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Murder and Football

East Texas visits Bobcat Stadium

By Joe O'Connell, 3:03PM, Fri. Sep. 21, 2012

Great-grandpa and great-grandma in slightly less morose times
Great-grandpa and great-grandma in slightly less morose times

The story goes that John Kendrick Castleberry, a respected doctor in Nacogdoches, had a thing for his nurse Dora. They first poisoned her husband, Luther, then put a dab of the same potion in a cup of tea that John’s wife, Oriter, was drinking.

After a suitable waiting period, the doctor and nurse got married and had a child. Then the doc turned up dead, and Dora left with all their cash and the youngest child.

The good doctor’s older children grew up angry and mean. If you got in their way on the streets of Nacogdoches, you paid the price. One of those Castleberry boys was my grandfather, who became first a cop then a convicted swindler. I don’t remember him, but I’m told the last time he was in our house he had a gun in his hand. I think of this story every time Texas State plays Stephen F. Austin in football. I start to wonder how much of the East Texas voodoo the Lumberjacks football team brings with them to San Marcos.

Nacogdoches is different. It’s Southern gothic. It’s the hometown of famed pulp novelist Joe Lansdale, who has made a career of highlighting the racism and meanness that is lurking in the city’s past and present. San Marcos is all about LBJ and political power. It’s about parties and beer and always feeling just a little looked down upon by the jerks at the land-grant university down the road in Austin who somehow stole the LBJ Library and much of his political mystique.

When I was attending what was then Southwest Texas State University and pretending I was a politician at a convention of the Texas Student Association, I met Susan, a dazzling coed from Stephen F. She had green eyes, a dangerous smile, and curves in all the right places. We had one of those convention flings and didn’t see each other again until the next statewide meet, this time in East Texas.

My pal Mike was the association prez, and we had a plan to convince the University of Texas to rejoin the organization – which is sort of a supergroup for student government leaders from around the state – by handing the presidency to the guy hand-selected by their student body president Paul Begala. (Whatever happened to him?) But a nice guy from Stephen F. wanted the job and was well-liked and well-known. Late that night Susan and I got reacquainted over a few beers. I talked her into running for president. We fashioned a nametag announcing her candidacy and pinned it to her chest and she pranced around wearing it. The next day she had sobered up and was out of the race, but the move was enough to kill her classmate's chances. We won a silly political game, and I felt sick about it in the light of day.

So what does all of this have to do with a football game? Not a lot, except perhaps everything. When love and politics meet, you have football. It’s a battle that means nothing, but people live and breathe it. Texas State was on top of the world after slaying the University of Houston and played that card for all it was worth to fill Bobcat Stadium with 33,000 yearning fans two weeks ago. This week an old Southland Conference rival comes a-calling from East Texas.

The Bobcats have beaten the Lumberjacks in their last five meetings, and six out of the last seven. Texas State now has the puffed chest of an FBS team, even after a 58-10 whipping at the hands of Texas Tech. The Lumberjacks gave up 10 turnovers as SMU walloped them 52-0, then followed that up with a 43-35 heartbreak loss to a stout Montana State team.

But Stephen F. is sneaky enough to poison any gameplan. Last year the Bobcats were up 28-10 when the Lumberjacks sneaked back into the mix with 16 unanswered points. Texas State quarterback Shaun Rutherford raced 25 yards for a TD and the Bobcats held on for a 35-26 win. This year, the game features the grand letdown in San Marcos. Tickets for the Tech game had a $65 face value. This week I got an email offering $9 seats.

Welcome back to the cold earth, Bobcats. Marcus Curry, who plowed for 131 yards against Houston is at least back after sitting out the Tech game for an unspecified ailment. Rutherford will start again, but Tyler Arndt, who led the only scoring drives against Tech, will certainly see action. The Lumberjack QB Brady “Boy” Attaway threw for more than 400 yards against Montana State, but they’ve got no running game to speak of. The Stephen F. Austin defense has been battered and fried the last few weeks, but did I mention Texas Tech’s 58 points against the Bobcat D?

Common sense says the Bobcats run – and pass – away with this one, even if it is close early. But this is football and there’s something about that East Texas vibe that keeps my neck hairs twitching.

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