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Longhorns At Large: Austria

Today marks the beginning of a new series inspired by the great work from Nico over at RBR, in which we'll visit with Longhorn fans/BON readers around the globe. First up, a chat with Christopher Houben, who's following the Horns from Austria, of all places. I encourage you to read the whole thing - Chris really gives some terrific answers.

Lastly, if you're a Longhorn fan reading BON from afar, please take a moment and email us if you'd like to share your story.

Burnt Orange Nation: Christopher, thanks for chatting with us. First, give us the background info. Why are you in Austria? And what's your tie to the Longhorns?

Christopher Houben: That's pretty easy to answer. I'm in Austria because I'm Austrian. I was born and raised here. You might ask now, how does a native Austrian become a Longhorn fan? Even though I'm only 25 years old, I've been a football fan for more than 15 years now. The more I got involved with the game, the more I have been attracted by college football. I always liked sports with rabid fans and lots of tradition. However, while the NFL was shown on European TV on a weekly basis, it was and still is a tough or almost impossible task to find college football broadcasts.

So when I went to Texas in 2002 to visit my relatives, who have lived in Austin for more than 30 years, I snapped at the chance and got tickets for three bowl games including the Cotton Bowl game between the Longhorns and LSU and the famous double overtime National Championship Game (Ohio State vs. Miami) in Tempe, AZ. After experiencing the atmosphere in person, I started to love the college game even more. At the same time, my relatives didn't hesitate to explain that there is only one college team which will be accepted in our family - the Texas Longhorns.

After returning to Austria, I started following the Longhorns on a regular basis over the Internet. I also noted that my university here in Vienna has listed UT as a partner university. However, when I applied for my exchange semester I had to name three universities and was eventually selected to go to New Orleans to attend Tulane. My dream to spend a semester on the UT campus seemed to be over.  To be honest with you, even I still can't believe, what happened afterwards. After spending two weeks in New Orleans, I had to leave the city due to Hurricane Katrina.

Just a few days later my home university informed me that they had called UT and asked if I wanted to transfer to Austin. It was probably the easiest question I've ever had to answer. I arrived in Austin just two days before the game against Louisiana-Lafayette. Before I even had a UT-ID I went to the DKR ticket office to check my tickets for Saturday's game. Over the next four months I was in the stadium for 11 of the 13 Longhorn wins, including the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. January 4th, 2006 became one of the greatest and most emotional days in my entire life. I will never forget the moment when I watched VY running into the end zone with 19 seconds to play. The sound of the "Eyes of Texas" which were sung after the game will always be in my mind.

While being in Austin, I did not only follow Texas Football but tried so see as many of the Longhorns teams as possible. Especially Gregory Gym and the Texas Volleyball experience is something I can recommend to every Horns fan.

So far I have seen Texas teams play on 27 occasions - Texas won 27 times.

Burnt Orange Nation: Can you tell us now a bit about how you found this website? How long have you been a BONer?

Christopher Houben: I have found out about BON during my exchange semester in Austin about at the time when you made the move to SBN. I have loved it since and the site has become one of my top three websites over the past couple of months.

Burnt Orange Nation: Do you get to watch any of the Longhorn football games on television over there? Do you stay up late and refresh like crazy on Gamecast?

Christopher Houben: There is one channel called NASN which shows live college games. Unfortunately they don't have the rights to show the ESPN (and ABC) games, which is a terrible thing for a Longhorns fan. So I have decided to spend a little more than $100 on the online ESPN GamePlan package, which allows me to see about 20 college games per week. I have been lucky so far, as they showed two of the three Horns games and will also broadcast Saturday's Big12 opener against Iowa State. Additionally there are also some video players on the Internet, where you can watch live streams of ESPN and all the big American networks.

Burnt Orange Nation: Are there any other Longhorn fans in Austria? Is there any appreciation for collegiate football in Austria, period?

Christopher Houben: Football has become "pretty" big over the past years in Austria. Our local league here has become the by far the best league in Europe. The Vienna Vikings, Austria's best team, have won three European championships (please don't confuse European amateur football with the NFL Europe) in a row. They attract up to 7,000 fans for their games, which is a pretty large number for Austrian circumstances. Soccer, for example, which is the biggest sport (besides skiing) in Austria, draws an average crowd of about 6,500 per game.

At the same, time interest in the NFL has shown some increase. Super Bowls gain a big market share for their nightly broadcasts. The college game, however, is pretty much unknown. As we don't have collegiate athletics here in Austria and in most parts of Europe, people don't understand what the game and the tradition is about. Additionally it's always a challenge to explain the college football system to newbies. Still I try my best and have actually started my own college football column on Football-Austria.com, which belongs to a good friend of mine.

I actually only know one other Longhorn fan here in Austria. Another friend came over to Austin during my exchange semester to attend the games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Besides owning a closet full of burnt-orange merchandise he has also started to follow the Longhorns on a frequent basis.

Burnt Orange Nation: Okay, briefly play tour guide here. If a BONer's gonna get to spend a few days in Austria, where should we visit?

Christopher Houben: That's definitely the toughest question so far. Americans always asked me about "The Sound of Music" and Arnold Schwarzenegger, when they heard that I was from Austria. Personally, I don't really care about the Governator and "The Sound of Music" is a movie which most Austrians have never seen. So forget about Arnie, the Trapp family and most of the clichés. Even though not very large (Austria is about as large as Maine) there is tons of other stuff to do and see, especially, if you're interested in history.

If you come in the winter time, you have to go skiing, which is something like a national obligation here. The mountains in the Western parts of the country are simply amazing. Vienna, the capital, is one of these cities, which you have to see. I think most Americans will be overwhelmed by the range of interesting stuff here: From American Football games to classical music, from bars which won't close at 2:00 am to a huge number of theaters, opera houses, movie theaters and museums, from the beer gardens to the wine-drinking locales. The best thing is - and I'm sorry to mention that - that you can reach all these places by public transport within only a couple of minutes.

As I'm originally from Graz (which also happens to be Schwarzenegger's home town - didn't I say I don't care about him?), the capital of Styria, I have to recommend the wine region in the South of the province. You will love the wine and the beauty of the countryside.

Burnt Orange Nation: Lastly, any predictions on the rest of the football season for us, Chris?

Christopher Houben: Talking about the Longhorns, I think that we will see some improvement over the next couple of weeks. Even though Greg Davis will hopefully stick to a strong running game around SY and JC, I expect Colt to become more and more comfortable with the offense. I don't really know what is going on with our defense , but I hope Chizik will get it fixed. We shouldn't underestimate OU. I still think that they are a dangerous team, especially in a rivalry game. The toughest tests for the Horns, however, will be the road games against Tech and Nebraska. Both lost on Separation Saturday, but I think that they are totally different teams at home. At the end Texas will come out as the Big 12 Champion and play in the Fiesta Bowl.

On a national level I've got a really strange feeling about Michigan. I think that they might be able to beat Ohio State for the first time in years and become the Big10 team which plays for the MNC in Glendale. The winner of the West Virginia at Louisville game also should have a great opportunity to reach the title game. Right at the moment there is something about Louisville which I really like.

Burnt Orange Nation: Chris, I learned a lot from chatting with you. A genuine thank you for taking the time to talk to us.  Hook `Em!