You don't remember, but I was in the Cotton Bowl when Texas football ended. And began.
On January 1, 1984, way before all of you but Cosby were born (just raggin' on you, Quan – heh, heh), I had barely started UT law school when we muffed a punt and lost to Georgia in the Cotton Bowl. We were second in the polls, and the number one team, Nebraska (it was a long time ago), lost in the Orange Bowl later that night. The Bulldogs recovered that muffed punt late in the fourth quarter, scored, and beat us. We barely missed a national championship. I didn't know it at the time, but that was the death of Texas football.
A lot of years went by. We went through some mediocre coaches. A&M beat the hell out of us six years in a row (I know that sounds weird, but, once again, it was a long time ago). We didn't hit hard. We didn't recruit well. We didn't send many people to the NFL. There were a few good years, sure, but there were no celebrities, Godzillatron, 98,000 seat stadium, College Game Day or expectations that we were going to do anything but be a little better than mediocre.
Then Coach Mack came along. We weren't sure what to make of him at first, but he talked Ricky Williams into coming back for his senior year. I was there on January 1, 1999, the day we played Mississippi State in the Cotton Bowl. They were coached by a guy named Jackie Sherrill who was the coach at A&M when they beat us six years in a row. Anyway, we dirt-stomped a ranked Bulldog team 38-10, Ricky won the Heisman, we got back at an old rival, and Texas football was reborn.
I say all that to tell you this: when you're number one in the BCS, things change. Everybody wants a piece of you. They will offer you weed, women, drink, blow, pills – literally anything you can imagine – just to say they partied with you, just to get a hook into you. Even if you're not a starter, they will tell you what a stud you are and how you're going to make millions in the NFL. They will kiss your ass like the people at that dress store did to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. You thought people treated you different just because you made the UT football team? Now that you're number one, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Have you noticed nobody wins two college football national championships in a row? Ever wondered why? It's not because people graduate all their best players – heck, every sch00l in the country graduates good players every year. Nobody wins two years in a row because success spoils them. Individual players get used to winning and start listening to all those hangers-on. "They're not playing you enough." "This team can't win without you." "You're not getting enough respect."
Players read the Internet, Tivo "College Football Live" and see their names. Then their attitudes change. Last season, they expected to work hard for everything. Now, they think everything should be handed to them because they are so freakin' special. They start believing all that crap people whisper in their ears. They put themselves and their future career above the team.
And that's when they get beat.
I have no idea what Derek Jeter's connection is to my beloved, mighty, fighting Texas Longhorns – I suspect none at all. Why was he at the game Saturday night? I have no idea. Probably to do what Yankees do when they get their asses whipped by – sorry, I can't help but laugh at this – the Tampa Bay Rays (Geez, that name sounds like a bad Disney movie).
But if UT loses, where will Derek Jeter be? He'll go back to New York and his millions of dollars, and you'll never hear from him again. The same with all those people who are suddenly your friends now that you're famous. Drop a couple of games, and they'll drop you like a junkie caught stealing a car stereo.
But not me. I'm not going anywhere because I'm a Longhorn, too. I've been watching you since you first showed up on the recruiting services. I made it to a few of your high school games. I went out and had a beer the day you committed to UT. I knew you could be something special, even when Coach redshirted you. Even though I'll never make a dime off you, few things make me happier than to see you succeed.
I drive a long way to watch you play on Saturday. I take money I could spend on Christmas presents, groceries or paying off credit cards and use it to buy game tickets, tailgate supplies, gasoline and a $5 soda in the stadium I could get at Sonic for 89¢. I go to the Co-op and buy every tacky, overpriced piece of crap they can stick a Longhorn head on. Some of it doesn't even look like burnt orange – it's this disgusting brown color like baby diarrhea.
I do all this because I'm a Longhorn, too. If you make the NFL, blow out a knee your rookie year and never play another down of football, I'll still want to talk to you twenty years from now. I'll want to know how you are, how your life is going and to remember your days at DKR.
So Coach asked me here to tell you the truth, not what I think you want to hear.
You remember the Al Pacino movie "Scarface"? What the old drug dealer told the young drug dealer? "Don't get high on your own supply!"
You are on a special team at a unique moment in time. You are within striking distance of a national championship. 99.9% of all people who strap on the pads as kids never get this close to the golden ring. But if you start reading your own newspaper clippings, listening to those people whispering in your ear or go for even one game without playing hard, figuratively "getting high on your own supply," you will never hold that crystal football.
And you'll spend the rest of your life regretting the opportunity you let slip away.
So here it is: keep your head on straight. Listen to your coaches. Think about your teammates before putting something into your body. Make winning more important than seeing your name in somebody's blog. Colt threw his "Sports Illustrated" in the trash; follow his lead. Treat every game as if it's the last one of the year. Keep playing with passion and intensity.
And I swear I'll keep cheering with passion and intensity.
Because I'm a Longhorn, too.
Jeff Conner's political and pop culture-infused Longhorn commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.