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Partying on ESPN's Dime: Priceless

Horns Republic Square shindig turns into big freebie for fans

By Michael Corcoran, 11:21AM, Sun. Sep. 2, 2012

Jaxon 'Comfort, Texas' Shipley
Jaxon 'Comfort, Texas' Shipley
Photo courtesy of UT

Started Saturday evening cursing the Longhorn Network, but ended the night wearing an LHN cap. Since I don’t have UVerse (long story, bro), I planned to watch the Texas vs. Wyoming football game at El Arroyo, but it was jam-packed. I ended up at Republic Square, where LHN had put on a viewing party for the public with a big screen in the park.

Before I arrived, I missed quite a bit of drama, a friend told me. The jumbo screen was dark, as techs scrambled to get a signal, so hundreds of fans in burnt orange t-shirts were freaking out. Can’t miss the season opener! Suddenly a guy with a walkie talkie and clipboard addressed the crowd two minutes before kickoff and apologized. To compensate, all the beer and food was free from then on, including the food trucks ringing the downtown square. Plus, fans could line up to get a free ticket to a future Longhorns home game.

A minute later, the game popped on, but LHN kept to the free-for-all deal. ESPN owns the LHN and pretty much all of sports; they've got the dough. Street drunks showed up for the free beer like ants to a dropped popsicle.

It was a party, though early on the Horns kept it from getting too festive. On the first two WYO posessions, the vaunted Texas D gave up a field goal and an 82-yard touchdown pass, when tackling dummies Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom of “DBU” flunked out when they knocked each other off the receiver.

Two plays turned it around for Texas, enroute to a 37-17 win. After opening with a three-and-out, fast becoming a Texas tradition, the jitterbirds were headed for a second quick exit, but quarterback David Ash sprinted away from a rush on third and long and found Mike Davis over the middle for a first down. Huge confidence builder.

The play of the game was Kenny Vaccaro’s full-stride interception in the second half, with Wyoming leading 9-7 and headed into Texas territory again. The tattooed enforcer has made no secret of his goal to win the Jim Thorpe Award and with that beautiful snatch he became the frontrunner.

After Ash cashed in with a bullet pass to Jaxon “Comfort, Texas” Shipley for a TD, putting the No. 15 ranked Longhorns in the lead for good, the scene at Republic Square was quite lovely. Free beer and food puts everybody in a good mood and the dozen or so police officers on hand had little to do other than stare down hobos going back for their fifth, sixth and seventh beers.

Usually, I hate watching football in public and the woman shrieking “run, baby, run!” whenever a Longhorn had the ball was hard to take. But generally it was a fun time and even guffaw-ful, as when DB Mykkele Thompson made the bonehead play of the game with a pass interference that would’ve been ruled a flagrant foul in the NBA. Unfamiliar with his #2, someone deadpanned “Who farted?”

Thompson, Byndom and Phillips each redeemed themselves with a key defensive stop, interception and end zone pass breakup, respectively.

Game balls go to clock-killer B's Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, who each “knocked a hunny, boo” (as El Berge probably tweeted), my boy Jaxon, who just knows how to play football, and the speedy D.J. Monroe, who played with a sense of determination unseen in previous seasons. QB Ash, meanwhile, showed something good can come out of those inch-gaining bubble screens: a high completion percentage (he went 20-27 with no INTs).

Lovin’ the O-Line, which has definitely got its swagger back. Several Wyoming defenders were knocked so flat they could be called “crepe blocks,” not pancakes.

Mad Manny’s D wasn’t as dominant as advertised, but played well. Defensive ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are going to be a lot of fun to watch this year. While the DBs get the hype, Texas has always produced great DEs (Sam Acho, Sergio Kindle, Cory Redding, Brian Robison and Brian Orakpo are all playing on Sunday- and sometimes Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday) and “Oak n’ Coat” could be the best tandem yet.

From Wyoming, with its three electoral votes, we move on in the schedule to a college that reps a state with five elecoral votes. Next up are the Loss Lobos of New Mexico, who have already matched last season’s win total with a 66-21 victory over Southern University in the opener. (Jesus, even NM can find a season-opening patsy on Cupcake Saturday!) Lobos first year coach is Bob Davie, who’s made a career of following Lou Holtz, first at Notre Dame and then in the announcer’s booth.

The Longhorn Network is hosting another party at Republic Square for the New Mexico game (7 p.m. kickoff). But bring your money. It’s only free the first time.

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