The hidden inner Longhorn in me
It’s a sight that, for the better part of my college career, inspired bafflement. The University of Texas tower lit orange, the lights in the building offices illuminated in the shape of the numeral one.
The administration carries out this ritual every time a university team wins a national championship, be it rugby, table tennis or competitive calculus. Often I walked past the tower, beaming in such a way on a completely deserted campus, wondering what obscure sport had brought home to Austin a national title.
On the night of Jan. 4, when the electricians flipped the special switches on the campus landmark, everyone knew what it was for. Football is, without question, the only sport that really matters in the Lone Star State and the Texas Longhorns brought home a big one.
For someone born and reared a bus ride away from the University of Texas, I came rather late to an appreciation of college football. I scorned it during all of my high school and undergraduate years, which I spent at UT.
My distaste was not baseless. Football was the natural territory of the frat boys who harassed geeks like me. I distinctly recall the first time I feared for my life as a result of frantic fan behavior.
It was my first trip down to Austin’s Sixth Street, a storied entertainment district these days populated by shot bars and big-haired tourists. I was 14 years old and my mom had just dropped my friends and me off when a Lone Star beer bottle came screaming out of nowhere to crash against a brick wall just over my head.
I believe it was the night after a Longhorn loss to an in-state rival. Disappointed Texas fans chose to express their anger by attacking the elated boosters of the winning side and I just happened to get in the way. I saw several such scenes that night, with implements ranging from fists to baseball bats.
Behavior on winning game nights was just as bad if not worse. On several occasions during my freshman year as I pedaled my bike to my part-time job, I found the route blocked by throngs of fans or overturned cars on Guadalupe Street. The overheated exhortations to celebrate and persistent car honking often caused me to degenerate into a state of partial nervous breakdown by the time I reached my destination.
Of course, as a child born into a family of rabid Texas fans, I was always groomed to root for the team, even if I concealed it in the depths of my soul. My parents met at the University of Texas, where both completed undergraduate and advanced degrees. My older sister and I followed in their footsteps by completing bachelor’s degrees at the school.
My father was always the big sports fan and my mother, in a lapse of reason, let him dress us far too often. The result was three little girls dressed in burnt-orange baby clothes emblazoned with the slogan ‘“I’m a Little Longhorn.’” Related gifts followed later in life, including rafts of orange knit caps we had little occasion to wear in the sultry heat of central Texas.
During rivalry games with Texas A&M or the University of Oklahoma my dad would take us down to the alumni center. My younger sister and I would hunt for crawdads in the creek bed, our silent stalking interrupted by the booming cannon fired when Texas scored a touchdown.