It really freaks people out when I pull out a pen and paper and start madly scribbling notes during a Longhorn football game. The female half of the nice UTEP prison-uniform-orange-wearing couple sitting next to me Saturday night was driven right up the wall by my mysterious activity: “It makes me nervous when you write things down like that.”
Seeing this poor Miner fan squirm with curiosity was like watching my cat go spastic when I swirl a flashlight beam on the floor. Like putting used motor oil on a baked potato or Mike Sherman’s Aggies in a bowl game, this lady could see that something did not belong, and absolutely, positively had to get to the bottom of it.
Attempting to explain to complete strangers what I do in this column is like trying to describe reggae music to someone who has never heard it. I told the couple I try to write something funny or insightful relating to Longhorn sports, but my explanation made no sense to them and only added fuel to the fire. The curious lady’s husband had heard of scout.com, and the wife asked when my column would be posted on line. I told her I usually sent my rants to my editor Sunday evening or early Monday morning and that it was posted on line some time Monday.
She was positively giddy, telling me, “Ooh, good. We’ll be sure to look it up and read it.”
“Uhm … You have to subscribe to the web site to read my stuff.”
My new, suddenly-sad UTEP friends were closer to the truth than they knew. In their long-awaited matchup with my beloved, mighty, fighting, Texas Longhorns, the whole traffic-cone-orange Miner nation thought they were onto something, but like Alicia Silverstone trying to win an Oscar, they were never actually close.
The weekend started off with a reminder of the horrors and dangers of traveling through our neighboring state that poses in drag as a third world country. I am speaking, of course about New Mexico, the Land of Entrapment. When we threatened to bomb Iraq back to the Stone Age, I think the New Mexican stretch of Highway 62 was pretty much what we had in mind. The roads are no better than paved alleys; the gas stations are few, far between, and overpriced; the roadside attractions make the slums of Fallujah look like Six Flags; the highway signs only occasionally make sense. For example “DO NOT PASS” was closely followed by “PASS WITH CARE,” often within a few hundred feet of each other with no discernable reason for the abrupt change in policy. I was more disoriented than Barack Obama trying to respond to a question about when human life in a fetus begins.
The game made the trip worth the trouble. The place-kicking for both sides was amazing, with almost every kickoff being a touchback. I kept looking at the stadium flags for some sign of a kicker-aiding breeze, but they were limper than John Travolta on his wedding night. The Miner kicker, Jose Martinez, even attempted a 65-yard field goal, something Coach Mike Price claimed Martinez made with regularity in practice, but, like John Bobbitt, it came up a little short. Unlike Bobbitt’s surgeons, however, Quan Cosby was able to turn a little nothing into something, returning the kick from the very, very back of the Miners’ end zone to UT’s 35 yard line.
While Colt and Company moved the ball well in the first half, our defense started out rawer than a thirteen-year old boy who recently found his father’s porn stash. In spotting the Miners 6 points, our front 7 showed remarkably little ability to read screen passes. UTEP found the seams in our zone coverage and worked over our cornerbacks like a bad cop beating a bad suspect in a bad police movie.
The bad cop in the Horns’ “good cop/bad cop” tandem is, of course, Will Muschamp. The basic plan behind the “good cop/bad cop” strategy is to have the bad cop be the threatening, heavy badass and the good cop be the pleasant, calm, stable relief. The theory is that more can be accomplished with a carrot and a stick than with either in isolation. Our screaming, forehead-vein-popping-out, bloody-faced Defensive Coordinator plays bad cop to Coach Mack Brown’s hand-clapping, back-slapping good cop like Sarah Palin’s lipstick attack-dog to McCain’s kindly, wise, grandfatherly statesman. (Note: I could have called Governor Palin a bitch [you know, as in a female dog], but I intentionally did not, since I completely respect anybody who’s a better shot than Dick Cheney.)
One great aspect of the game was the emergence of Foswhitt Whittaker, a slasher and dasher of a running back who moves laterally as well as any running back in recent memory. Pity all us poor Longhorn fans, so spoiled by our legacy of Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson, and Jamaal Charles, one after another, that we consider talented, tough, dedicated kids like Vondrell McGee, Chris Ogbonnaya, and Whittaker to be mediocre.
Whittaker was anything but mediocre, taking the parking brake off the running game and personally toting the rock for 72 yards on 12 carries. I have liked this kid from the start, and watching him slice through UTEP’s front six was more fun than catching an opposing witness in a lie on the witness stand. I think it’s fair to say the Horns’ running game is slowly beginning to grow a pair and we can now see a little Fozzy on our kiwis.
There are a few curiosities about the game I still haven’t digested. I assumed the weakness of UTEP’s bizarre 3-3-5 defense was stopping the straight-ahead run and that its strength was controlling the passing game, especially in the flat. But the Good Guys made little headway running up the gut and made a living off the short dink passes.
The other curiosity was the entire third quarter. Neither side scored, nothing interesting happened, and we in effect kept doing the same crap over and over and over, even though it clearly was not working. Sort of like W’s second term.
Thanks to the tipsy native sitting right in front of me who complimented my singing of the National Anthem (in all modesty, I can sing the heck out of that song), repeatedly told me that even though I was a Longhorn I was “alright,” and insisted I enjoy a shot of the Crown Royal he cleverly hid in a plastic Coke bottle. For an intoxicated, alcohol-sneaking UTEP fan, you’re alright.
I understand there are legitimate concerns about our defense, but winning on the road enough to beat the point spread against a team that’s had a hard on for us for a year is not small potatoes. The local sports radio post-game call-in show went on and on about how having Texas come to town was a huge landmark for UTEP and really elevated the program and Conference USA’s national prominence. While it seems to me like much ado about nothing, this game was sincerely a really big deal to El Pasoans, and we beat the hell out of the locals and never got out of third gear on either side of the ball.
Or, as the drunk chick with the bright orange tank top and big, silver hoop earrings said, “You be sure and write about this shit.” Honey, I promise that every time I think of El Paso and shit, your face will always be the first thing that comes to mind.
Jeff Conner’s political and pop culture-infused Longhorn commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.