My high school debate partner was David Tobias. A brilliant guy, David was calm, cool and logical; I was fiery, mercurial and passionate. David laid out our case in a rational opening argument; I brought things to a thundering conclusion in a rousing closing argument. Together, we placed third in state in 4-A UIL debate our junior year.
David went on to play clarinet in the Goin’ Band from Raiderland at Tech, made Law Review at Baylor Law School and currently works as a briefing and writing attorney for an appellate judge in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
David always tried to get me to listen to more classical music. These days, it’s an indispensable part of my listening repertoire, but back then it was a hard sell after playing Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell,” Tom Petty’s “Damn the Torpedoes” and Kansas’ “Leftoverture” over and over again on vinyl albums.
David’s argument was always the same: “Classical music knows how to end a song; pop music doesn’t.” He’d play some rock and roll that faded out at the end of a track, then he’s play the end of a Beethoven symphony: Buh-buh-buh-buh-BUHM (pause) BUHM (pause) BUUUUUUUUUHM!
“Now THAT’s the way to end a song,” said David while grinning mischievously.
Looking back on it years later, I guess Neil Young was right. It is better to burn out than to fade away, a sentiment repeated verbatim in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note.
Hey, hey. My, my.
Unfortunately, like much of life, our debate partnership ended with a whimper and not a bang. Dead set on returning to the state UIL meet and winning our senior years, we were trashing the competition. The topic my senior year was U.S. energy policy, and as West Texas kids who grew up in the oil patch, we argued passionately for oil and gas price deregulation.
Years earlier, Richard Nixon, of all people, in an attempt to stem the tide of inflation, put government limits on what companies could charge for a barrel of oil (and, subsequently, the gasoline that was processed from that oil) and a cubic foot of natural gas.
The result was a disaster. The price on natural gas was so low, it was not worth the cost of laying flowline from oil wells to refineries, so companies burned off the natural gas at the wellhead to get to the slightly more profitable oil. I remember driving home on Friday nights after football games, and the flat West Texas plains would be bright as day, with wells to the left and right of the highway alight like giant Bunsen burners with billions and billions of cubic feet of natural gas burned up into the ozone because they couldn’t be profitably be transported.
David and I were true believers: letting the market provide the true cost of oil and natural gas would result in much more being produced, which would, under free market terms, cause the price to drop appropriately. At one point in time my senior year, David and I were 22-3 and won four different tournaments.
The problem was Jimmy Carter, who boldly deregulated oil and gas prices in the spring of 1979. Great for the county; horrible for a debate team from Andrews, Texas. Just a few weeks before the regional contest, David and I had our affirmative case gutted. Affirmative has to argue for a change, and now, what we had been proposing all year was the status quo.
David and I scrambled to come up with another case we could argue as passionately. We drew affirmative and lost in the regional finals and never made it back to state.
Hey, hey. My, my.
We saw the end of the Mack Brown era on a frigid Saturday in Waco. There were no great flourishes or memorable moments. The Horns didn’t stage a dramatic, spectacular fourth quarter comeback or return a missed field goal 109 yards in a victory for the ages. The King’s reign ended in a whimper, not a crescendo. Instead of thunderous applause, Coach Brown left Floyd Casey Stadium to the sound of 20,000 simultaneous face palms, mourning an offense shut down by wind, cold, lack of imagination, poor coaching decisions and a bad case of the McCoys.
Decades of television viewing have conditioned us to expect a happy ending. We want to be told that they all lived happily ever after, but reality is seldom so neat, kind or overproduced. Real life is sloppy, inexact and messy.
As I often explain to my 8th graders, large parts of life are about managing expectations. Despite what your mommy does for you, your first employer will not pick your nasty underwear off the floor and tell you what a special little snowflake you are, especially if you’re too ignorant to do 8th grade math. A man might go into marriage thinking every night will be a wild, drunken grope-fest that ends in getting it on like a pair of rabid weasels. He soon learns that marriage is more about friendship, companionship, laughter, empathy and joy than it is fornicating mustelids (Yeah, I looked that up. Wanna fight about it?).
I’m not sure exactly how the terms of Mack Brown’s retirement package will read, but I’m quite certain it’s not how Coach saw it in his head when he envisioned his retirement.
Legacy. Statues. Parades. Stuff named after you. The gratitude of millions. Mack will eventually get all these things, I think. But for now he and his attorney Joe Jamail will have to settle for another type of millions.
The bottom line is this: Mack Brown wanted to equal the legacy of Darrell K. Royal. If so, perhaps he should have stolen a page from Coach Royal’s playbook and turned the reigns over to someone else sooner rather than later. Always leave them wanting more, Mack, because the worst thing a coach can do is fade away.
My, my. Hey, hey.
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 is currently teaching 8th grade math and G.T.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.