Coach's Corner

Longhorn Fan is a breed apart -- for this we can be thankful.

I'll admit to the possibility of some bias here, though if there is any, it is, as I'll demonstrate, understandable -- a disposition shared with many sports fans outside the state of Texas. I posit this hypothesis: The Texas Longhorn fan (specifically though certainly not limited to the Longhorn football fan) is the worst sports fan in the United States. Indeed this does paint the odd innocent fan or two with a rather broad stroke; some of you must be all right, I suppose. Generalizing has, in our politically correct world, acquired a bad name, despite the obvious fact that it's called a generalization because -- generally -- it's true. Americans do, for sure, like their sports. They like hamburgers and hot dogs and potato chips. A few Americans prefer the ballet to Monday Night Football. Hummus to a burger. A bowl of spinach to a hot dog, slathered with sweet relish. To those in the minority I say, with vigor, right on! It's a fine and tolerant land we live in. I love America.

These caveats granted, I offer 43 years of experience -- I was about 10 when I first became aware of the Longhorns -- both empirical and subjective, in the study of Longhorn Fan and his close first cousin, Cowboy Fan. Any noxious traits ascribed to Longhorn Fan are usually also present in Cowboy Fan. They are often the same people, the primary difference being Cowboy Fan is -- in the worst insult I can bestow on a sportsfan -- a notorious front-runner; loud, obnoxious, arrogant, and quick to violence ... but only when the team's winning. In bad times they disappear. To give Longhorn Fan their due: They're loud, obnoxious, arrogant, and quick to violence, no matter the score, the record, the year, the coach, or the ozone levels on a given day ... but they're not frontrunners.

This past week -- from the seconds after UT's loss to Oklahoma to the next Saturday afternoon when Texas whipped up on a sad-sack team from Stillwater -- framed Longhorn Fan in a pristine, microcosmic picture the rest of the country has intuitively sensed for decades. The recriminations and finger pointing from local and statewide talk shows, columnists, call-in dweebs, letter-to-the-editor writers, and otherwise gentile Christian soccer moms must, in some small way, resemble the hysteria that overcame the pious citizenry of Salem, Mass., four centuries past. The soft-spoken head coach has been labeled a "used car salesman," another generalization that must suffice to cover a host of unflattering portraits. Many vile assertions have been made toward an anonymous offensive coordinator. But by far the most vicious comments have been reserved for the quarterback, a strapping, All-American lad: "The man they call [in the inimitable and twisted lexicon of talk show host Ed Clements] Chris Simms."

It's true that I've made similar observations. I noted an obvious fact: Simms has yet to prove he's a big-time college QB. But I wasn't calling for his scalp, nor was I crying out in favor of his crippled backup, Major Applewhite. Applewhite (I mentioned last year), after a serious knee operation, wasn't the same quarterback everyone remembered. Then he wrecked his other knee. Coach Brown was outcoached, but by the best coach in America. No real shame there. Anyway, this is my job. It's not personal.

But with Longhorn Fan it is personal. Very personal. Not once, in a most telling observation, not in any column, on any talk show, in any letter to the editor ... not anywhere was there a positive comment about the team that beat Texas, the defending National Champions, the team they call (sorry Ed) the Oklahoma Sooners. No admiration about the creative defensive effort it took to shut down an explosive Texas offense. Just talk about how bad Texas was. No kudos to Bob Stoops, just curses for the idiots who call themselves Texas coaches. No accolades to a gutsy performance for OU's Josh White, only venom and vitriol for Simms.

In an acorn, this arrogance, this "Nobody can beat Texas. Texas only plays bad," is why UT is disliked nationally and why Texas is, indeed, the team everybody wants to beat. Not, please be clear, because Texas is that good, but because of the obnoxious (and wildly unjustified) hubris of Longhorn Fan. Sullen and finger-pointing in defeat, never giving credit to the opposition. Pompous, smug, often violent in victory. Not a flattering combination. One of UT's finest moments -- the unlikely upset of Nebraska in the first Big 12 Championship game -- was marred by incidents of postgame violence upon people who had the audacity to be wearing Cornhusker Red. Aggie fans, generally mocked in Austin, are jeered and spat upon when they journey here every other year. Yet Texas fans -- the few who travel -- are treated cordially by out-of-town hosts who actually understand that football is, really, only a game.

But these are observations of what is. The more interesting question is, why? Why is Longhorn Fan different from Wolverine Fan or Hurricane Fan or Bruin Fan? How has this normal urge to be a fan mutated into such a strange aberration?

You are, alas, at the end of this week's column. Your keen observational and intense intuitive powers (that mark readers of my column) have gleaned that a subject as complicated as this can't be summarized in a pithy sentence. Next week, I'll examine the very roots of the creature they call ... Longhorn Fan.

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