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Texas returns to Lawrence where it lost to Kansas 50 years ago

Longhorns will take on Jayhawks in a game with no significance.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Have you heard the one about Texas and Kansas?

You know the joke. A guy walks into a bar, he’s wearing burnt orange, of course, and before he has a chance to sit down someone has already verbally bludgeoned him with taunts and trash talk about the fact the Texas Longhorns lost in overtime to the Kansas football Jayhawks.

Texas football is the punchline. Texas football is the joke. Get it?

Sadly, that game, the most embarrassing moment in Texas football history, turned two years old on Monday, the jokes and laughs still plenty.

I thought about sharing my experience in Lawrence on that day. Oh, yes, I was there. I was standing there in the cold bleachers, one of the, maybe, 10,000 people in attendance, in full-blown Surrender Cobra as the Longhorns walked off the field. Well, I don’t know if they walked off the field. It looked more like their sad, miserable souls were being dragged to their final resting place, inside the locker room at Kansas where reality — an absolutely unfathomable reality — was waiting for them.

This is where I’m torn, because Tom Herman made some comments at Monday’s press conference that I still haven’t been able to process. Because I was under the impression that everybody on the planet who knows anything about what happened two years ago thoroughly understands that it was arguably the lowest moment in Texas football history, and that with everything at stake this Friday, Texas going back to Lawrence and steamrolling the Jayhawks is some of the most poetic justice, what have you, etc., that I have ever seen.

But I’m torn. Because the comments Herman made, in my opinion, about the loss to Kansas, were absolute garbage. As in, I’m not buying it for a second, Tom.

“I feel like that program that went there, I feel like that was 50 years ago, not two years ago. We’re so far past that point in our program and, no, there is no hidden significance of it,” Herman said.

False. There is an incredible amount of significance, both for past and present reasons, in Texas heading back to what was essentially its final resting place — Lawrence, Kansas.

For starters, Tom Herman likely isn’t running the program if the Longhorns had escaped Lawrence with a win that day. It would have made Texas bowl eligible and more than likely bought Charlie Strong another year.

Herman is telling you what he thinks you want him to say, that the overtime loss to the Jayhawks in 2016 — when Kansas was in the midst of a historically bad era in not only its program, but college football altogether — is not a big deal to the players on the current roster who walked off the field in Lawrence that night.

Herman is also trying to make you believe that those same players don’t operate like normal human beings, like Texas fans, who need closure after something so inexplicably bad takes place.

“I don’t think athletes leave anything open to be closed,” Herman said. “But, again, that was two years ago; seems like 50 years ago … there is no need for ‘closure.’ That’s not — we played a lot of football since then, and we’ve grown up a lot as a team,” said Herman.

Ok. Cool. Hook’em.

Or — and hear me out — this idea that Texas, returning with players who were there that day, wants to make it right, as Shane Buechele put it, is not a 500-pound monkey that has been sitting on the shoulders of the program ever since it left Lawrence.

It’s actually much simpler than that. It’s not that the Longhorns have spent every waking moment obsessing over beating Kansas in Lawrence. I doubt if you walk into Anthony Wheeler’s bedroom he has film of the game playing and newspaper clippings all over the wall with “Die Jayhawk!” written in red marker everywhere, a la Ray Finkle from “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.”

Which, based on Herman’s comments, seems to be the way he interpreted every question regarding the motivation to go back and beat Kansas where it all came crashing down.

This is a matter of human nature. This is a matter of motivation, which Herman understood, at least.

“Whatever gets a guy to motivate himself to the fullest to come to work to prepare and give his all for his teammates each and every day… If it helps get you excited about practice then great.”

Texas lost to a team that had gone nearly two years without a win over an FBS program, Tom.

I don’t think he understands how strong the underlying current of animosity and rage among this program and its fans actually is. Or, maybe he does, but he just isn’t embracing it because this time around there’s so much more to play for.

This time around, Texas returns to Lawrence playing its best football in almost a decade. The Longhorns, with a win over Kansas, will insert themselves into the Big 12 Championship game for the first time since 2009, where they’ll play for a Big 12 Championship for the first time since 2013.

I don’t know what Herman thinks he’s accomplishing by deflecting the elephant in the room. I couldn’t begin to tell you what the end game is there. If he wants to keep his players focused, I suppose pushing a narrative that the loss to Kansas feels like it was 50 years ago is one way to do it.

Or, you know, you could just simply let the seniors and juniors rally the locker room, using the loss at Kansas like a matador uses a red cape, to incite rage.

It’s nothing personal with Tom, but I think a lot of Texas fans would rather see Herman say “here’s the opportunity you have in front of you, here’s what’s on the line. Oh, yeah, by the way, two years ago the most embarrassing program in college football humiliated this program. Go destroy things.”

To each his own, I suppose. But no matter what Herman says, or how the players approach the game, there’s no denying the magnitude of Friday’s contest. This is, without the slightest doubt in my mind, the biggest Texas vs. Kansas matchup between these two football programs of all-time. Win and you go to the Big 12 Championship game. Win and you exorcise the demons, a la Ace Ventura in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” I really love that movie.

But then again, the more I think about it, I guess I understand why Herman refuses to embrace this game for what it really is, for what happened two years ago this week.

Texas has been a punchline ever since that day in Lawrence. And like most jokes, I guess you just had to be there, Tom.