A Game Bigger Than Itself
At 11:00 AM tomorrow in Austin, for a few important hours, all talk of wins and losses, margins of defeat, national rankings, conference alignments, and statistics of any kind will be put aside. After Wednesday's passing of the Longhorn's most legendary coach, Darrell K Royal, Saturday will be about one thing above all else:
It's at the very root of fandom. That's especially true in college sports, where something so seemingly trivial as school pride manages to survive the hazards of time and physical distance. Of those that can't call themselves alumni, it's often geographic identity that drives their enthusiasm. Still others wear their team colors for even different reasons. Regardless of the underlying motivator, though, even collegiate athletics' staunchest critics cannot deny that, for millions of Americans, the emotional bond between team and self is undeniably real.
For those fans that call the Longhorns their team, this weekend's home game could be unlike any that has come before it. It will be the first opportunity to pay respect en masse to the man that carried their hopes and dreams on his shoulders longer than any other. They will try but not quite manage to stretch their own hand-signed horns as high as he lifted his on-field Horns, while the scoreboard plays images of President Nixon handing Coach Royal the National Championship plaque from the centennial year of college football.
Even those that may see the game itself as meaningless will appreciate the value in honoring a man that dedicated his life to leading young people through coaching. Coach Royal taught his players that the game was bigger than each of them (himself included), and that life was bigger than the game. Still, for at least one day, the 100,000+ people filling the stadium that bears his name will hold DKR's accomplishments foremost in their minds, and the 116 young men entrusted with his legacy will "dance with who brung them."
Here's a look back at the three most emotional Longhorn football games in recent memory:
3) September 22, 2001: The first weekend of college football after the tragedy of 9-11. The Horns were on the road, likely playing their last game at the University of Houston. The score was close at halftime (20-14), but by the end, Texas had taken care of a hapless Cougar team to the tune of 53-26. What mattered more though, was just the fact that people got out of their homes that day - got away from all of the coverage of the terrorist attacks - shed their anxiety and paranoia - and just enjoyed some old-fashioned varsity football. Contrasted to our nation's great tragedy, it was a small thing for sure, but it was one of the early signals that we were going to be OK - we would continue to lead our lives free of fear - and we would join and support each other as a community even in the stands of an amateur sports game. It was as healing as any other sign of normalcy in those first couple of weeks.
2) September 8, 2001: The fact that it was Mack Brown's first game against his previous team, The University of North Carolina, was forgotten by most folks when it was announced that the school has dedicated the game to Cole Pittman. Pittman, a Longhorn defensive lineman, had been tragically killed in a car accident earlier that year, an event that shook the team and coaching staff. The Horns' field and helmets were marked with a "CP" emblem, and Pittman's family was honored at midfield (including Cole's younger brother Chase, who was awarded a scholarship by Mack Brown). Though Texas was winning the game comfortably, Mack's team scored and uncharacteristic late touchdown. On the ensuing extra point attempt, Major Applewhite received the snap and took a knee to lock-in the scoreboard at 44-14. The capacity crowd slowly but loudly broke out in cheers as the score's significance sank in: Cole's jersey number was 44.
1) November 26, 1999: The game at Kyle Field played just 8 days after the bonfire collapse that killed 12 Aggies was undoubtedly the most emotional road game Texas has ever taken part in. Any missing-man flyover is awe inspiring, but this one was followed by the Longhorn band, who scrapped their usual routine in favor of a now legendary show of support and unity: after playing Amazing Grace, the Texas flag corps lowered two University of Texas flags while keeping two Texas A&M flags standing tall. Horns and Ags stood with their arms wrapped around each other's shoulders, and all 90,000 wet eyes watched the field so quietly that you could have heard someone at the opposite end zone cough. When the Aggies sealed the 20-16 victory on a fumble recovery with 23 seconds left in the game, not a single Longhorn fan protested.
Saturday, November 10, 2013 | Texas (7-2) vs Iowa State (5-4) | 11:00 AM, CST
DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium | TV: Longhorn Network | Radio: 98.1 FM/1300 AM