In the aftermath of out-playing Georgia Bulldogs star quarterback Jake Fromm by running through the vaunted Bulldogs defense, Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger celebrated in the confetti in the Sugar Bowl.
He also made a statement that was either iconic or arrogant, depending on one’s perspective.
“Longhorn Nation, we baaaaack.”
One of the most mature players in the country, Ehlinger didn’t make the statement lightly — he was well aware of the phrase’s history after the infamous call by Joe Tessitore when Texas defeated Notre Dame in double overtime to open the 2016 season. He was well aware that when the Longhorns cratered that season and eventually fired Charlie Strong, it became a punchline.
The loss to Kansas became a punchline, too. Overall, Texas football was a punchline, as it largely had been since the departure of Colt McCoy and the precipitous decline of the Mack Brown era.
But the hire of Tom Herman and Ehlinger’s rise have put the program back on the right track and that means that Ehlinger is now a target for rivals, opposing fans, and moronic commentators like Terry Bradshaw.
Success tends to have that impact on people.
After the Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma last fall, eventual Heisman winner Kyler Murray didn’t exactly handle losing well, perhaps unsurprising given how little of it he’s done, refusing to shake Ehlinger’s hand. By the lead up to the Big 12 Championship game between the two rivals, Murray was unwilling to say whether he respects Ehlinger.
Unwilling to acknowledge that Ehlinger’s game is deserving of respect — he’s tough, fearless, and succeeded where so many others failed recently in becoming a successful quarterback for the Longhorns.
Ehlinger, for his part, made the mature decision when asked about Murray, asking to comment to say that he does have respect for Murray’s game. As he should. And it didn’t even appear to be painful for him.
That wasn’t enough, however, to keep the Texas-Oklahoma and Lake Travis-Westlake rivalries from bubbling up for Baker Mayfield, now apparently no more mature than when he was taunting Kansas fans and grabbing his crotch in the direction of Jayhawks players.
Specifically, Mayfield is tired of hearing about how Texas is back.
“They said that when they beat Notre Dame a couple years ago [in 2016] and they won two or three games after that,” Mayfield said in June on Norman talk radio. “I’m sick of that crap.”
Never mind that it was the play-by-ball announcer who made that claim. The fault with the Texas players was in believing it.
Mayfield went on to talk about how he doesn’t care about Ehlinger’s opinion on anything involving winning — even though Ehlinger’s opinion clearly made him mad — and noted the mutual dislike between the two high school and college rivals.
Then NFL commentator Terry Bradshaw decided to weigh in last week, going on a non-sensical rant about the Texas quarterback situation before declaring that Ehlinger “ain’t that good.”
A demonstrably false claim, by the way.
On social media, rival fans have weighed in, too, doing what they do — trashing Ehlinger, the Texas quarterback who is suddenly an existential threat to their ability to make jokes about how awful the Longhorns are and how they lost to the Jayhawks.
Well, those jokes about losing to Kansas might continue regardless — or maybe just morph into jokes about losing to Maryland — but they will just be the jokes of haters hating unless the program regresses once again.
But the prevalence and venom behind that hatred this summer proves one thing — that whether or not Texas is actually back, the Longhorns are back in the national spotlight because Ehlinger accomplished the difficult task of becoming successful enough to be worth hating with all that vehemence.
And it’s been a long time since that was true, for the Texas quarterback specifically and for the Longhorns program as a whole. Sometimes, it’s good to be hated. So bring it on, because Ehlinger has been through much worse in his life. It’s not going to give him an extra edge, because he already has an edge.
Now he just has to continue doing what he’s been doing to back up his Sugar Bowl proclamation and keep on generating those haters. Right now, though, with a little less than two months until the season opener, the most important thing is that Texas is back in the national spotlight.