Finally I finished, and I made the mistake of giving a copy of my tunes to a cotton farmer client of mine who had asked about my hobby. Those of you not living in agrarian areas should realize farmers are unique people, candid as Chris Matthews, forthcoming as an Eagle Scout, and politically incorrect as Sam Kinison. They're a real-life version of the old black and white "Twilight Zone" episode about the slick used car salesman who suddenly couldn't lie when a cursed sedan was dumped on his lot. Anyway, a few weeks later, the farmer hadn't said anything about my music, and I was dying to know what he thought, so I asked him. After hesitating a few seconds, he looked at my feet, had a queer sort of grin break out on his face, and said flatly, "Well, it didn't suck."
"Well, it didn't suck."
Can I write a rant about that phrase? If my mom (the retired fourth grade teacher) were in the room with me, she'd say in her most teacher-esque voice, "Jeff, I'm not sure I appreciate that language." But we do appreciate a good "suck." That is to say, we use the word all the time, not as sexual lingo, but as a pejorative term to define something as poor, inferior, or of substandard quality. Heck, we've even incorporated the word into an alternate version of "Texas Fight" to insult the Sooners.
Our entire entertainment industry is based on not sucking, which may seem odd to some of you familiar with the concept of a casting couch. People will pay money to see movies or listen to music that doesn't suck. For instance, what was the last really great movie you went to see? I'm not talking about a better-than-average-been-there-done-that flick like the third Spider-Man pic, but a comedy that made you laugh so hard Diet Coke came out of your nose or a drama that moved you so much it changed the way you looked at the world. I saw "The Simpsons Movie," "Children of Men," and Tommy Lee Jones' new pic "In the Valley of Elah." They were as good as anything I've seen in 2007, but the Simpsons felt like I was watching television, "Children of Men" was a less cheerful update on "Blade Runner," and "Elah," despite the terrific acting, moved slowly and really dragged at times. I'd have to say, overall, that none of the movies mentioned in this paragraph were absolutely fantastic, but they were all very good, quite a bit better than average.
In other words, they didn't suck.
Same thing for our economic system. We buy products and services that overall work pretty well, but we also look for quality, balancing features against price. Is an expensive, fancy $350 pair of athletic shoes really that much better than a more economical $75 pair? You want a $1 cup of joe or a $4.50 tall decaf Irish crème organic lowfat Café au Lait with a shot of caramel sauce? We make these decisions every day, but most of the time, we compromise and get something that's better than average but not fantastic. My wife drives a Saturn. She named the S.U.V. Mae, after her deceased grandmother to whom my wife was close. I'm not endorsing the naming of vehicles after dead relatives, mind you, I'm just explaining. Mae has been extremely reliable transportation, but she has few of the luxury features of a $70,000 Mercedes. She's a really good car, but not a great one.
She doesn't suck.
As we survey the wreckage of a two-loss Longhorn football season, we need to consider a few undeniable facts: OU, as much as we hate them, is the best team we'll play this year. They came into this game angry over their inexplicable loss to Colorado, anxious to get back into the national championship picture. We went toe to toe with them, both in terms of intensity, quantity of hard hits, total yardage, quality of coaching calls, and score. The real differences here were the turnovers (which have been discussed on the Inside Texas boards ad nauseam) and OU's big play ability (which hasn't been discussed as much) because, quite frankly, they didn't sustain lengthy, multiple-play drives as well as my beloved, mighty, fighting Longhorns. Considering the size and quality of the Sooner receiving corps, a few completed deep passes were inevitable. The long plays I thought were worthy of criticism (for being out of position, but not lack of effort) were DeMarco Murray's 65-yard touchdown run and the forth quarter 35-yard go-ahead-for-good pass to Malcolm Kelly. Our performance was not great, but considering we were playing a highly motivated school that will end up being a top five team, I'd have to say …
We didn't suck.
A great deal of venom has been spat since the Kansas State game about the degeneration of the program and acceptance of mediocrity. One poster even claimed the program had sunk to a fifty year low; obviously, this individual can't correctly spell the word Mackovic. I must take exception to this whole line of thought – the Texas team I saw Saturday was not a mediocre, degenerating team. We moved the ball well against an OU defense much improved from last year, and we played the strongest, most consistent defensive game we've posted this year, limiting the 60-point-per-game Sooners to 28 points. We're a long way from mediocre.
Problem is, we aren't great either. This year's Horns remind me of a line from a T-Bone Burnett song: "I don't like to win, but then again I hate to lose/ And in between is something I can't stand." I think that's the pebble in our collective shoes. If we had won, we could all celebrate (understanding there's a sizeable portion of Greg Davis haters who won't be happy, regardless), or if we'd been blown out big as Ross Lucksinger predicted, we could every one be miserable (once again excepting a few pumpers with smiles permanently tattooed on their faces). But we didn't win or get taken to the woodshed; we're neither fantastic nor wretched. We're not a top five team, but we definitely belong in the top twenty. We're miserable, and we can't stand being caught somewhere in between.
We're Texas. We don't suck.
But the primary thing I saw Saturday that gives me optimism is the attitude of our kids. The debacle against K-State could have ruined us. We could have quit. We could have listened to the knuckleheads who wondered if we were going to win more than two conference games this year. We could have made excuses. We could have pouted. We could have had a pity party. We could have been timid and conservative. We could have played the game to just keep it respectable. Over the years, we have seen Mack Brown teams do all the above and more. We could have done a lot of negative things, but we didn't; we came out and played smart and hard. As my father, the king of the country colloquialisms would say, "The Horns got after it."
And that is the basis for finishing another solid season with ten wins. The final verse of the T-Bone Burnett song mentioned earlier, called "Shut It Tight," goes like this: "Sometimes I want to crawl back into the womb/ Sometimes I cannot tell wrong from right/ But I ain't gonna quit until I'm laid in my tomb/ And even then they better shut it tight." Some posters may have quit on the Horns, but it appears they most certainly will not quit on you.
Jeff Conner's political and pop culture-infused Longhorn commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.