Andy Cotton: A Season Finally Underway

It's been a weird, surreal start to the football season in Austin.

We're well into October. Brown leaves are replacing cedar berries as the primary cover on my porch. Unseemly Christmas decorations are starting to appear in the malls. Daylight Savings Time, the surest sign that summer is, indeed, over, will end any day now. The NFL has finished a quarter of its schedule. Baseball playoffs have begun. And, in 99.9% of the college football world, from New Haven to Corvallis, and all points north and south, the season is well underway.

But in Austin, home of the #5 team in the nation, the city has been held, like Ted Williams’ head, in a state of frozen suspension. I recall Texas played a real game seemingly months ago. Since then it’s been a succession of off weeks and glorified scrimmages. How do schedules get picked anyway? I picture a small brown monkey with a little red cap placing his grimy little offal stained hand into a bowl and pulling out names of teams.

"What do you have there monkey?" Says a grinning host in a Big-12 cap.

"Arkansas in preseason for Texas!" says the monkey.

"But," the host notes to the monkey, " when does Texas play again?’

The monkey puts his paw into the bowl.

"October 9 in Dallas." The monkey grins.

I’ve lived in Austin many years and I don’t remember a season with less buzz in the air than this fall. Isn’t it past time for Baylor to look into Conference USA? Anyway, this is all the fault of a poorly conceived early schedule with games that only BEVO-D could love.

That is, finally, about to change. I just overheard four matronly Westlake mom’s discussing - over various types of foaming, skim milk lattes - Mack Brown and his chances against the evil savages from the Indian Territories. One of them is referencing a blurb in the Statesman posing the question: Can Brown keep his job if he loses again to Oklahoma?

Their conversation takes me back three weeks, when the college season was still young and fresh. I was driving home from central Colorado, my body riddled with legally procured amphetamines. I’m chewing compulsively on the bloody inside portion of my right cheek. I am very awake. I’ve invested, wisely, in XM Satellite Radio so I won’t go stark raving mad listening to the same six cd’s on the endless trip. I no longer have to be grateful for the Pentecostal themed radio station in Eads, Colorado. I can - if I choose - listen to sports talk radio for the entire 1200-mile trip.

I’m listening to this guy on Sporting News Radio and he’s talking about the Texas Longhorns. For just a moment I stop gnawing my shredded cheek. He’s telling his partner, "If Mack Brown doesn’t beat Oklahoma this year his job is in real trouble." Living in Austin, I’m accustomed to this sort of talk. But this is a national radio show originating in New York where the thinking is, presumably, a little more rational. His partner agrees.

With 350 more miles to go before my driving day ends, I have plenty of time to ponder this exchange. I conclude I’ve just witnessed the much discussed (but rarely actually seen) phenomena of a tail wagging the dog. The tail being the loud, relentless Texas media. The dog being the rest of the country.

A serious discussion about canning a highly successful and popular football coach because he can’t beat one team seems, to a Yankee heathen like me, borderline ridiculous and underlines the dog wagging power of Car Phone Bob. I remember the days of David McWilliams, when Texas might and did lose to anyone. Or the final days of John Mackovic when average teams would humiliate UT. Nine wins would have looked pretty good back then. Would OrangeLand be happier if they went 7-5 but beat OU? I doubt it. But, I guess that’s just me.

Brown isn’t perfect, but for a college coach he’s not too bad. He’s a energetic, effective recruiter. He’s totally reopened lines of communication with past players, showing an instinctive appreciation of Texas football history. He says all the right things. He wins.

On the down side he’s surprisingly thin skinned to any sort of criticism. He should change his stump speech, " We got great kids. We’re working hard. We’re in great shape," once in a while. A public sense of humor might be nice.

But, were I a Longhorn fan, for 9 wins a year, I’d say I can live with that.

A prediction: Anybody who says they have a decent feel yet for UT ’04 is delusional. The Horns have played one game and it was so long ago it’s hard to remember. Not their fault. Blame the monkey. It is what it is. OU has played some tough games and hasn’t looked that great in doing it. However, and it’s a big however, Oklahoma never seems to look good until they play Texas and then they start to look real good real fast.

If the Texas game plan allows Vince Young to do what he does best, run first and pass maybe, Texas will win. Oklahoma, with a better defense, couldn’t stop him last year. I don’t see why this year should be any different. If Brown tries to make him into a pocket passer, which is what it looked like against Arkansas, the results won’t be pretty.

In any case the football season will finally be underway.

For ten years Andy Cotton wrote the Coach's Corner for the Austin Chronicle, where he was voted Austin's Best Sportswriter three times and was runner up twice. During his tenure at the Chronicle he covered all the major sports including tennis, golf, major league baseball, the NBA and, of course, the University of Texas. He has authored a book on the mini-tours of golf called It's Not Fun… Life Below the Radar of the PGA Tour.

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