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In Honor of the Roommates

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Because the famous Texas roommates share my West Texas background (indeed, I grew up for a time with one of them), I will spend a little time reminiscing on their recently finished Longhorn careers.  It is strange knowing that they will not be in burnt orange next year, and while we all have bright hopes for the future, Texas is not better off because they are leaving.  The end of their careers did not go the way we wished, but that does not diminish their amazing accomplishments, accomplishments that many people doubted they were remotely capable of.

As both go to try their luck in the NFL, I would like to recount the careers of perhaps the most lethal QB-WR duo that ever graced this storied program.

Jordan Shipley

One day, early freshman year, I was getting food at Jester 2nd and ran into Jordan Shipley, who was with another football player that I do not remember.  I had not seen Jordan in years, so I struck up a conversation with him to catch up a bit.  This was after Jordan's knee injury that knocked him out for the season, so he was in crutches.  As I talked to him, he expressed regret over the injury:  After all, he was likely going to start as a true freshman at WR, and he was robbed of the opportunity.  I assured him that not only that I had no doubt he'd become a star at Texas, I was sure he'd have a legitimate shot at the NFL.  I wished him a speedy and full recovery and then left him to have his meal in private with his fellow teammate.  Neither he or I knew the injury struggles that would continue to plague him and cast doubt about his ultimate impact at UT.

We could have used him that year in 2004; the lack of a dangerous passing game was the major weakness for that team, contributing to the lone loss of the season, a disappointing 12-0 finish against Oklahoma.  While it is admittedly doubtful that the 2004 team was ready to face USC even if we had beat Oklahoma, it sure would have been nice to knock off OU and add a Big 12 crown.  As the 2005 season approached, I had high hopes for Shipley as he drew rave reviews during spring ball.  Unfortunately, it was not to be so; he got injured again and missed Texas' dream season, and after Vince Young left, I remember regretting that I would never see VY and Jordan Shipley play together in a Longhorn uniform.  Luck was not particularly kind to Jordan, it seemed.

The injury problems began to leave Longhorn fans disappointed, and some began to express their view that Jordan Shipley was nothing but a myth:  Sure, he dominated high school football, but he was playing sub-5A football, and he could not stay healthy.  One day at church, a friend straight up told me that he thought Jordan Shipley sucked, because "It is a skill to stay healthy."  He wasn't alone in his doubt; in fact, if you take the time to peruse the history here at BON, you will find many comments that all but give up hope on Shipley.  I could not blame my fellow fans for their skepticism, because I heard even Mack Brown began to doubt if Shipley would be able to salvage his career, but I remained adamant on my belief that Shipley would one day justify all of his hype.  I constantly told my friends about his elite quickness and overall athletic talent, and waited for that time when Shipley would finally be mostly free of injury concerns.

In 2006 and 2007, he gave solid contributions when he was in the game but still battled nagging injuries that limited him.  It was both relieving and frustrating at the same time:  I was relieved to finally see him play and see him play well, but it was frustrating because I knew we still weren't seeing what he was truly capable of.  Then came 2008, and he and Quan Cosby became one of the best WR duos in Texas history, and we came within a breath of a national title shot.  Shipley followed his great 2008 campaign with an even more impressive 2009 season, and nobody doubts Jordan now.  The question is no longer whether or not he'll be any good; the question is where he ranks among the all-time great Texas receivers.

While the game ended up being a bitter disappointment, I was nothing but inspired by Jordan Shipley's performance against Alabama last Thursday.  Shipley had a knack for coming up big when the team needed him.  There was that two touchdown performance against Oklahoma in 2007 (although we lost).  There was that kickoff return and 11 catch performance against OU in 2008.  There was the punt return against Texas Tech last year.  There was the punt return against Texas Tech this year when our offense was sputtering.  There was the big catch against Nebraska to set up Hunter Lawrence's field goal.  And then there was Shipley's 9 catch, two touchdown day against Alabama, helping lead a desperate rally that gave unseen hope to Longhorn fans and earned begrudging respect from Tide fans.  For him to do that with a freshman quarterback and with the other Longhorn receivers failing proved that Shipley's production was not really about his mystical roommate connection with Colt.  He simply is a great receiver, combining elite quickness, great hands, and a smart football mind to exploit coverages.  It took longer than he or I hoped that day in 2004, but eventually my prediction came to pass:  He became a star, and he will be going to the NFL.  His stats the last two years:  205 catches, 2545 yards, and 24 TDs, to go along with three more return TDs.

Furthermore, like his good friend, Jordan was a model citizen and respected leader of the team.  You may not share his faith, but his commitment to living out his belief has earned respect, and we never had to worry about Shipley getting into trouble off the field or giving poor effort on it.  For that, I am grateful.  While I may sometimes still wonder how Shipley's career would have turned out if he had not suffered his early injuries, in the end it worked out fine, which is a testament to his work ethic and talent.

Colt McCoy

If people had doubts about Shipley because of his injuries, they definitely had doubts about Colt for being, well, a nobody.  It seemed ludicrous to many fans that some scrawny kid from the middle of nowhere could lead Texas, especially after the legend of Vince Young.  All he did, of course, was break the record for freshman TD passes and nearly lead the Horns to a national title until his fateful injury against Kansas State.

That, however, did not earn him any free passes.  You rarely get any at Texas.  After a rocky 2007 season, Colt McCoy went under considerable heat.  People wanted him benched during the season for John Chiles, with some fans even creating Facebook groups about it.  Cooler heads did not think Chiles should start but cautiously suggested that we get him on the field as much as we could.  Even I, who energetically defended Colt against his detractors that season, saw the wisdom of trying to get John Chiles more touches.  Colt proceeded to obliterate all expectations once again, turning in one of the all-time great seasons for a quarterback in 2008.  I will go to my grave arguing that Colt McCoy deserved the Heisman last year, and we were a few lucky breaks away from another title shot.  Colt proved himself to be a gritty winner and a hard worker like the beloved Major Applewhite, only better.  The talk about John Chiles died into nothing, and now Chiles is not even a quarterback.  Those same fans who wished for Jevan Snead back in 2007 thanked their lucky stars the coaches chose Colt instead.  Only one thing was missing for Colt, and that was a national championship.

Unfortunately, as we all know, Colt was the victim of a mountain of cruel, bad luck.  I am not ashamed to admit that I felt pretty crappy when I saw Colt fight back tears in the post-game interview, robbed of a chance that he of all players deserved.  Even true, Alabama fans who respect the game of football would have wished Colt McCoy to play.  Not because they're arrogant enough to guarantee they'd win anyway, but because they respect a player like Colt who had given so much to college football.  Colt deserved to play, and the world of college football, whether you hail from Texas, Alabama, or Oklahoma, deserved to watch him.  And it was taken from us, and nobody felt it worse than him.  If we had lost the game with Colt, I would make my peace with the game and move on.  But to lose like that, to lose Colt McCoy in a flukey manner at a point in the game where we could have established firm control, is as cruel a game event as I have ever experienced.  I may never let it go.  ctex80 and I last summer recounted some painful games and moments in Texas history, and this moment will undoubtedly belong to that list.

Fair or not, as I said in my immediate reaction to the game, Colt McCoy's legacy, as great as it is, will be littered with "What if" questions.  A fluke injury against Kansas State in 2006 derailed a national title run.  An easily dropped interception and a host of unlucky results derailed another one in 2008.  And then in 2009, another fluke injury, this time in the biggest game of his career, derailed his last chance at college football's big prize.  I've always said that winning a national title, especially when going undefeated, requires a good deal of luck.  Colt never seemed to get the breaks to give him that chance, and that, in a word, sucks.

The good news?  Colt McCoy will move on and have a chance at the next level.  Not only that, he is recently engaged and will undoubtedly be a happy family man.  When we won the national title in 2005, Mack Brown told the players that he didn't want that event to be the best in their lives; he wanted them to be good fathers and husbands.  In a similar vein, if getting injured in the national title game is the worst thing that ever happens to Colt McCoy from now to the future, then he still has a darn good life.  Best of luck in the future, Colt.

While we are ultimately disappointed with the final result, we should remember the expectations of Colt McCoy when he first started and how he obliterated them.  He exemplified hard work and perseverance, and I never, ever saw Colt McCoy give up in a game.  He might play terribly, he might get hurt, and he might have his teammates fail him, but make no mistake, if he's physically able, Colt will play to the end.  Because of that, he is the winningest QB in NCAA history, and that distinction is well-earned.

To end

I will not miss the annoying roommate references on TV, referring to either them or their fathers, but I will certainly miss watching these two play.  They exemplified hard work, dedication, and good citizenship on and off the field, and they maximized their talent here in college. They should both remind us that great things can happen when we do not expect it, and whenever Texas is looking at a "down" year in the future, we should look back on these two guys who smashed every expectation people set for them.

Shipley does not have prototypical WR size and McCoy does not have prototypical NFL arm strength, but underestimate them at your own peril.  Like Vince Young before them, they have this bad habit of proving people wrong.