Hook 'em Cougs?

AT MY CURRENT employer, employees who accept a job from a competing company are immediately escorted from the building while all traces of their existence are quickly erased from the corporate memory banks.

Jack Evans, pictured center, tries to hide
his identity during one of many Longhorn
losses during the 1986 season.

So I expected similar treatment from my colleagues at Cougfan.com when it was announced that the Cougars would take on the Longhorns in the upcoming Holiday Bowl.

The reason: I'm a graduate of The University of Texas. And rest assured, the capital T in the word The -- as in THE University of Texas -- is no typo. Down Texas way, we all think the world begins and ends right there. So by definition, that means a university named after the state has to be THE university. In fact, I've often wondered why WSU doesn't bill itself as "Washington State -- THE university of Washington."

But I digress.

The Cougars playing the Longhorns is not a good thing. You see, I'm torn.

I love the Cougars. For seven-plus seasons I have watched their every move, rejoicing in the play of the likes of Brad Philley, Steve Gleason, Leaford Hackett, Billy Newman, Adam Hawkins, Austin Matson, James Price, Dave Minnich, Kyle Stiffarm, Josh Moen, Derrick Roche, Jeremey Williams, Erik Coleman and so many other great scrappers, and dying when an Oklahoma or Notre Dame rained on this wild crimson parade.

I feel like I was born to be a Cougar. Just one problem. I was reared in San Antonio, a mere 90 miles from where Roosevelt Leaks and Earl Campbell ruled the football world running out of the Texas backfield. Graduating from the place, of course, means it's your God given duty to dress, head to toe, in burnt orange on game days.

So now what?

A Cougar by marriage, a Longhorn by birth.

What to do come Dec. 30?

Like those old Cougar players from the early 1940s who ended up playing for the Huskies because of World War II, I suppose I could say I'll be happy no matter what the outcome.

But that won't be true. And the simple reason why is because my truly formative years with these two programs were steeled in the dogs days. For the Longhorns, that was the miserable mid-1980s. For the Cougars, it was 1998 and 1999.

When you go through misery like that, these salad days are just that much more special. You truly feel a special bond with the team because you were there, in those wretched days, living and dying with every botched snap, interception and blown coverage.

At Texas, my allegiance was sealed in 1986. That year, the Longhorns went 5-6, losing to our key rivals in the now defunct Southwest Conference, Oklahoma (47-12) and Texas A&M (16-3).

For Texas fans, anything less than a nine-win season was cause to find a tall tree and a short rope --- thus the photo on the front page of me and two of my classmates with bags over our heads at one of those six losses. The target of our collective ire: head coach Fred Akers, who insisted on keeping his son Danny as the starting quarterback while the losses piled up. After all, in Texas, football comes before family. When the season finally fizzled to a close, Akers' nine-year reign at Memorial Stadium ended, despite an overall record of 86-31.

After graduation, I moved east to Washington, D.C., and the west to Los Angeles before settling in the Pacific Northwest. Despite the fact that my father graduated from a school in the Montlake neighborhood of Seattle, my view of the Pac-10 was pretty much limited to those wearing powder blue or cardinal and gold. And then my wife, a proud alum of Ol' Wazzu, introduced me to Cougar football.

At first I found it interesting how Cougar fans remained so loyal despite their team's ups and downs. But eventually, that underdog status is what drew me in and made me part of the Cougar Nation.

For instance, it wasn't the end of the world when the Cougars lost. Sure, it might have initially felt like a crushing blow, but there was always next week.

Like the Who's down in Whoville who celebrate Christmas despite the fact that the Grinch has run off with all their presents, Coug fans celebrate Cougar football no matter what. It's not just about who wins or loses, but about the total experience. Which in its way, makes the experience of winning all that much better, as Coug fans have learned to appreciate during the past three glorious seasons that have, rightfully, perched them among the nation's elite.

Alas, the Holiday Bowl will be bittersweet for me and my family as I soon will be departing the state of Washington to take a job back East. In light of the move, I'll be relinquishing my role as CF.C's managing editor, and become an editor-at-large based in Washington, D.C. Thankfully, as many distant Coug fans have discovered, Cougfan.com will keep me plugged in to the Cougar Nation. But it just won't be the same knowing that Martin Stadium is across the continent instead a few hours drive across the Cascades.

Now that I think of it, burnt orange isn't that flattering on me. Perhaps I'll break out the crimson and gray just once more for old times sake.

It's been a wild ride. Thanks again. And GO COUGS!

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