...at least, I don't think so.
Whatever happens for the rest of this college football season, it has become apparent to Texas fans and the sporting world at large that Bijan Robinson is an exceptional talent. Early returns indicate that he is likely good enough to do in the NFL what he is currently doing at the University of Texas. We're all excited for him and our university and I, for one, can't help but look toward what the the future might hold for him: Big XII title. All American honors. College Football Playoffs. Doak Walker Award. Heisman. Round 1 draft pick...All possible, but the future is hazy and there is a lot of work to be done still. One thing that does seem certain, though, based on what we know of him as a person, is that he does not seem likely to self destruct after leaving the cozy confines of Austin. Now, why would I follow such a gilded appreciation with such a dark line of thought? If you're a UT alum, you probably already know, but if you're not, I'll tell you: It's happened before. Repeatedly, in fact.
I think that the University of Texas is a unique place. It's very proudly the Flagship University of the 'greatest state' in the union (which reserves the right to think of itself as a republic when necessary--you know, the LONE Star State). But it's also situated right in the middle of Texas' most liberal city (by a good measure), and Austin is a city, not a cluster of stables or a large ranch like many of its conference foes. But like those more remote universities, UT is the main attraction of its hometown. Schools like SMU, TCU, Houston, USC, Rutgers, etc., are fairly large schools with recognizable brands, but they are not the focal point of their geographic region. Not by a long shot. They are competing with things like professional sports teams, city defining industries like Hollywood or Big Oil, and a bevy of other entertainment options that insure that their brand recognition only goes as far as their current success and is limited even then. Not so with Texas. Austin revolves around UT. The Longhorns can eat ass for a decade and its fanbase comes right back to the trough for more ass the next year, having convinced themselves over the summer that THIS year is the year. And we've seen that can be a complete fallacy. But why write a giant tangent about Austin for the second paragraph of a fanpost that is supposed to be about Bijan Robinson? Just to say, we're a unique school that attracts unique personalities. Establishing a backdrop for the statement: Many of our best players lose their damn minds.
Is it them? Is it Austin? Is it UT? Is it all of these things combined with the pressure of expectation? Whatever it is, many of our best players have a stirred up a frenzy in Austin, then taken a ride on the fans' shoulders out of town, into the pros, only to hit the turnstile and take the first exit to Toon Town. Now, the University of Texas is a big school with a lot of famous alumni, and plenty of them have made their mark on the world with no social hiccups. But the ones we've produced that uh...had trouble finding their identities out there...man, they did it in spectacular fashion. We haven't really had ex-athletes that became murderers, rapists, and gangsters and gone full apeshit (Aaron Hernandez, Lawrence Phillips, Kellen Winslow Jr.), but we've had a string of eccentric personalities that didn't quite hold up in the harsh glow of the spotlight.
It all started with Ricky Williams--at least from my vantage point as a 40-year-old Texas alum. That guy was so fun to watch. He was so cool. The Cali kid that wanted to be the next great Texas RB. Remember the dredlocks and what a huge deal that was in the late 90s? Especially in Texas! He was soft spoken, highly intelligent, and he ran like a greased machine. He, along with our new coach Mack Brown, were cranking up the dormant engine of Longhorn football again and the fans were going nuts. We all thought: this guy is a surefire shot in the pros and in life. Mike Ditka thought so, too, and he traded ALL of the New Orleans Saints draft picks to get Ricky. Remember that? Uh oh...It turns out that Ricky was also very shy and had social anxiety, which we already knew at Texas but didn't want to be inconvenienced by and neither did the NFL. The press blitz and the expectations placed upon Ricky were gargantuan and they ultimately proved to be too much. Ricky was a good NFL back. When he was there, he was very productive, but there came a point where he couldn't handle it and he disappeared somewhere in the world to get high and find himself--a few times. Which in retrospect, is awesome. In fact, he's probably an integral piece in the evolution of our collective viewpoint on marijuana and mental health. But at the time, we all just thought (selfishly): What. The. Fuck? Well, he found peace and he's back at UT doing great work. He was a generational talent and a generational personality. Our next superstar will do better...
Enter Cedric Benson (RIP sir). Another phenomenal talent in the Texas backfield. Quiet guy, great collegiate career, gets drafted #4 by the Chicago Bears, and starts his pro career with the longest rookie contract holdout in Chicago history. Bad start. Mediocre follow up. Cedric would go on to have a decent NFL career but the bad PR he took for the holdout coupled with a couple of DUIs dramatically dulled his shine. The next superstar won't let us down...
Our best and brightest, Vince Young wowed us with his talent and carried the Longhorns to the moon and back with our first national championship since the 70s. The man could do anything...on a gridiron. But in the paved world, he wasn't as great. He simply could not keep it together despite his all-world talent. I blame Jeff Fisher, who seems to be universally recognized as a dick and a mediocre coach, for submarining Vince Young out of the gate. I think we could all tell that VY was feeling himself a little too much and thought his past success could carry him through the pros without the effort that is actually required at that level to be successful, but he didn't deserve as bad of a mentor as Jeff Fisher. It was a turbulent take-off in Nashville--albeit initially successful--and then he just never hit the potential we all saw before him. Quite the opposite. He's beloved still and his steakhouse is delicious, but I think he would be the first to tell you that he would like to revise his history in a few spots.
Then there was Earl Thomas. After a great career as a safety at Texas, he becomes the best, highest paid safety in the NFL. Take that Longhorn NFL curse. Earl was cruising right along until this: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/oct/01/earl-thomas-middle-finger-seattle-seahawks-nfl-leg-fracture
Leading to: Crap. There goes another one.
Is that it? Only four? Doesn't seem like a lot. What about Priest Holmes? Jamaal Charles? Colt McCoy? Derrick Johnson? Quandre Diggs, Shaun Rogers, Cedric Griffin, Casey Hampton--hey, we've got one of the all-time greatest kickers in NFL history working on Sundays right now along with a punter that just made one of the coolest kicking game plays ever by scooping up his own blocked punt, escaping pressure, and re-punting a 68 yard bomb that stopped at the 11 yard line. Longhorns in the NFL are doing ok.
True, true. But the pain and confusion of watching some of our absolute best football players crumble at the next level has given me a little PTSD. And I know I'm not alone. So, I'm very happy when I read each and every article that details what a grounded, kind, giving, humble guy that Bijan Robinson is. I feel very lucky as a fan to have him at our university and I can't wait to see what he accomplishes, but the embittered ex inside me is also girding against the worst. So, from a Texas fan to our most recent transcendent talent: stay sane Bijan. Apparently, it ain't easy.