At places like College Station and Lubbock, and in the not so-olden days Fayetteville and Little Rock, the crowds can get loud, nasty and seemingly teeter on the verge of violence. I stood outside the Texas dressing room back in December of ‘95 at Kyle Field when the Aggie fans, angered that Texas had grabbed the final SWC title, stood right up by the fence and on the walkways leading down from the upper decks and screamed insults and taunts so loudly and for so long that you could barely conduct your interviews. I've been flipped off by middle-aged women in Hog hats right outside Royal-Memorial. I've seen Lady Raider rooters in fluorescent red sweaters shouting loud, vulgar taunts at Lady Horn basketball players in the tiny, echoey confines of Moody Coliseum. And I would guess that on more than one occasion, (though I've never seen it!) Texas fans in Austin have let fly with a few choice barbs of their own at our despised rivals.
Because in Texas, and I'd guess across the country, college sports seems to me to be, at least to some degree, about hating the other guy. That's what makes a win over the Aggies or Sooner so freakin' delicious -- you just flat want to smear their faces in it. It must be some kind of primordial urge we all have to violently smite others to insure our own survival or something. Face it -- right or wrong, to some degree, it's what makes college sports such a blast.
But it isn't like that everywhere. In Lincoln, Nebraska, home of one of the greatest college football programs in history, the people treat you like you are a guest in their home, and they'd like you to come back sometime and set a spell for some coffee. And that, after you've just stolen their finest silver.
When Clendon and I first arrived at the stadium and went for the press elevator, a security women whispered to me, "Are you all from Texas?" I said yes and she said, "Well, I sure hope you all win. I just like Texas so much. I can't say that out loud around here but good luck to you all today!" I couldn't believe my ears; I didn't know what to say, except "Thanks." Then, much later, as Texas drove down inside the Husker 10-yard line with just minutes to play on their game winning drive, about four of us up from Austin stood peering down, our hearts about to pound out of our chests. As I looked down, somebody clapped me on the back and I turned around to see a Nebraska game official. He asked, are you all from Texas? and we said, yes we are, to which he replied, "Well, you guys are going to win and I want to say that I think that's great. You all have a great team and I hope you have a really fun time," or something pretty close to that. I shook his hand and said, well it's not over yet but thanks a lot anyway. Then we headed down to the field in time to see Major Applewhite hit Wane McGarity for the winning TD.
Later, in the interview room, the Texas players, almost to a man, said the same thing, as did Mack Brown. They'd all had about the same experience we'd had, only magnified. Ricky Williams brought it up without even being asked. "The fans are great here. It's amazing because most places you go, the fans will boo you but here, it was nothing but cheers and applause. It's great to play in a place like Nebraska. I didn't realize how great a football state this was -- it was really amazing. I had a great time, even last night at the movie theater and then today playing the game -- the fans were just great. It's all about respect here."
Applewhite brought it up on his own also, saying, " . . . and their fans -- their fans are the most supportive and classy on the face of the earth. They are absolutely incredible, I hope they get some recognition. I mean, we had just ended their 47-game home winning streak and they're telling us 'great game, good job, you all played really well.' It's just amazing. It's just really surprising. You'd think their fans would be upset but they are just the classiest group of people." And from J.J. Kelly: "We were coming through the tunnel and a lot of the Nebraska fans were shaking our hands. This is a class crowd. Coming to Nebraska -- this is a really pretty state. It was really something to see, people staying after the game and they clap for you and tell you good job and shake your hand -- these people have a lot of class and it was fun playing in front of them."
Who knows, maybe the Nebraska folk just haven't played Texas long enough to work up a good distaste. Maybe when Colorado or OU come calling, or some other old Big 8 nemesis like Missouri, they throw corn shucks at them and insult their grandmothers. Maybe, but I doubt it, because the people I ran into were just plain nice folks who made my trip, as well as the Horns', an even greater one, if that could be possible. When the Huskers head to Austin next season, we need to show them some serious Texas hospitality -- in every way but the ‘W' column.