“Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”
— Winston Churchill
Ah, yes. Sweet vindication. Vin-dih-KAY-shun. Vin-DICK-ay-shun. My Cousin Vinny-cation. Sounds good no matter how you mispronunciate it. No, it’s not Vin Diesel’s younger brother’s gay porn star name.
Vindication: “To show that something that has been criticized or doubted is correct, true or reasonable.”
Last Saturday’s steamroller win over the hated Oklahoma Sooners must have felt amazing for embattled Texas coach Charlie Strong. Having already been measured for his coffin (short nut wide in the shoulders, a.k.a. the “Mr. Incredible” Model), Strong was widely written off in social media and on Longhorn interwebs. Somber, moving eulogies had been composed and recited before bathroom mirrors with tearful eyes and catches in throats. “We appreciate that Charlie tried to do it the right way, and, (pause for effect) in his own small way, he succeeded.” A tasteful headstone had been engraved, and speculation had already begun about who Strong’s poor widow would date next.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the wake. “Oddly, your autopsy didn’t turn out like we thought it would, Mr. Strong.” Apropos of the weekend the new season of “The Walking Dead” kicked off, sometimes the deceased don’t stay that way. Like comic book villains, Jason Voorhees, John Travolta’s career, or a middle-aged diabetic’s penis (Are those last two the same thing?), dead isn’t always dead. Sometimes they won’t stay six feet under. Sometimes they come back. Sometimes they return and make a sleazy, tawdry, clichéd prime time soap opera for ABC called “Blood & Oil.”
But coach Strong showed ‘em. Behind Patrick Vahe’s wild-haired, pulling-guard haka, the Horns’ often-slandered offense ran over, through, around, between, beyond, among and amidst OU; our offensive line prepositioned those cheating bitches. Racking up 313 total yards on the ground, Texas manhandled OU in a way not seen since the last time Jerry Jones was alone with a twenty-something-year-old blonde in a public bathroom.
Texas’ pre-K, still-colors-outside-the-lines defense also stepped up in a big way, sending pressure against Sooner QB Baker Mayfield, who wilted faster than Dennis Hastert before a Grand Jury. Uh, Coach Stoops, want a little hint? Tech ran Mayfield off. TECH. Like a porcupine showing it’s quills or a strange man approaching you on the street wearing a tutu, arm floaties, snow shoes, a red, lacey brassiere, bright green eye shadow and an old pressure cooker on his head, Tech running off a kid is Nature’s way of saying, “Don’t touch!”
Still, it’s been entertaining to see how many fans have pulled muscles and torn ligaments desperately straining to jump back on the UT bandwagon. In an adult, internet version of childhood playground taunts, we’ve told the Charlie doubters or haters (not much overlap between those two groups, IMHO), “Nanny-nanny-boo-boo,” “Neener-neener” and (with tongue stuck out and thumbs to ears, hands waving), “Na-na-na-na-na-na,” combined with an unhealthy dose of, “I know you are, but what am I?” and “Why don’t you stop hitting yourself?”
Problem is, we haven’t actually won anything yet. Don’t get me wrong – I’m proud as hell of our kids, who could have done what everybody (including you and me) thought they would and pull another TCU in the Cotton Bowl. Whipping OU feels fantastic, and knowing we did it by knocking their Aggie in the dirt makes it that much more enjoyable.
But we’re 2-4, unranked and still have games against the best strategic coach in college football (Kansas State), Burning Couch Festival (West Virginia) and number 1 (Baylor) and number 2 (Tech) offenses in the entire country. Unfortunately, as impressive as Saturday’s win was, there’s not really a bandwagon to jump on yet.
The honest truth is, nobody knows for sure if Charlie Strong is going to be the man at Texas, not the posters who prematurely told us from day 1 Strong was the wrong hire or the posters who simplistically think Strong’s tough love solves all the world’s problems. The win over the Sooners was huge – pivotal – but it was just one game. Momentum can be squandered as quickly as it can be created. The Cotton Bowl showed us what this young team can be – we now know how high the bar is set.
What we don’t know is how often or how consistently a young, learning team with little senior leadership can play up to it’s potential. As an educator, I can only remind you of what every parent knows by heart: youth can be infuriatingly inconsistent. At this point, we simply don’t have enough information for anybody in our camp to “Nanny-nanny-boo-boo” anybody.
But there is one thing I know: The biggest, brashest smile I’ve seen in a blue moon was on the face of a man wearing a ridiculous, ill-fitting metal cowboy hat. It was the Cheshire Cat grin of a soaking wet adult being bench-pressed by a hoard of cheering young men. It was the face of someone who would have his first good night’s sleep in a month. What I saw was the face of vindication.
A 1986 graduate of the University of Texas, Jeff Conner has held many jobs in his life: husband, brother, uncle, son, oil field roustabout, short-order cook, sandblaster, irrigation pipe mover, musician, retail assistant manager, attorney-at-law, public school teacher, preacher, cartoonist and writer. While he does have a hot, young wife, Conner is neither as clever nor as good-looking as he believes himself to be. Jeff currently warps fragile and vulnerable young minds while teaching 8th grade math and Pre-Algebra in Taylor, Texas, home of the Fighting Ducks. Conner’s regularly submitted commentary appears in InsideTexas.com and Inside Texas Magazine. The opinions presented do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inside Texas editorial staff.