Here we sit on the eve of yet another college football season. Tomorrow we will all begin our collective obsession with 18-22 year olds playing a game that consists of attempting to move a rubber and leather egg shaped ball down a turf field. On the surface, this contest played by college students shouldn't matter in the slightest, yet, for a great many of us this season is the most important four months of the year. When it comes to our team we're passive, we're obsessive, and we're irrational.
Yesterday I was reading this fantastic piece from the mothership on why we love college football. The article does a great job of tackling the passion for college football as a whole, but I got to thinking about why I love the Longhorns, specifically, and what this season means to me.
Much has been written about the expectations going into this year and the cynicism that has crept into the fanbase, but little has been written about hope for this year, with most fans understandably taking the "show me first" attitude. As a contrast, hope is actually where my expectations and desires lie this season, but not the sort you might expect.
In order to explain myself I have to start at the end of my journey on the 40 Acres. It was Thanksgiving day in 2008 at DKR, and we beat the Aggies handily 49-9 as we wrapped up a season plagued with drama in the vein of the 45-35 win over OU, but the heart breaking loss to Texas Tech which shattered our National Championship hopes. I had always been the type of fan who would stay at the game for the first half and return to the tailgate to watch the second half on TV because I could actually watch the game and dissect the plays instead of dealing with the drunken loudmouths in the student section. Some might call me less of a fan for that, but I would argue it made me more of a fan. I cared too much to not be able to analyze every facet of the game.
Regardless, this night was different. I couldn't bring myself to leave. I stayed until the bitter end, watching the seniors run around the stadium shaking hands with fans after finishing their final game in DKR. The bleachers were almost empty, and the PA started playing the last song of the evening: "Texas" by George Strait. The hook on that song got me reminiscing about my four years at UT and how blessed I was to have been a part of something special.
If it wasn't for Texas...
I wouldn't have watched The Longhorns take down Ohio State in the Horseshoe with Limas Sweed's over-the-shoulder catch from Vince Young my freshman year. I subsequently wouldn't have seen the students practically riot on Guadalupe after that win, knowing that if we ran the table we were heading to the National Championship. That night we all knew something was special was afoot.
I wouldn't have seen UT route OU in the Cotton Bowl that year "reversing the curse" that had plagued Mack Brown against the Sooners during his tenure.
I wouldn't have watched Vince Young run for the Roses giving Texas our first National Championship since the early 70s in one of the greatest college football games ever played.
I wouldn't have been furious about the next two years' 10-3 seasons because that simply wasn't "The Texas Standard."
I wouldn't have seen the next few years of McCoy to Shipley, McCoy to Shipley, and just for fair measure...some more McCoy to Shipley.
I wouldn't have seen that special run in 2008 where we almost ran the gauntlet of #1 OU, #11 Mizzou, #7 Oklahoma State, and #1 Texas Tech, a year before we were ever supposed to be back in the National Championship picture. I also wouldn't have gotten to see another BCS win in the bowl game over Ohio State.
I could go on and on about those 4 years, but the point is that during my time at UT I got incredibly spoiled. See, I grew up a fan of the Longhorns, but it wasn't until I came to Austin that I realized just how special being a Longhorn is. The team gave me the sense that I belonged to a special, exclusive group where expectations were high, euphoria was rampant, and most importantly, winning was expected. How the mighty quickly fell.
The next year I started law school and was able to smugly walk around my new campus because the season was just as expected. We were headed back to the National Championship, and had a damn good chance to win. We were in absolute control of the game from the outset, things were going our way...then Colt went down. And, when Colt went down, one of the greatest falls from grace subsequently followed. The rest is history.
The next year a new batch of freshmen stepped onto the 40 Acres, and for the last three years they have been given nothing but pain and agony from the football team. 5-7, 8-5, 9-4, and routs by our most hated rival. Even the most ardent fans have had a hard time keeping the faith and weathering this storm, and it's hard to blame the ones who have fallen off the wagon.
And as the new season is upon us we've finally come full circle. Those freshmen that joined the Longhorn faithful in 2010 are seniors this year.
Which brings me back to that chilly night on Thanksgiving 5 years ago. On my last game at DKR as a student I was able to look back and fondly remember the joy the Texas Longhorns gave me during my time as a student, a run that molded me into the die-hard fanatic I am today.
What saddens me the most is that this year's seniors have never had that sense of euphoria from The Longhorns. They have never watched the top of the tower turn orange 10+ times a year from the stadium or their tailgate, and they have never felt that sense of community on campus when the team is doing well. That is my hope for this season. I hope all that has been written about the returning starters and experience and getting back to the BCS and turning the corner ends up coming to fruition, not only for me, but for those seniors.
I hope those students can stand in DKR on senior night, look around that haunting, empty stadium as George Strait rings out through the loud speakers one last time and think just as I did --for one season at least--,
"Wow. That was special."