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Games That Just Pissed Me Off

Here we are, deep in the heart of Texas and deep into the summer doldrums, usually that vacant relentless blue sky period of sweltering temperatures and the absolute minimum of football news. Now we have tropical clouds and high humidity, even rain, and it’s Houston all over again.Still, there's little real football news, however much dime scours the webs of our being.

The swings of the sports pendulum have been Texas-sized this past season as we rose to giddy heights of anticipation only to spiral far, far down the line to a place we didn’t expect when we were ridin’ high in the saddle.

There was a chilling aspect as to how these teams – football, volleyball, basketball and baseball – met their fate. Volleyball just ran into someone as good as they were, and when it counted, just a hair better. Baseball encountered two damn good TCU pitchers – of all the teams, these two went down in the most traditional manner. Basketball showed a strong chemistry that quickly fell apart, like a crystal with a flawed lattice structure, once broken the team changed into merely an amorphous mass of players. Football, though, suffered a different fate, where the destiny of one player was altered -and so was that of the team. We didn’t get to play out our hand…not that unusual in football, but one of those haunting things that can leave unrequited pieces of emotion and a sense of destiny unfulfilled. I was touched by the anonymous alumni who donated a memorial to the 2009 Longhorns. I doubt if last season will ever rest in peace.

 Within me I have some of those unrequited emotions that I want to explore in this little doldrums’ series. We didn’t really get ambushed this past year but I will talk about some football games that were ambushes, games that both angered and mystified me at the time.  I’d be walkin’ around for days going wtf was that, how and why did that happen at this particular time?

As the weather turns Houston-like here in Central Texas, that is where we will start. Start ducking thunderstones flying from Thor’s hammer and join me on the flip for a little walk on the dark side of the pasture.

We’ll journey back to another period of doldrums, roughly that cloudy mass of uncertainty and general gloom which reigned supreme from the mid-1980s to 1998. As the Fred Akers Era ground to an end after 1983's high point and moved on to David McWilliams, the hope was that someone would be able to sustain DKR’s mantle. McWilliams is a great guy, a wonderful Horn, someone who emceed an event I ran up here in the late 90s, but his time as Texas head coach was when the program was hitting low ebb in many areas. Not all bad but without the consistency marking our better eras.

We commonly understand that winning and losing are cyclical to some lesser or greater degree. Some programs can sustain for decades, some for only a few years. Texas has been lucky to have wonderful periods of success like the one we are in now.

The hardest part of the cycle is the going down the shoulder of the curve. At the bottom it is bleak, almost hopeless. Going up the curve is a tough fight, but things seem to be getting better all the time. Going down, though, is a pitiful exercise in futility, of hope against hope and loses that really hurt your psyche as well as breaking your heart. Those times are the true test to the real fan. For you younger fans 30 and under, this is really a golden age. You can count the loses on your fingers and toes; you’re so lucky.

Aside from the overall team cycle, there is also the cycle with the individual teams we play on a regular basis. The five-game losing streak to OU was a big monkey on our back, back-to-back loses to A&M were big horseflies we couldn’t swat, and KSU… the ‘Cats have some serious payback due. Typically, the outer cycle of the program and the inner cycles of the teams you play often sync up on the down shoulder of the curve. One of the phenomena of such an event is the ambush game, often viewed as an anomaly at the time but, unfortunately, sometimes a harbinger of the near future. 

 David McWilliams and Horns got off to a rocky start in '87, losing at #5 Auburn, 31-3, and then got punched out in the home opener to BYU, 22-17. With pressure mounting, the Horns whipped Oregon St., 61-16, and Rice, 45-26, to even the slate. Number One OU deflated any serious enthusiasm with a 44-9 beating in Dallas, but Texas came back to nip #15 Arkansas, 16-14, at their place and then downed Tech, 41-27, to stand 4-3. Not a pretty record, for sure, but it could have been worse. And then it happened.

 November 7, 1987 Houston at the Dome

 When a team rolls up 601 yards of total offense like the Horns did that night in the Dome, you’d expect they’d be flaying the skin off their opponent. Yardage, however, wasn’t really the measure of that game.  It was a record breaker but not in a way anyone could have imagined. At least not on the Texas side. There was tempered optimism going into the contest; we knew the Horns weren’t great, but they seemed to be getting much better and should have matched up well with the Cougars.

 The big plays started the very first minute of the game and never stopped. Those  plays would be abetted by a massive amount of turnovers – eight by Texas, five by Houston – in a domed stadium, of all things.  Brett Stafford hit Tony Jones for 71 yards to tie the game up, 7-7, on the Horns first play from scrimmage, with barely 39 seconds gone in the game. UH’s Anders had already scored on the third play of the game from 20 yards out. That should have sent a chill down our backs.

Texas added a field goal on Wayne Clements 31-yard kick to lead at the end of the quarter, but the Coogs would drive 93 yards early in the second with Anders going over from the one to go up 13-10. Texas quickly retaliated on another bomb to Jones, this one from Stafford for 62-yards, to regain the lead, 17-13. Then the dark shadow of the future passed before our eyes when Johnny Jackson snagged an interception and returned it 31-yards for a TD.  With seven seconds left in the half, Stafford nailed Gabriel Johnson with an 11-yard scoring aerial to make it 24-20.

The Horns come out and put 10 more points up to start the third quarter, three on a 29-yard Clements FG and a startling Eric Metcalf pass to Keith Cash for five yards. Ah, 34-20 and things were starting to look the way the Horn fans thought they should but, in fact, the Horns were whistling through the graveyard. The night became a nightmare of nightmares: Houston scored 40 straight points. Browndyke had a couple of field goals, and an 85-yard pass from Dacus to Williams and an Anders two-yard run put UH ahead, 35-34, and I was going what the hell is this shit? Get back on track, Horns, nail ‘em. But it was our QBs who got nailed with three interception returns for TDs that sealed our fate: Thornton with a 17 yard return, and then Jackson with two more, one for 53 and one for 97. 

Johnny Johnson would set an NCAA record that stands to this day for most interceptions returned for a touchdown (3) by an individual in any NCAA game in history. Johnson's total yardage (181) was one yard shy of total return yards for a game as well. With Thornton’s INT return, Houston had four for the game. No one had ever done that to the Longhorns.

I couldn’t even talk to my shell-shocked football buddies – there’s just nothing to say and no way in hell to feel good about that night or the sudden turn the team had taken. You get over those games eventually, but you never forget.

Texas would beat TCU and Baylor, but lost to #15 A&M, 20-13. The Horns beat Pittsburgh in the Bluebonnet Bowl, 32-27, to finish 7-5, a bittersweet year at best. McWilliams would peak with a 10-2 in 1990’s Shock the Nation year but the Cotton Bowl loss to Miami, 46-3, was so bad I’m not even going to include it in this series because it needs something much more to balance the scales. It’s been 20 years and that’s not even long enough.

The Horns would lose in ’88 and ’89 to Houston, get some measure of revenge in 1990’s 45-24 victory, a fine aggressive game, but lost in ’91, McWilliams’ last season. We have not lost to U of H since that time, winning seven straight to make the overall 16-7-2.

 The Horns didn’t play Houston until 1953 when Ed Price beat them 28-7. In what was perhaps a odd pairing to start the Wishbone Era, Texas second venture against the Coogs was in 1968 and resulted in a 20-20 tie. Considering the legacy of Texas’ wishbone going back to Bill Yeoman’s triple option veer, Houston probably wasn’t the best team for the debut of the new offense: the Cougar defense saw the triple option every day in practice. Paul Gibson was a hell of a tailback and that game was excellent despite being an opener.

One of the very best games I’ve ever seen in Royal-Memorial Stadium was the 1978 contest between #6 Texas and #8 Houston. They were so well matched on both sides of the ball that it became like a heavy-weight fight, pounding offense and killer defensive plays all the way, with Houston nipping Texas 10-7 to win the SWC.

All that being said, the 60-40 game just soured me on Houston from then on out; the Run’n’Shoot and later excesses just turned me off and my sense of 'respected enemy' declined and has never been rekindled. However, Houston will continue to wind through our history in the long term, so we ignore them at our peril.

While I’ll be talking the dark side for a while, PB will in fact focus on much more cheerful games this Friday just in time for weekend revelry.

Feel free to add any of your own memories and details and your worst piss-you-off games.