Conner's Burnt Orange Glasses: Rice

God bless the social gadflies, those brave and careless souls using biting humor and stinging social satire to light humanity's way through the darkest of times. Like a canary in a coal mine, these folks risk ridicule, contempt, jail time, and, occasionally, their lives to warn us of impending danger, intentionally poking fingers in the eyes of the rich, powerful, and self-important.

The world has given us such against-the-grain minds as Socrates, the Apostle Paul, Chaucer, Erasmus, the Marquis De Sade, Jonathan Swift, and Salmon Rushdie.

But in America, where irreverence is held in great reverence, we've turned smartass into an art form. Lenny Bruce's stand-up comedy pushed the envelope of acceptable language and subject matter in the ‘60's. The Smothers Brothers combined wry political jokes, folk music, and a television variety show. "Rolling Stone," before it became a fourth-rate teenie fashion magazine, published the chemically impaired, take-no-prisoners ranting of Hunter S. Thompson. The ‘80's saw Texas' own Joe Bob Briggs (a major influence on my writing style) review drive-in movies while sending up redneck culture. Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" on Comedy Central spoofs current events and T.V. news "magazines."

But they all quietly bow their heads and stand in line behind Rice's Marching Owl Band, more succinctly known as the MOB. Rice's band is so adept at turning sacred cows into ground chuck they have actually been banned from Texas A&M's Kyle Field in College Station. In October, 1973, while mocking the Aggies' alleged military connections, the MOB played the classical music tune "March of the Wooden Soldiers" while goose-stepping through the song. Surprisingly, this was not well received by the Gomer student body, a group ordinarily known for their sense of humor and ability and willingness to gently poke fun at themselves.

Ahem.

For the uninitiated, the MOB is almost completely unique in college sports and, despite the "M" in their name, doesn't really march anywhere. The MOBsters change field positions haphazardly, running like disorganized, ADD ants from one formation to another. Unlike other college bands which use flags and twirlers, the MOB utilizes comedic props, costumes, and visual aids to make their point. The gaudy, fashion-challenged, doesn't-make-sense-in-any-other-context suits other bands wear (I've had readers suggest I do an entire rant on UT's fringe, cowboy hat, and zig-zag pants stripe uni's) are replaced by the MOB's Blues Brothers-type dark suit and tie. They also make use of – What shall we call it? – alternative instrumentation. Saturday at halftime I saw a cello strapped to a musician's body, a portable electric keyboard complete with battery and loudspeaker, and a tenor saxophonist with a toddler on his back in a baby carrier.

Then there were Saturday night's MOB jokes. Yes, Rice ribbed us about the well-publicized, multiple arrests of Longhorn players beginning this summer. We all saw that one coming, and the little cardboard cop cars were cute and fairly benign. We giggled when Rice mocked the Aggies and their mascot collie Reveille being banned from Kyle Field for biting her handler. Then Rice's stadium announcer declared, "Robert Gates left as President of Texas A&M to become President Bush's new Secretary of Defense. Ordinarily, we wouldn't mention the Aggies and defense …" (Another mild chuckle wafted through DKR, as we briefly remembered the Gomers' pitiful Thursday night performance against Miami on ESPN) "… but they held you to seven points!"

For a second, there was absolute dead silence, as if God accidentally hit the mute button on His remote. Then, as the MOB formed a huge "7" on the field, an audible gasp-type grunt filled the air. It was as if 84,000 people were simultaneously on the toilet, straining out loud to the point of bursting an eye capillary to end a bad case of constipation.

Suddenly, these nerdy little jerks weren't funny anymore. Its one thing to poke fun at us for public arrests – that type of thing is almost a badge of manly honor in some circles. But to remind us in our own house on the bad end of a 41-7 halftime whoopin' in a game of utter and complete dominance that those sons-of-bitches from College Station had scoreboard on us was blasphemy of the highest order. As the MOB continued their show, a murmur began quietly in the south end zone: "Texas! Fight!" The chant grew, and the strains of "Louie, Louie" and the underpersoned MOB eventually drowned in home crowd yells. Suddenly the MOBsters had us right where they wanted us – we were the fans with no sense of humor who literally couldn't take a joke.

Ahem.

As far as the game goes, I'm very proud of my beloved, mighty, fighting Texas Longhorns. This round with Rice was a total beat-down of near-historic proportions, and we could have easily scored 80 points if we would have been of a Mike Leach mind to do so. In similar fashion to Texas Tech, we had three blitzkrieg scoring drives that combined to take less than 25 seconds off the clock – all in the first half. It was beautiful to see Sergio Kindle mess up an opponent's dental work. Billy Pittman looked like he was within spitting distance of his old, explosive, dangerous self, and Henry Melton actually got after it for a few plays at defensive end. And, of course, it was satisfying and exciting to watch John Chiles shake and bake and take his first baby steps as a college QB.

Of course, we were just playing Rice. And make no mistake – this was a bad Rice team, even by Rice standards. Our fine effort last night was the equivalent of playing a new Playstation college football game on the easy, learning level, where you score every time you touch the ball even though they changed some of the buttons from the game's previous version.

Still, we can only play the team that's across the field from us on a particular evening, and we can't fix all the Horns' problems in one fell swoop by blowing out a patsy. Personally, I'd like to see more of the Muckelroy, Norton, and Kindle linebacking crew, and wish we'd get out of our base defense once in a blue moon, especially on certain passing downs like third and 10 or more. Charles needs to hit his holes quicker when running from the shotgun (Watch McGee's game film if you have any questions). Our defensive ends are having trouble with containment, and their excessive inside pursuit will give us problems with mobile quarterbacks.

Given our efforts against Arkansas State and Central Florida, many Inside Texas posters are ready to concede the Oklahoma game. I am not. Are we where we need to be yet? No, but we still have two weeks before the Cotton Bowl and we have all the tools we need, especially at the skill positions, to go toe to toe with the Sooners. Trust me, we are not overrated, and before it's all said and done, we're going to have a good football team. We can beat OU.

And if you could look me in the eye at this exact moment, you'd know that the preceding paragraph was written without the slightest hint of sarcasm.

Hook ‘em.

Jeff Conner's political and pop culture-infused Longhorn commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.


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