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Reliving the worst night ever: Texas vs. Texas Tech, 10 years later

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It still stings, but it’s not healthy to suppress the pain

Texas v Texas Tech Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Where were you the night the Lubbock sky turned pitch black and Brent Musburger cemented a sound Texas Longhorns fans wouldn’t soon forget, not even ten years later?

“CRABTREE! Comes free, and touchdown Red Raiders with a second to go!” Musburger exclaimed, forever haunting Longhorns fans.

Everybody has an “I was watching at …” or “I was there.”

Nobody wants to talk about, not even ten years later.

The 2008 Texas team, in my opinion, was better than the 2005 national championship roster, as well as the 2009 roster, which went on to play and lose in a national championship game.

Everybody had an “I was watching at …” or “I was there.” about that game, too.

Nobody wants to talk about that one, either.

But I digress — back to that 2008 season. Back to that night in Lubbock, where everybody knew two things: Texas Tech, with its air raid passing attack, could absolutely beat Texas, and if Texas, with another Big 12 Championship and national championship game appearance in its sights, beat Texas Tech you could all but guarantee the aforementioned accomplishments would have been achieved by the Longhorns.

The Longhorns arrived, and as many reflected in a recent oral history piece, it was a hostile environment long before students painted their faces like Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight,” before Tech’s linemen spit water out of their mouths like some sort of WWE ring entrance and tortillas started flying from the stands.

On that night, the Red Raiders were the villains, and they embraced the role wholeheartedly.

College GameDay set the stage that Saturday morning, publicizing what was at stake to college football fans everywhere, and stoking the fire even more when former Texas Tech basketball coach Bob Knight — who would probably demand a retraction if we mentioned he was most notably recognized for his success at Indiana University — came onto the GameDay set and expressed his desire for the Red Raiders to ragdoll Texas.

Texas Tech came awfully close. The No. 7 Red Raiders started the game with a safety, setting a tone that let former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis know his high-powered Texas offense wasn’t going to pass and rush as it pleased. And on the other side of the ball, the Longhorns looked the complete opposite. Before you could blink it was 19-0 Texas Tech, flirting with blowing out the No.1 team in the nation, dancing on the edge of this-is-going-to-get-ugly.

A 16-point deficit at the half never felt so comfortable, as Texas trailed 22-6.

To that note, I’ve only met a small handful of people who have been willing to share their memory of this dark and gloomy evening in Lubbock, and those that do almost always feel conflicted about the great sports debate — lose by 21-plus points, or on the final drive, in the final seconds, on one of the game’s final plays.

(I realize this is bringing back the sting of last weekend’s West Virginia loss, but stay with me. We are talking about a much more soul-crushing outcome.)

Back then, in the days of Texas football glory, it was hard to feel like the Longhorns were ever truly out of a game. Vince Young and Colt McCoy provided that security blanket, and more often than not, they both delivered.

On this night, it was McCoy, with the Heisman Trophy race narrowed down to McCoy, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Florida’s Tim Tebow, who found himself with a blank canvas, a chance to bring Texas back and in doing so provide himself with a legend’s tale that would most certainly take him to the stage at the Downtown Athletic Club in December. During the final 16 minutes of football, McCoy and the Longhorns outscored the Red Raiders 20-3 to take a 33-32 lead with 1:29 left in the game.

But everybody who was watching at a friend’s house, or a bar, or at the actual game, they all know: one minute and 29 seconds is 15 minutes in Big 12 years.

Remember that small handful of people who have been willing to share their memory of this dark and gloomy evening in Lubbock? Those who do almost always agree that 1:29 remaining meant too much time for Texas Tech, which meant at least two more beers for everyone who was watching nervously.

I was in school at Indiana. There was a big Halloween party that evening that my roommates and I were going to. I was Ricky Williams for Halloween, dreadlock wig, but minus the blackface, of course. What happened over the final 1:28 of that 1:29 changed my evening and pretty much every Halloween ever since that weekend.

Blake Gideon.

Do I have to say more? I do, don’t I? I don’t? I probably should.

No, Blake’s incredibly dumbfounding dropped interception — the football equivalent of a routine pop fly in baseball — did not lose the game for Texas.

That drop won the game for Texas Tech. The Longhorns, as current Washington State head coach and then Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach said, had at least 10 plays earlier in that game that probably lose them the game.

But when Gideon came up without the ball, the feeling was pretty somber.

That was Texas’ chance. That was it. That was the Longhorns final mulligan on the evening, an opportunity to escape the darkness of Lubbock and its hostile crowd and go on to play Baylor, Kansas and Texas A&M (LOL) and punch its ticket to Miami for the national championship game.

Breathing life back into the Red Raiders, Texas now had to pick itself up off the floor, put aside the roller coaster of emotion that was the Gideon drop and focus on stopping Texas Tech again. To this day, I will never understand what Curtis Brown and Earl Thomas were doing on that final play, but everyone who watched that game at a friend’s, or a bar, or, sadly, at Texas Tech, has forever wondered the same thing. When Graham Harrell’s back shoulder throw found Michael Crabtree, Curtis Brown was hanging onto Crabtree for dear life, desperately trying to pull him down or out of bounds. Former Texas coach Mack Brown later said Thomas thought he heard a whistle.

Okay, Mack.

But whistle or not, if you have the stomach to go and watch the final play, you’ll see Earl Thomas, long before the play even remotely resembles being blown dead, leisurely jogging over to Brown and Crabtree. You’ll then notice immediately after tortillas start flying and Crabtree prances through the end zone, Brown turns back and emphatically yells to Thomas, exclaiming something with an incredible amount of body language.

A season wasn’t lost on that evening, Texas still went on to beat Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. But it is without the slightest doubt that I tell you the best team of Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas lost its shot at etching itself into the college football history books, in a positive way, when Crabtree broke free and broke Texas’ heart.

Lubbock doesn’t have much to offer, this isn’t news to anyone. Except for football on Saturday nights under the lights.

A day game in Lubbock just feels like an entirely different stadium. It’s almost as if a different crowd comes to day games than the crowd that migrates to its seats for a night game.

These Longhorns are going to need help to get to Dallas next month for a shot at the Big 12 championship, help that they won’t find this evening when they run out of the tunnel at Texas Tech.