reluctantly forfeited to us to sell in his absence garnered more than the typical token $5 or $10 churro, popcorn and sausage roll money extra tickets typically merited from the few scalpers we passed on the way to the game on the pathway near the tennis courts between San Jacinto and Red River.

Even though Arkansas also featured a fast-paced brand of b-ball nicknamed "40 Minutes of Hell" by their outspoken head coach, Nolan Richardson, the Horns held an unremarkable 86-83 lead over the Hogs with less than a minute to play.

With 14 seconds on the clock, Arkansas' heralded point guard Lee Mayberry was called for an intentional foul inspiring a disbelieving Richardson to casually pick up his coat and "stroll" off the floor on his way to the locker room in a classless show of protest.

I guess the acne-ravaged coach figured he'd save face by selfishly usurping the moment and denying Penders and his players the pleasure of a victory that Richardson felt was unearned. As an aside, going forward, he'd be forever known as "Strollin' Nolan," a title he publicly dismissed, but I'm sure he secretly relished.

Not surprisingly, the coach's premature departure only served to raise the ire of the rabid Longhorns fans looking on. Having worked ourselves into a frothy lather, we nearly raised the roof off the Drum when play resumed. As a fervent football fan, I already knew there was no love lost between the 'Horns and the Hogs. But again, I can't stress enough, at this particular time, Texas basketball for me and many Longhorns fans was just a brief diversion between the end of the football and the start of the baseball seasons.

But not that day. No, that day there was nothing more I wanted in the world than a victory over the smug Nolan Richardson and his mouthy Arkansas Razorbacks. And with 12 seconds to play, the Hogs fouled our legend-in-the-making point guard and TJ Ford-contemporary, Travis Mays. He'd visit the charity stripe but mercilessly miss the front end of a one-and-one. Arkansas's Lee Mayberry grabbed the rebound and went on a frenzied foray across the mid-court line for a last-second desperation heave to even the score.

As we unwashed fans held our collective breath, we thought aloud, "just foul the damn dribbler." Even the "basketball illiterati" on hand knew a quick foul in a non-shooting situation would have sent Mayberry to the line with a chance only to cut the lead to one. But Penders' gassed backcourt trio of Blanks, Mays and Wright - aka "Texas BMW" - were left in neutral and could do little more than the spectators as Mayberry sank a 25-foot three-pointed dagger into the hearts of every fan on hand with burnt orange blood coursing through his and her veins.

I can still see Mayberry dribble to his left and break free at the top of the key to unleash an equalizer that couldn't have been more purely stroked. It was cruelly beautiful, like watching a boa constrictor strike and expire a mouse. 

You could feel the air leave the Drum as the crowd collectively exhaled. We had nothing left. Just like our beloved Longhorns, we hadn't been here before and didn't know how to overcome our distraught feelings of failure even though the score was technically tied and we were headed to overtime. Adding insult to injury, before the tip in the extra frame, out strolled one Nolan Richardson. That's right, the son of a bitch came back to coach the extra period after walking out on his team. Rumor had it he'd been in line buying some popcorn when Mayberry tied the game. 

After exchanging 3-point plays to start overtime, the Hogs took control and outscored the Horns 17 to 10 to stroll out of Austin with an 103-96 victory. The Hogs would break our hearts twice more that season beating the Horns in the SWC post-season tourney and in the Quarter Finals of the Big Dance with a Final Four berth on the line. (Note: Richardson's Hogs would lose to Duke in the finals.)

After the game, I was practically apoplectic, listlessly limping back to the car in silence as my dad walked beside me and put his hand on my shoulder knowing from experience that words were meaningless vibrations at a time like this one.

I couldn't sleep that night. I wasn't just mad, I was mad at Penders and the Horns. How could they let that happen? I believed in them as I'd never believed before and this is how they repay me? I gave them my heart and they left me beat-less and my newly realized unconditional love for them, unrequited.

Know the feeling? Yep, I was "Hooked."

It would be disingenuous of me to tell you that I've lived and died with every game the Runnin' Horns have played since that fateful day.

But I can promise you without hesitation that the bruise from that game remains.

When did you know that you were "Hooked?"

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