Just like superheroes, every small town has it’s rival, a diametrically-opposed doppelganger that creates friction and drama for the protagonist. Superman and Bizarro; Batman and the Joker; Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus; Robert Pattinson and talent.
Andrews and Monahans.
Yes, the tiny oilfield town where I was reared had it’s own evil nemesis, and the Monahans Loboes drove us nuts worse than a Birther desperately trying to explain why Hawaii isn’t really a state. As if it wasn’t enough to be the hometown of immortal genius songwriter Guy Clark, in their green and white uniforms with a high school band program good enough to put most small colleges and Iowa State to shame, we hated Monahans and they hated us. The football games that fanned the flames of that rivalry were the stuff of West Texas legend.
One particular contest I remember in stunning detail. I couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12 years old, and the game was held in Andrews in a terrible snowstorm. Because we lived a little more than a block from the high school campus, Mom agreed to let me walk to the game by myself. After bundling me up like Nanook of the North, she sent me on my way.
After timidly trudging over ice and slush, fascinated with watching my breath mist in the air, I arrived at the stadium to see maintenance folk shoveling snow off the chalk lines on the field. A dry, dusty school district like Andrews didn’t have a snow blower, of course. That would be like Keanu Reeves building an Oscar shelf – I mean, how often are you going to use it, really?
I remember the scene like it was yesterday. The green grass was covered in white, except for the lines on the field and end zones. Andrews, having an oilfield tax base (pre-Robin Hood days), was a rich school district and had all the latest technology on the sidelines: heaters, hot air blowers, thermal underwear, blankets, hand-warming pouches for skill position players, etc.
Monahans had … nothing. Wow. No heaters, no blankets. Nothing. Some of the players from Monahans were in their regular jerseys without long sleeves of any type. What’s wrong with these people?
I fact, I remember when the Loboes came out for pre-game warm-up, one of their players took a running start and slid on his belly across the field like a redneck curling stone. What was going on? Were they not cold? Didn’t those guys from Monahans know it was below freezing? Were they nuts?
No. Turns out they were just well-coached. After the kid slid on his belly in joyful exuberance at the thought of playing in the snow, right in front of the Andrews bench, the game was over. My little 11-year old brain didn’t get it at the time, but looking back, it was all over but the shouting. Monahans didn’t give an Aggie if it was freezing outside; they were there to play some football.
Andrews, in it’s desperate, futile technological attempt to pretend like it wasn’t cold, failed to comprehend a basic tenet of the game: football is a physically demanding contest that is occasionally played in intemperate weather conditions. No amount of thermal underwear is going to make it warm. A dozen sideline heaters are not going to make your freezing fingers hurt less when you whack them on another player’s helmet. There is a certain amount of pain associated with playing in icy conditions that you can’t magic away with the latest, greatest doo-dad they were pushing at coaching school.
You either own up to the pain, embrace it, accept it and master it, or you shiver on the sidelines like my Chihuahua when the temperatures dip into the 60’s.
I don’t have to tell you who won the game.
Y’all are smart; you see where I’m going with this. After the Oklahoma State game, Coach Charlie Strong recounted the Longhorns’ weather preparations: “They thought it was cold, but I told them it wasn’t cold. I said, ‘Look what I have on.’ (C-BOG: A turtleneck sweater, gloves and a shaved head.) I said that up front we were going to win the game, so you get that mess off. I made them take it off. The skill guys had the little pouches on and I said the quarterback was going to wear one, but the rest of you take it off. It was all about our mindset. The weather was not going to be an issue.”
The mindset of the Horns was what turned a conference road win in a hostile environment into a beat-down. It’s a mindset that give’s us a puncher’s chance against Texas Christian University on Thanksgiving Day. It’s the mindset that is making people sit up and take notice of this program a little more than a calendar year after giving up a still-unbelievable 550 yards in rushing to Brigham Young.
While trying to settle on a title for this rant, I remembered the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ album from my time in law school, Tuff Enuff, that vaulted the Austin roadhouse blues band into Billboard magazine and onto MTV. As Kim Wilson asks over and over in the title song, “Ain’t that tuff enuff?”
After years of being called (and, for the most part, probably being) a soft program, the Longhorns are finally tuff enuff. Go ahead and punch us in the mouth, Frogs. See what happens.
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 Pre-A.P. 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.