For The Love of Longhorns

If people know anything about Meg at all, they’d know she has a fervent, undying love for the University of Texas Longhorns.

More specifically, the football team.

Make no mistake about it, she is a fan.

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Devoted.

Rabid.

And will be until the day she dies.

Meg loves college football and knows a lot about it. Not enough to “Stump the Schwab” mind you and frankly, she’s seen him–and asks, why in God’s name would anyone want to???

She first became cognizant of Longhorn football in 1969. The team that year (the last all Anglo Texas football team, by the way) went undefeated. And by early December, was ranked #1 team in the country. Arkansas, a fellow Southwest Conference team and Texas’ arch rival was ranked #2. They would battle it out for all the marbles–The National Championship– on the Razorback’s home turf in Fayetteville. It was the last game of the regular season…and dubbed “The Big Shootout”.

The date: December 6th, 1969–the 100th anniversary of college football.

Meg remembered it well. President Nixon had agreed to take some time out of his busy schedule of erasing tapes and obstructing justice to come to Arkansas to crown the winning team the new Collegiate Kings of the Gridiron.

Pomp and circumstance.

A big deal.

A very big game.

Much to Longhorn fans dismay, Arkansas lead most for most of it. It didn’t look good for the boys in burnt orange and white.

It was mid-fourth quarter and the score was 14-8, Arkansas.

Then, Texas coach Darrell Royal called a play that still makes former UT quarterback, James Street’s head spin.

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He called for a Right 56 Veer Pass. The players looked at each other… Right 56 Veer pass?

Back then, Texas was a running powerhouse. They were undefeated that season because they’d perfected the triple option known as the Wishbone T (which was designed by Darrel Royal himself). While Street had an arm, throwing the ball was something Texas didn’t do that often.

It was a gutsy call, especially in a game of this magnitude AND with only 5:51 left in the fourth.

But it worked. It was brilliant and to a certain degree, damn lucky.

Randy Peschel caught the pass and ran it down to the Arkansas 13. The next play, Ted Koy ran it to the two and ultimately, Jim Bertlesen ran it in for the TD, the homer, the goal….Shafts Big Score!!!!!!!!!!!! Kicker, Happy Feller made the extra point.

The score was 15-14 and by the end of that dismal, cold and gray day, Texas had won the National Championship.

A special father/daughter bond was forged that day. From that point on, Meg and her father would always have one thing in common: a love of Longhorn football.

Her father instilled in her a mighty love and respect for “The University”. Meg grew up with her own regulation Texas football jersey, stickers, t-shirts, mugs, pens and Longhorn stuffed animals. She and her father attended several home games each season.

As far as colleges were concerned, there was only one option. And one day in June in the late 70’s, Meg started summer school and a whole new life at The University of Texas. A dream was coming true for Meg…..and for her father.

She’d eventually reach the pinnacle as far as her father was concerned–she started dating a UT football player. Even though this guy was a third string nose guard and never played once, her father couldn’t have been happier. But that’s all he saw…his daughter was dating a football player. Not just ANY football player…this was a Longhorn. Her Dad had visions of 50 yard line season tickets dancing in his head, meeting Earl Campbell and shaking Darrell Royal’s hand. . To hell with Meg’s academic or personal accomplishments, his daughter had what it took to capture the eye of this burnt orange jersey’d demigod. She was dating a UT football player and all was right with the world.

That is, until Meg broke up with the jock. When her father learned what she’d done, he was close to tears! They broke up because he was seeing someone else on the side and Meg’s father actually accused her of doing something that pushed him into the arms of another woman! That strained the relationship even more and things hadn’t been good since her parent’s divorce, which had been a horrible experience. Feelings were hurt, relationships were fractured. Meg and her father stopped talking.

Then, he found religion. Her father spoke his mind when it came to his belief in God. He had a tendency to proselytize and that turned him into an arrogant, religious snob…an over-the-top zealot. Meg had her own opinions about her relationship with God and her father didn’t like them. They couldn’t talk without getting into heated arguments. So, over the years, they just stopped talking altogether.

They continued to drift further and further apart. A few years later, her father, in a desperate attempt to foster some kind of relationship with his daughter, wisely decided to make contact with his daughter again. They spoke occasionally and wisely decided to limit their conversations to the one thing he knew they could talk about: Longhorn football.

Their relationship continued to be strained, but for a few months each fall, they could talk without fighting. A love of Longhorn football was the one thing she and her father always had.

*******************************************************************************

They were never closer than during football season of 2004.

Every Saturday when a UT game was televised, they’d call each other and watch the kickoff together. They also stayed in touch during the game…. they’d call each other whenever there was a critical play and that year, there were many. When Texas would move up the polls during the week, they’d talk about that, too.

At the end of almost every game that season, they’d call each other and say in unison, “Looks like we won!”.

It was ritual.

2004 was a good year for Meg and her father. In many ways, it was a great year.

That season, UT had only lost once, to Oklahoma and because of some controversial finagling by Texas Head Coach, Mack Brown,UT landed a coveted post-season spot in the Grand Daddy of all bowl games: The Rose Bowl.

On January 1st, 2005, Texas went up against one of the most storied college football programs in the country..Michigan.

But the Horns had a play-making magician at the helm. Vince Young was quarterback and he performed brilliantly all season long, but outdid himself at the Rose Bowl. He basically won the game single-handedly.

For the first time in Texas history, the Longhorns played in and won the Rose Bowl.

At the end of the game during the trophy presentation, Vince Young accepted the Bowl trophy and vowed that Texas would be back next year.

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Meg and her father would hold Vince to that.

That game; that bold promise were two things Meg and her father talked about for days.

But soon the novelty of the victory wore off. They started talking less. Eventually, her phone stopped ringing and she stopped dialing his number.

Meg told me that she’d gotten an e-mail from her father a few weeks after the game, lamenting the fact that neither one of them were basketball fans.

But they always had football and a new season was fast approaching.

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Meg’s father died that summer.

His burial was held late in the afternoon. When it was over, everyone left, but she stayed behind to watch the casket lowered into the ground. She needed to see the finality of it all.

She stood there, amazingly stoic, but saddened by the reality that all she and her father had were a few football seasons together; saddened also by the reality that they’d have no more to share.

She told her father goodbye and walked away and as she did, her gaze went westward. How fitting that in the nuclear explosion of color in that exquisite South Texas sunset, the predominate shade was burnt orange.

She looked back over her shoulder at the cemetery plot as a small front end loader shoveled dirt on top of her father’s coffin. She sighed and looked towards the sky above her.

“Hey Daddy? While you’re up there, see what you can do about the Horn’s offensive line this season, OK? Vince is gonna need a lot of help!”

A chill ran up her spine and down the backs of both arms…a visceral sign to Meg, that he’d heard her request. She got in her car and drove away.

And on a chilly January night seven months later, Meg cried as she sat alone and watched Texas play USC in the Rose Bowl. Vince Young made good on his promise.

As the game clock ran out of time, she watched the Texas bench celebrate the team’s first undisputed National Championship in 36 years.

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Meg smiled and wiped away a tear as she said to herself, “Hey Daddy….looks like we won!”

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3 comments

  1. Good piece. Very good. You made me feel what you were feeling without telling me how you felt. That’s a special talent.
    Even at 1am eastern.
    Oh, and I caught a typo–certainly you didn’t mean 1969, you must have meant 1979. Everyone knows you’re certainly not old enough to have been around in ’69.

    *************************************************************************************

    I was around for 59….69….79…89…99 and with a little luck and less salt in my diet, I’ll see ’09. But thank you just the same!…

  2. Your “blog” has now outgrown that cumbersome designation. Even “Journal” doesn’t cut it. This is a literary Mecca, of which I will trek to in humble reverence. Thank you for gifting us with your words.

    P.S. a “Stump the Schwab” reference? Mien Gott!…you are the perfect woman!

  3. It’s cool that she has a good team to root for. Here in Pennsy, we’ve been in a real state of flux since Paterno became too old to coach (it’s sad).

    I agree that STUMP THE SCHWAB is completely deranged. Watching that show for five minutes nearly makes my head explode. He passes over the line where knowledge of sports trivia is kind of cool and impressing into the area where it’s disturbing and borderline creepy.

    How the HELL does anyone know that much about ANYTHING, let alone sports? People aren’t that aware of their own jobs, fer chrissake.

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