UTmay finish in the Top Ten for the first time in 17 years -- but it won't be enough for Longhorn Fan, the nation's most spoiled and delusional sportsfan. Part two of a two-part series.
"What?" exclaims the local sport talk show host in the week following UT's loss to Oklahoma, "Who are we gonna lose to?" The host is trying to be reasonable, but a caller suggesting that it's possible, just theoretically anyway, that Texas might lose another game this year is pushing the always respectful host close to a state of batshit apoplexy. "Go ahead," he says, "name someone who can beat us." With nothing else to do but ponder the bumper in front of me, I note the casual use of we and us as the caller mentions future opponents: Colorado, a game in College Station, possibly even the Missouri Tigers in Columbia. "My friend," the host says as he ends the call, "you've been smokin' too much loco-weed."
Hubris: n. overbearing pride. Arrogance. How in the name of Pop Warner did Longhorn Fan get this way? This is a tough question, worthy of a full-blown doctoral thesis in sociology. The arrival of Darrell Royal in 1957 seems to mark the genesis of Longhorn Fan. The sleepy, statewide media was the iceberg waiting for the Titanic to hit it.
Coach Royal began his 19-year tenure at the dawn of today's mass media and the start of a massive population influx to the state. In 1957, Texas had three big cities, many well populated but soporific towns like Austin, lots of newspapers, radio stations, and nascent television stations. What Texas didn't have is Big Time sports. No pro baseball. No NFL. No NBA. Zip. Zap. Goose. Nada. In '63, Royal won the first of two unanimous (and the only) National Championships in the long history of the university. The statewide media, with nothing to report except another drought in West Texas, fell all over themselves in reporting, with reverence, on the gridiron deeds in Austin. The slumberous, single-cell UT Athletic Media Dept. began to mutate. Longhorn Fan, spawned from the seed of Coach Royal, mothered and nurtured by the ever-expanding media and its ravenous host, the UT Media machine, was born.
Young Longhorn Fan (like many only children) was spoiled, doted upon, and sheltered from the real world. By the time Royal retires in 1976, Longhorn Fan is fully grown. It's not a pretty sight. Royal's immediate successor wins 86 games in nine years. That, sportsfans, is 9.5 victories a year. But it's not enough to satisfy the now totally delusional Longhorn Fan, who believes the University of By God Texas has this great football tradition and only National Championships are acceptable.
I can call myself the King of Siam and walk about with a large sword and silk pajamas. It's a free country ... but people would talk. You might point out I'm crazy. Nuts. Delusional. Since 1970 (as Richard Nixon was starting his second year as president), Nebraska has won five National Championships. Alabama, Oklahoma, and Miami have four apiece. USC and Notre Dame have three. Penn State and Florida State have two. Since the all-white team of '70 -- that's 31 years! -- Texas has won none. This great tradition of Texas football is nonexistent.
The media does its part each year to make certain the university is hyped nationally ... generally beyond reality. Longhorn Fan, fed this pabulum year-in-year-out, believes it's the school's (and his own) birthright to be in the Top 10, though its last Top 10 finish was in long-ago 1984. Efficient, unending hype from within Texas is quite effective nationally. Since Royal's last season, UT has been a preseason Top 10 pick nine times, a Top 25, 17. Yet in that time they've only delivered three Top 10 finishes and 11 Top 25 finishes. This, keep in mind, playing almost entirely in the toothless SWC, where eight wins were on the board before September 1.
KLBJ's Jeff Ward, with his All-American UT credentials providing effective cover, is virtually the only entirely credible commentator on the University of Texas. He sums up the obnoxious hubris of Longhorn Fan best. I'll paraphrase. Longhorn Fan doesn't think anybody, anywhere else in America plays football. Not in Florida. Not in California. Oklahoma, with its four titles -- come on, man, you gotta be kidding me. Oklahoma!? Longhorn Fan believes, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that football is only played here. Ergo, when Texas gets beat, it's not because the other team's better. It's because UT's game plan was bad.
And so it is, the talk show host (innocently and perfectly reflecting the mindset of Longhorn Fan) is irate at the thought that any team can beat Texas, though every year teams do. His thoughts, reflected across the state, over and over again, get coaches fired. Because when the Longhorns do get beat, the media must have someone to blame. It can't possibly be them, raising expectations to where nine-win seasons aren't good enough. It must be the coach or the defensive scheme or the quarterback. Someone will pay, putting more vile chow into the maw of Longhorn Fan.
The Texas Longhorns '01 are a good football team. I can see that. Mack Brown's a good coach. I can see that. Will he still be here in five years? I doubt it. Having to go undefeated every season is a heart attack waiting to happen. It can't be worth it.