In his political and pop-culture infused off-beat commentary, columnist Jeff Conner writes on washing away the sins of the past and the fresh, new promise that the start of two-a-days brings.
Ah, the first day of two-a-days. The smell of fresh-mowed grass. The sweet fragrance of early-morning dewy air. The beads of sweat glistening on your skin in the sunrise. White athletic tape on the front of your helmet with your last name scrawled across it with a Sharpie in all capital letters. The stunning fashion statement of kids wearing football helmets, t-shits, cleats, and shorts – not unlike skinny, living bobble-head dolls.
Oh, the second day of two-a-days. Trying desperately to remember exactly what the “green” formation is. Feeling that stitch in your side during gassers. Remembering how restricting shoulder pads can be after playing football without them all summer. Getting a desperate feeling in your gut when coach went past the scheduled time for a Gatorade break. The even spiffier fashion statement of helmet, shoulder pads, and shorts.
Ouch, the third day of two-a-days. Rolling stiffly out of bed in the morning, every single muscle aching and throbbing, thinking you really should have worked out harder this summer. The smell of fresh-mowed grass right in your facemask as you are invited into one-on-one contact drills with the only kid on your high school team big enough to wind up playing D-I ball. Your first bruise. Your first jammed finger. Your first vomit burp during wind sprints. Your athletic tape name tag torn to shreds from repeated helmet-to-helmet contact.
My father once told me people love golf because it has so many fresh starts – so many new beginnings. If you screwed the pooch on the front nine, you can knock ‘em dead on the back nine. If you four-putted the last hole, you can hit a real golf shot this hole. If you sliced your tee shot, you can make up for it by hitting your wedge on the green, pin-high. Every swing is a brand spanking new, sparkling, virginal, unspoiled chance for atonement – an opportunity to pay for one’s past sins.
How many of us have ever watched a TV show about the witness protection program and secretly wondered what it might be like? To have the federal government move your family to a new location, to start all over with a brand new name, reputation and credit score? To start life over with a completely clean slate?
For football fans in general, the time for our clean-slate, begin-again, fresh start has arrived. For the coming season, winning is redemptive; winning is restorative; winning rewrites history. It matters not that we lost to Rival State last year; we’ll get ‘em this year and thereby prove that last year was a fluke. After all, we’re going into this season undefeated, untied and unscored upon, as pure and unstained as a Baptist bride on her wedding night.
For fanatics of my beloved, mighty, fighting Texas Longhorns, the start of two-a-days is our new beginning, our full-immersion water baptism designed to forgive and forget the past. Like the sick, ill, and lame who sojourn to Lourdes, France to dip in the healing waters, we T-Sips open our newspapers, search the Internet, buy expensive, thick, colorful magazines and double-check our season ticket confirmations. Our goal is to purify ourselves, to shun the shameful losses of last season (Kansas State, A&M) and compartmentalize them to a place we never again have to visit. Like Pentecostals being slapped on the forehead by a loud, sweaty preacher in a bad suit and worse haircut, we want to be healed, body and soul, in one fell swoop.
Things are a thousand times worse for people like me, homers with great passion for but little or no perspective on the Horns. Is our offensive line going to be better this year? Hell, yeah! Will Colt be back to his old, freshman self? Of course! What a stupid question. Will our young but unproven defensive secondary be up to the task? With that much talent, you have to ask? What about our horrifically tough schedule? Piece of cake! Kansas and Tech are overrated, and we get Mizzou at home.
You say our streak of ten win seasons is over? Over? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? What the heck happened to the Longhorns I used to know? Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts? “Ooh, we’re afraid to go with you, Lubbock Horn. We might get in trouble.” Well just kiss my ass from now on! Not me! I’m not gonna take this. Mike Leach, he’s a dead man! Stoops, dead! Mangino, dead! Sorry. I apologize. I just get a little worked up thinking about football season. From where I am sitting, possibilities are endless, hope is something so real it can be measured and love is in the air. We have the talent and coaching to win each individual game on the schedule. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason we can’t win ‘em all. Right?
Sadly, just as the bright, optimistic promise of the first day of two-a-days turns into the bruising, sore, exhausted reality of the third day of two-a-days, our season will diminish. Realistically, I understand the Horns will lose some games this year – maybe more than one or two. I understand we have some serious, genuine questions about this football team. I understand we are thin at defensive tackle and that we will be in a real pickle if Jordan Shipley’s injury bug once again rears it’s ugly head. I understand Colt needs to get his head screwed on right and that he dang sure better stay healthy.
I understand all these things, but that does not stop me from knowing one important thing: every fall, beginning with two-a-days, the Horns and I get a free do-over, a great, big Burnt Orange mulligan, and until we lose for the first time, we are still on track to be national champions.
I know one other thing, too: the boys of summer are almost gone. Move over, fellows. Time for the men of fall.
Jeff Conner’s political and pop culture-infused Longhorn commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InisdeTexas.com