Coach's Corner

Always pick the team with the most to play for.

Twelve ghosts did not beat the University of Texas (as has been suggested) last week in College Station. The Longhorns' 20-16 defeat was the result of a more temporal, fundamental occurrence. A primary rule of football handicapping is this: With all things more or less equal, always pick the team with the most to play for. If the Cowboys, for example, with a bye and home-field already wrapped up, are playing Washington, in D.C., in the final game of the season, and a Redskin win would assure them a wild-card spot, you'd be crazy to give points to take Dallas. The better team can be irrelevant. Football's a game of emotion. Washington, in this case, has a reason to play hard. The Boys just want to get back to the comfy warmth of the titty bar. If the disaster on the bonfire never happened, UT still would've had a tough time winning last Friday. Texas was going to the Big 12 championship game, win or lose. A win in College Station might -- maybe -- have moved them up a meaningless spot in a poll. Not much of an adrenaline boost there. Any remote Texas national title hopes were dashed the weekend before. Another bummer. For A&M, playing at home, the emotional situation was far different. A win over hated UT would smooth over what turned out to be a disappointing season. A dull loss to Texas might very well cost R.C. Slocum his job. All things being more or less equal, and they are, that's two good reasons the Aggies had to play a little harder than Texas.

The death of 12 classmates tipped the emotional scales over the edge. It certainly had to dull the normal spontaneous jolt of just wanting to beat the Aggies -- because they're Aggies -- that any UT team would bring into Kyle Field. A significant debit from the Longhorn emotional checking account. On the other hand, the same fact should have propelled A&M players to find the extra effort necessary to find a way to win. To wit: Randy McCown threw his first two catchable spirals of the year for big plays. And that's what happened.

Parting Shots: I don't own a nightclub. I never fronted a band or produced a television show. I don't publish a magazine. I have no intimate stories to relate. I've never written a word about music. I'm just the lowly Coach, hidden back here on page 148 alongside the Tickets/Entertainment ads. Maybe I'm blind, but I can still see.

I was out of Austin the weekend of November 20. On Monday morning I'm innocently sitting at the long stoplight at Walsh Tarlton and Bee Caves Rd, on my merry way to Starbucks for the first EggNog Latte of the holiday season. I'm just barely listening to Kevin on KGSR. He says something about a memorial service for Doug Sahm. What? I turn up the radio. What!? As one light change leads to another, Kevin introduces "Groover's Paradise" by talking about wasted nights at Soap Creek Saloon. Doug Sahm's dead? The hair on my arms and neck is standing on end. I shiver as I gaze to my left. My car's idling a loud C chord away from the site of the famous Honky Tonk in the Hills.

In '74 none of this was here. Not Walsh Tarlton. Not the shopping centers. Not the stoplights. Not MoPac. It took some effort to get out here. Like the Oregon Trail, you can, if you wish, still find the old saloon, or at least where it stood. Take the first left past Walsh Tarlton -- the paved road leading up to the EcoGas building. You're on the dusty, narrow road leading the quarter-mile to Soap Creek.

Sir Doug -- more than any of the fantastic talents that played every night out in the hills -- more than Paul Ray & the Cobras, just starting to notice their skinny, tattooed guitarist, more than Marcia Ball, or Lou Ann or Angela, or the great hippie bands like Greezy Wheels -- Sahm represented what "Old Austin" of laid-back myth and lore was all about. It's not that long ago: before cell phones or EggNog Lattes or laser printers. Before CDs and Barton Creek Square mall. Doug never seemed to really change much, but the rest of us sure did.

How hot was Sir Doug? Here's an embarrassing public admission. Throughout the hundreds of hours spent in bars, and thousands of drinks imbibed back then, it was always my "plan" (as it were) not to go home alone. Though I was perpetually optimistic, it rarely happened. Twice, however, I got picked up. Both times at hot, sweaty Soap Creek with Sir Doug playing such fun shit that apparently even I looked good.

All this flashes, like it was yesterday, as I sit through the light change. I knew Doug in only the most peripheral way. He knew who I was, we said hello. But if you were in Austin back then, well, I think he knew everybody. No big deal.

I don't know why, but I cry most easily alone in the car. By the time I get across the street, I need a few moments to compose myself. Have to find my shades to hide the red eyes. I feel older. A blue, sluggish feeling persists for days.

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