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A Hill Country Fiesta

On Monday, I spent the evening at Hill Country in Manhattan with Horndogger, a BON semi-regular, and hundreds of other Longhorn fans, eating, drinking and watching Texas pull out a miraculous yet somehow never in doubt comeback win over Ohio State.  Following is my take on the night and, for your amusement, a collection of musings (think BZ's News and Views) recorded during the game by my girlfriend, presented Sports Gal-style.  Click through the jump to read it.

I don't know all that many Texas alums in New York City, even though I've lived here four and a half years.  They exist, certainly, in immense quantities.  I see the hats, the shirts, and the hoodies, and I hear the unmistakable Texan (but not Southern) drawls.  I occasionally get a "hook 'em" thrown at me when I'm wearing burnt orange, and I oblige the excitement of recognition in my counterpart, but I never initiate that elaborate dance between strangers.  And I rarely go to bars to watch games, preferring the comforts of home and peaceful, solitary enjoyment.

Maybe it's the burgeoning New Yorker inside of me, I don't know.  The South, where things are spread out, you have a back yard, a garage, and space in between your neighbors and where you drive to and from work in solitude, practically begs you to interact with strangers, either in casual conversation or through non-verbal expressions of togetherness, community.  New York begs the opposite.  People are everywhere.  I live in a box, surrounded on all sides by other people living in boxes.  My balcony, which I share with the apartment next door, overlooks a street that is hopping nearly 24 hours every day.  My commute consists of walking through Soho to get to a crammed subway with thousands of other people so I can go to work in a 50-story building and ride elevators crammed with even more people.  Keeping to ourselves and minding our own business is a defense mechanism.  On the subway, I avoid eye contact, listen to my iPod and read books, and give quizzical looks to tourists who insist on talking loudly and inevitably get off at Canal Street to go buy fake Coach purses and I [heart] NY t-shirts.  It's not that we're rude, per se.  We just erect invisible walls around ourselves to replace those tangible walls that others have (cars, houses, etc.) in an effort to shield us from the mass of humanity bearing down on us at all times.  Break down those invisible walls by engaging us in conversation and we're usually unfailingly nice.  But, oh, those invisible walls.  They keep us detached from everyone around us, even those with something important in common, like the shared experience of upbringing or university.

All of which makes it that much stranger and perhaps more sublime when a group of strangers in New York City, united by a singular love of university and football, come together, drop the invisible walls and experience something communally, as one.  This was the scene Monday night at Hill Country, a barbecue joint and bar in the Flatiron neighborhood of Manahattan.  There's a bit of an "expat" feel to the Longhorn community up here, as if we're living in the city on borrowed time, which some might be.  Even those of us who don't plan on returning to Texas seem to yearn for reminders of home and of the university.  Which is why we watched the game at Hill Country, explicitly and intentionally evocative of home and whose barbecue (modeled on Kreutz Market in Lockhart and somewhat shockingly excellent, though not as good as the original, obviously) and selection of Texan amenities (Lone Star beer, Big Red soda, Kreutz sausages and Blue Bell ice cream) pay homage to the products of the state it attempts to accurately represent.  It's a little piece of home for a group looking for a community.

So when I sat down on Monday at a wooden table with my Lone Star, some baked beans, cornbread, and moist beef brisket, ribs and white bread on butcher paper, and with the Horns on the big screen in front of me and a mass of burnt orange around me, I didn't feel claustrophobic like I might have elsewhere; I felt like like I was home, a part of a community--something I rarely feel in New York.  It's not that I like every Longhorn fan and dislike everyone else in New York, it's that the invisible wall goes away in these situations.  When the wall is up, I'll have an indifferent attitude to very nice people, and when the wall is down, I will high five even the most annoying asshole Texas fan.  The drinking probably helps too.

The majority of the game didn't lend itself much to high-fiving, however.  Texas came out flat, and didn't really get its offense in gear until a pair of 4th down conversions and a ballerina move by Colt put the Horns up in the 3rd Quarter.  The Hill Country crowd broke out of the doldrums with that drive and was quite emotional from there on out.  This took various forms, from blithe cheer for the 3rd Quarter domination and mounting lead  to prototypical blind outrage at some questionable calls, and from the arrant despair of facing a humiliating loss to the unmitigated glee of what we all knew, even in those darkest moments, was possible, probable, even inevitable.  The legend of Colt McCoy grows with every passing day.  He will never be the awe-inspiring presence that certified football god Vince Young was and remains to this day in Texas football lore.  Vince will be the one you brag to your grandchildren that you saw play once--the one whose greatness will exaggerate with each telling--but while Colt may never go down as the greatest quarterback in Longhorn history, he has a chance to end next year as the greatest Longhorn to ever play quarterback.

There's something ethereal about witnessing an astounding comeback win in a big game as a part of a communal group.  I watched the Rose Bowl against USC in my apartment with one other person.  I did not drink.  And I would not trade that experience for anything other than being there in person.  When you watch games alone, sober, you have a certain incorporeal connection to the flow of the game.  You're not distracted by others and your mind isn't muddled by alcohol; you pick up on every nuance of the game, understand every move each side is making, and are able to authoritatively pick nits with those moves.  To me, this allows the viewer to appreciate the game--its flow, its eccentricities, the full scale of what was accomplished by the result--in a way that just is not possible in a group setting.  But while I don't regret for a second watching that game at home, oh, what I would have given to be a member of this community of expats in New York when Vince scored that touchdown.  The experience when Quan scored on Monday was something awe-inspiring and inarticulable.  The fact that "ethereal" really is the best word I can think of to describe it is telling because it more or less means intangible, tenuous, sublime.

It was all of those things.  And that's why sometimes those invisible walls need to be broken down.  That's why there's a community of Longhorn expats in New York rather than a loose collection of individuals.  That's why we get together to watch these games.  Sometimes those of us who try our hardest to keep our experiences private in a city that begs the opposite need a communal experience of joy among friends.  And what better friends does a Longhorn expat have than other Longhorns?


And now for the Fiesta Bowl Musings in outline form....sort of! the one, the only BZ Gal.....yeah, we need to work on that name.....Anyway, these were written as we watched the game.  Opinions here are only hers, except those in brackets, which are my edits.

I. Marching band is awesome

  • Cool hats
  • Shimmy w/fringe
II. Sweatervest + transition lenses = awesome

III. Roommates

  • Colt McCoy
  • Jordan Shipley
  • Colt McCoy AND Jordan Shipley

IV. BZ tries to steal things. [i.e. her notepad to see what the hell she's writing down.]

V. Buy a Nissan Z

VI. Why is Howie Long still making commercials?

  • I thought he loved Radio Shack
  • Where is Teri Hatcher?


VII. BZ explains things I already understand

  • "Stingers"
  • Standard BZ move
VIII. BZ recognizes someone [on TV in the stands]
  • Does have friends
  • Is liked?
IX. Colt Paradox
  • Hot body
  • Unattractive face
  • Hot girlfriend
  • Mama's boy
  • (At this point, Colt gets sacked  and I feel badly for calling him unattractive)
X. Loud noises!!!

XI. Under a minute in the half
  • BZ and Horndogger ["HD"] discuss game strategy (and subsequently scream)
  • I am put off by "Bevo: It's what's for Dinner" poster
XII. BZ cries.

[Halftime!  While smoking a cigarette on the street, I give a homeless man $20 because I have no smaller bills and I instruct him to go around the corner and buy a sandwich like he says he wants to do and bring me back change.  He offers to leave his backpack with me as collateral.  I decline.  He says he will return with change and a receipt.  I say I don't want a receipt.  He seems genuine (no, seriously!).  We smoke another cigarette.  Homeless man does not reappear.  We hang out outside for a while longer, not so much to get my money back but to have our faith in humanity confirmed.  It gets too cold and we go back inside.  But hey, it's New York...sandwiches are expensive!]

XIII.  Second Half!
  • Will Texas pull this out?
  • Is Quan Cosby moving in on Colt's territory?
  • Will BZ ever get the $20 back from the homeless man outside?
XIV.  I'm afraid to ask right now, but I can only assume that the leaves on the OSU players' helmets represent the number of joints they smoked throughout the season.

XV.  I'm distracted by the bright yellow "Fiesta Bowl" logo in the top corner and constantly think there are flags on the play.

XVI.  BZ seems unimpressed with the guy across the table spouting stats at him.

XVII.  A guy in the OSU marching band was totally drinking a beer.

XVIII.  Texas touchdown!! -- I pretend to know the fight song.

XIX.  I wonder if Tostitos "Hint of Jalapeno" are as God-awful as Tostitos "Hint of Lime."

XX.  If football doesn't pan out for Colt, I think he has a promising pirouette.

XXI.  BZ and HD order another bucket of Lone Star; my handwriting gets progressively worse.

XXII.  BZ makes fun of my handwriting.

XXIII.  Is the stadium in Phoenix made up of remnants from the Hindenburg?

XXIV.  It CANNOT be cold enough in Phoenix for a parka.

XXV: Update: TWO more buckets of Lone Star were ordered.

XXVI:  HD mentions taking a shot and I finally realize that he's referring to the offense.

XXVII.  I'm educated on Will Muschamp's halftime adjustments.

XXVIII.  Redaction: BZ is now friends with the guy spouting stats across the table.  Thank you, Lone Star.

XXVIX. Seriously, what were Foswhitt Whittaker's parents thinking?

XXVX.  The roman numerals are taking more concentration.

XXVXI(?).  The bar is playing a different Texas song and I'm not entirely convinced they're not making it up.

XXVXII(I'm going with it).  BZ has some sexy dance moves to a second unintelligible Texas song.

XXVXIII.  I'm concerned about mesothelioma
  • Have I been exposed to asbestos?
  • 1-800-RESULTS
34.  I really thought I would see more of this "explosive" Texas offense.  It's mildly disappointing.  Come on Mack!

35.  I think BZ says he needs to study tonight.  He said he "loves the five wide."  I TOTALLY know what that means.

36.  I would like to give Colt a band-aid for the boo boo on his head.  I'm not sure why (see point IX).

37.  I will be tempted to stab myself in both the eyes and ears if I have to witness one more Bud Light "Drinkability" commercial.  It's "drinkable" because it's water, people.  You're only slightly better off drinking Gatorade.

38.  HD's girlfriend says "hi" to me via text message.  Texas fan girlfriend solidarity.

39.  Bullshit pass interference call on Texas.  Mack Brown no longer looks like a jovial grandfather.

40.  Touchdown OSU.  Now I have to start paying attention.

41.  I would pay to have Dennis "All State, President Palmer" Haysbert read the dictionary to me.  HD lists him on his "Top 5 Smoothest Black People" list.

42.  BZ makes fun of me for "overreacting" to a Shipley punt return.  Come ON, I'm trying over here...

43.  Update: Upon reviewing my last entry, BZ informs me that it was in fact a kickoff return.  I know zero about football and BZ is an ass.

44. It's under 4 minutes in the 4th quarter and OSU just intercepted.  I'm going to be VERY quiet right now. [um, no they didn't.....Texas punted.]

45.  I had no idea that pass interference on both the offense AND the defense was possible.  Sadly, I just learned this is in fact the case.

46.  MULLET!!

47. 57 seconds left.  I can't look right now.

48. "4th down and the Fiesta Bowl."  Note: kill commentator.

49.  First down Texas.  BZ spills beer everywhere.

50. "Fiesta" evokes thoughts of a happy, celebratory event, so why do I feel like cowering in a corner right now?

51.  TOUCHDOWN TEXAS! -- BZ's mom calls, and my eardrum is blown out.  I have a blister from notetaking and my pen is running out, but at least I can crawl out from my nervous position under the table.  Hook 'em Horns!

52.  MULLET!  What a way to end the game.

53.  By the way, I know the words to "The Eyes of Texas are Upon You." [Next step: knowing the title]