Chaos Theory is a scientific principle used to explain unexpected results in a complex environment. The theory holds that, in a system with thousands of variables, the tiniest change in initial circumstances can produce staggeringly varied results. The most easily recognized example is referred to as the "butterfly effect," which states that, through a complicated string of events, a butterfly flapping it's wings in Asia will cause forty thousand Texas Aggies to bend over and literally stick their heads up their asses.
Speaking of things that offend nature, we had plenty of what seemed like chaos on the South Plains this week. We remembered the horror and outrage of September 11 the best way we knew – thousands of American flags were placed around town, in parks, over the courthouse lawn, and in front of businesses. In a single incident, three Odessa cops were fatally shot while responding to a domestic violence call, and Lubbock P.D. was called upon to provide traffic control for the memorial service and funerals. The officers' names are Jones, Gardner, and Marquez, and they all left family, friends, and fellow peace officers behind. The Lubbock D.A.'s office filed capital murder paperwork against Alonzo Lewis, a dishwasher at a local Mexican food restaurant who is alleged to have stabbed Donald McCullough, a retired Air Force Colonel and former fighter pilot in Viet Nam, 70 times during a robbery; according to L.P.D., the crime was a random act of opportunity. General David Patraeus, who seems to me to be a decent and competent man, told Congress in much-awaited testimony that America will need to have a significant troop presence in Iraq for years and perhaps decades to come, much like South Korea – except the South Koreans have a real government and army, don't hate our guts, are mostly glad to have us there, don't have fundamental, deadly, intractable religious divisions dating back a millennium, and aren't trying to slaughter our troops on a daily basis.
That, my friends, is chaos theory. Things that seemed to make sense to me now confuse or befuddle me, and the things I took as absolute, unshakeable certainties are now in the "definite maybe" column. Results seem random, and the world appears to be a confusing, disordered, dangerous place.
Then I watched a high school football game. The wife and I love going to Austin; the trip gives us a chance to get away from the grind, talk, sleep, listen to books on c.d., and relax. But the work schedule and travel time leaves no chance for watching high school games.
So last Friday night I took my brother-in-law and nephew to watch the 4A Wolfforth Frenship Tigers put the wood to the 5A Lubbock Coronado Mustangs. The evening was cool, but not cold, with that first hint of fall in the air. I ate a tasty, two dollar hot dog and a dollar bag of peanuts as my nephew tore through some package of brightly colored, heavily sugared candy. The sky turned the most amazing color of dark purple and pink. Fresh-scrubbed kids bounced around in cheerleader, mascot, and band outfits. Latino, black, and Caucasian athletes completely forgot about differences in culture, socio-economic status, and race and worked together as teammates, compañreos, brothers-in-arms, and equals.
And for a few blissful hours (at least until my six year old nephew started getting bored) the world made sense. Things were right and correct in the universe, and earth was a decent place to live. I was reminded what a great country this is, how blessed I am, and how many opportunities our kids have.
Then came Saturday afternoon. And all of a sudden, I was plunged right back into freakin' chaos theory.
On the plus side, I can safely say the Texas Longhorn on-side recovery team now has plenty of real-world experience. Let's see – What else was good? Oh, I know. Our white road uniforms still look quite fetching. Anything else? Oh, yeah – We actually wound up winning the football game and are undefeated for the season.
On the negative side, what in the hell is wrong with us? Our defense shifted from moments of competence to moments of crap-ulence, our offense tried valiantly but failed to give the game away, and we managed against all odds to keep the UCF Knights in the game until the final 30 seconds of the contest.
And once again folks on the Inside Texas message boards are at each other's throats. The sunshine pumpers, like Kevin Bacon at the end of "Animal House," stand their posts, screaming, "Remain calm! All is well!" The Negative Nellies, like Old Testament prophets convinced disaster is just around the corner, preach doom, gloom, and an inevitable lopsided whipping they see coming from OU in a few weeks.
Regardless of your outrage or Pollyanna status, there are three things about the current world of college football with which you will need to come to terms:
1. Parity has arrived. Even non-BCS, directional schools have decent athletes. When you get a chance, re-read Coach Mack's interview in this week's "Sports Illustrated," because he's absolutely right. We should no longer feign shock and surprise when #11 UCLA is blown out by upstart Utah or lowly Citadel makes it a close game in Wisconsin or Kentucky outwits #9 Louisville or Auburn loses at home to Mississippi State or Minnesota is rolled by Florida Atlantic or Iowa State loses to Kent State and Northern Iowa then surprises Iowa or … You want me to keep going? ‘Cos these are just the games from one week, and I can keep riffing on this until the Gomers start putting their shoes on the right feet. It's like Captain Renault from the movie "Casablanca" claiming, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!" even as the casino worker hands him money, saying, "Your winnings, sir!"
2. The University has no easy games. The simple fact is that everybody hates my beloved, mighty, fighting Texas Longhorns. They don't mildly dislike us while respecting our place in the pantheon of great college football programs. They hate our stinking guts, and beating us would be their (take your pick) bowl win, season highlight, bragging rights, recruiting pitch, opportunity to prove they've made the big time, etc. Rest assured, our opponents' kids will be pumped up and ready to play when it's Texas, which leads into my final point:
3. College football players are 18 to 20 year old kids under incredible public pressure and scrutiny who frequently lose their focus, make bad decisions (on and off-field), and become overpowered by their emotions. If you can get college football players ready, sharp, and mentally prepared for seven games in an entire season, you're an amazing coach. If you get them "up" for eight out of thirteen games, you're some type of immortal genius. You just need to hope that the games your kids are really ready to play are the important ones and the games when they are "down" are against lesser opponents who won't wind up biting you in the butt. If you don't believe me, go back and count the number of years a powerhouse like USC hasn't lost to an inferior opponent (and had at least one other distressingly close call) at least once per season under Pete Carroll. There won't be many.
So where does that leave us with the UCF Knights? All I can say is the game reminded me of the time I barely made it to the toilet with a case of violent, raging diarrhea: I was extremely relieved and disgusted, all at the same time.
Jeff Conner's political and pop culture-infused Longhorn commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.
Conner's Burnt Orange Glasses: UCF
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