Commentary: The ‘Ultimate’ Game

Inside Texas Magazine Editor Mike Blackwell explains how the Longhorns’ Fiesta Bowl matchup with Ohio State is “without question the ‘ultimate’ game for Texas. At least for this year, anyway.”
The quote is more than 30 years old now, but is still a great reminder, especially for football fans this time of year.

As the Dallas Cowboys were preparing to face the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, their star running back, enigmatic Duane Thomas, was approached by a reporter.

Thomas was a strange sort who rarely spoke, didn’t take notes during meetings with his teammates and coaches, yet performed flawlessly on the field. He was strong, fast, confident and probably caused Dallas coach Tom Landry to scratch his bald head on more than one occasion.

The reporter asked Thomas about playing in the “ultimate” game, to which he replied, “If it’s the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?”

This is true, of course. But though we should all readily acknowledge and appreciate Thomas’ perspective, we should all also know this: the Fiesta Bowl matchup is without question the “ultimate” game for Texas. At least for this year, anyway.

Thomas is 61 now, and with life now more past that future, he undoubtedly knows there is no such thing as a “must win” football game. But if you’re a Texas fan, you better believe the Longhorns’ game against Ohio State is a very, very important one for them to win. In fact, it’s almost ultimately a must win.

Here’s why.

For starters, there are still impressive – and accomplishable – goals to be achieved with this season. There is at the very least an outside shot that Texas can win a “piece” of the national championship, whatever that is. Florida beats Oklahoma 3-0, Texas wins 60-0, blah-blah-blah, etc. More realistically, an impressive win over the Buckeyes will almost guarantee a No. 2 spot in the standings for the Longhorns.

I know, No. 2 is really first loser, but still…

The Longhorns also need to win this game to keep its national image intact. After a month of bitching and moaning about getting “jobbed” by the polls, the BCS, the refs in Lubbock, etc., should Texas lay a big egg against Ohio State, the Longhorns will be mocked unmercifully.

And rest assured, Ohio State is perfectly capable of beating Texas if the Longhorns arrive in Arizona flat and disinterested. Texas has lost to teams greatly inferior to Ohio State in the past…in fact, Texas may have lost to a greatly inferior team than Ohio State this year. The Buckeyes lost only two games this year, to Penn State and to Southern California, the two teams playing in the Rose Bowl.

Ohio State’s tarnished national reputation is at least slightly unfair as well. Yes, the Buckeyes have lost the last two national championship games; is it better to have played and lost than to have never played at all? Somebody said that once. Toss in the fact that the Buckeyes should have plenty of “edge” in this game because of all the criticism they have taken the last two years, and it appears to me the 10-point betting line favoring Texas is a bit high.

Texas also needs to win this game to ensure a high ranking entering next year. The Longhorns have a slew of returning players – including a Heisman Trophy candidate – from an 11-1 regular season team and will logically enter next year as a national championship contender…if they beat Ohio State. Texas should treat this game like it’s game one of the 2009 season. If they don’t take this game seriously and lose lethargically, it will without question have a lingering effect.

And finally, Texas needs to beat Ohio State for purely selfish reasons of the heart. Talk to most Texas fans prior to this season, and if you’d told them the Longhorns would be 11-1 and headed to a BCS game – with wins over OU and Texas A&M to boot – they would’ve been thrilled.

In a cruel twist, the Longhorns are 11-1 and headed a BCS game – with wins over OU and Texas A&M to boot – and are feeling disappointed, jilted, frustrated. The Longhorns need a big win over Ohio State like some of us just need a day off on Friday now and again. They need to win just because.

It really doesn’t matter which reason the Longhorns latch on to as they prepare for the Fiesta Bowl. Maybe they can latch on to one more than another, or maybe they can just throw their arms around them all. Whatever their motivation of choice, they just need to realize that their game against the Buckeyes is, in fact, the ultimate game.

At least until next year.