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A Complex Superiority

University of Texas fans see long-ago arrogance give way to gratitude for their team's successes

January 01, 2006|Randy Harvey

Jones Ramsey, the self-proclaimed world's tallest fat man, once mused that Texans cared about only two sports: football and spring football.

The late University of Texas sports information director overlooked one: football recruiting.

If I wasn't fully aware of the mania surrounding college football recruiting while growing up in East Texas, I certainly learned about it as a sportswriter for the Dallas Times Herald in the mid-1970s.

All available sports staffers, as well as some from the news side, were required to report to the office on the first day each year that high school football players were allowed to sign letters of intent, committing them to colleges and universities.

In those pre-Internet days, we would receive hundreds of calls from fans who couldn't wait until the next morning's newspaper arrived to discover whether the blue-chip running back from Kilgore had signed with Southern Methodist or Texas Christian, or whether the stalwart defensive end from Wichita Falls had signed with Texas Tech or Texas A&M.

It was never clearer than on those days that there was a lot more to Texas football than University of Texas football.

The Longhorns undoubtedly had the state's most successful program and the most national acclaim, but I can't remember an instance when the six other Texas universities in the old Southwest Conference ever acknowledged that they were less than equal. There have been enough upsets of the Longhorns by Rice, TCU and Baylor to prove it.

One of those upsets speaks to my next point, which might cause me trouble -- not for the first time -- in Austin.

Before I make it, I should establish my Longhorn bona fides.

Some of my fondest memories as a child are of watching Texas victories, in particular the one over Roger Staubach and Navy in the 1964 Cotton Bowl that earned the Longhorns the national championship and the one over Joe Namath and Alabama in the '65 Orange Bowl.

I graduated from the university in 1973 and, although I have spent most of my life since out of state, I have remained loyal. When my son, now 8, was a baby, I sang three lullabies to him because those were the only songs for which I knew all the words -- "Hey Jude," "The Eyes of Texas," and "Mercedes Benz," which was performed better by my favorite fellow alum, Janis Joplin. She is closely followed on my list by Walter Cronkite, Dr. Denton Cooley and Farrah Fawcett.

The 1963 team's national championship was the Longhorns' first, but they might have won another two years before if not for one of the aforementioned upsets by TCU, 6-0. The Horned Frogs were stirred up because Texas' coach, Darrell Royal, had compared them to cockroaches. Why that is worse than being called a Horned Frog, I'm not sure. But it made them mad.

Royal explained later that he didn't mean to insult them. He was merely trying to say that the Frogs, like cockroaches, enjoyed getting into stuff, like a potential Texas national championship, and messing it up, which they did.

But there was an unspoken truth in his comment. We Longhorn fans did consider the other state teams as little more than pests.

Thus, among Southwest Conference universities, we were the undisputed leaders in arrogance.

We earned our hubris to some extent with our team's play, especially during the 20 years Royal coached in Austin from 1957 to 1976. In 138 conference games, he lost only 27 en route to 11 titles.

Behind quarterback James Street, better known today as American League rookie-of-the-year Huston Street's father, the Longhorns began a 30-game winning streak in 1968 that included two more national championships.

But in our defense, our self-esteem also was fueled by outside forces.

For those who might believe Oklahoma is our primary rival, you are almost right. Before the Southwest Conference disbanded and the Longhorns and Sooners came together in the Big 12, Woody Hayes once told me he thought the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry was the most intense in the nation. More intense, he said, than Ohio State and Michigan because there was no conference championship on the line when the Longhorns and Sooners played, just state pride.

At the core of that rivalry, however, is respect. The Sooners are worthy foes, fellow members of the exclusive club of traditional national powers, and losing to them is no humiliation.

I cannot say the same for Texas A&M. Texas' series with the Aggies dates to 1894, and even though they have beaten us only a very, very few times since, every loss stings. That includes the fictional one in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." Larry King, the writer, not the TV talker, produced a terrific musical, but it could have been improved immensely with a little editing.

The irony then is that Texas A&M pays us the ultimate compliment every time its band strikes up its fight song, "The Aggie War Hymn." Prominent among the lyrics is, "Goodbye to Texas University." What other university honors its archrival by using its name in its own fight song?

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