Football

Catharsis

Every year harbors a new memory. Sometimes it takes longer to make the ones you want to remember.

It’s September 19,2009, and I’m walking down a wet College Station street with my best friend after joining him for an A&M game. We duck into a bar just in time for me to watch Sergio Kindle unceremoniously decapitate Taylor Potts in the 4th quarter of the UT-TTU game. This Tech team was clearly different than the one that beat Texas the year before and captured every fleeting hope of the fan base, but we still had our coach, and we had players that knew what the air at great heights tasted like. Tech kept it close, but ultimately lost to Texas 34-24 in Austin. They would go 9-4 that year. And, like Potts against the Horns, the football team was treated to a gauche loss of their head at the end of the regular season. I shook Kent Hance’s hand at my graduation just a week before this happened. I wished I could take it back.

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I should be better at this by now. I know the drill. I’ve been inundated with football since I became aware of my surroundings, whether it be Texas Tech or otherwise. I sat in the stands for high school & college football since I was in elementary.My parents, both proud Tech alums, made sure we were watched the Red Raiders on Saturdays. We all know Dave Campbell’s is the Texas bible, but my prized possession for a long time was an Athlon Sports with Kingsbury on the cover. This was the article. I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly after that. I’ve frozen myself in the stands of the Cotton Bowl while the likes of Keyshawn Johnson & Dexter McCluster ran roughshod over Tech defenses, and I stood in Kyle Stadium as Robert Johnson shattered the hearts of tens of thousands of Aggies. I sung the Matador Song in Jacksonville after Alex Trlica iced a come-from behind victory for the second time in as many bowl games. I’ll never forget listening to the 2005 Oklahoma State game on the radio, where the Cowboys ended a Tech rally with a late touchdown to break the tie, leaving seconds on the clock. Wins and loses, big and small, I’ve witnessed them.

So why am I still so nervous? I’ve seen almost everything Texas Tech can throw at me, but I’m not ready for this game.

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It’s September 18, 2010, and I am alone. Incredibly fresh to my new home in Eugene, Oregon, I’m passing the time until classes start in another week. I won’t even have an extra place for someone to sit until my brothers come up to see me in a few months, but I do have a recliner and a TV, which means I have Tech. The game against UT is rife with turnovers, and the Red Raider offense turns in its worse performance since Spike Dykes was on the sidelines. I never liked Tuberville. He’s the kind of person who would look at pictures of other landmarks while standing on the lip of the Grand Canyon. I thought it was an awful hire, but maybe he actually could put his money where his mouth was. Tech lost to #6 UT 24-14 that day, which I guess was encouraging, and finished the season 8-5.

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Maybe part of my anxiety is due to the myriad discussions of what makes a rivalry throughout the past week. Many things can go into it, whether it be a consistent ruining of the team in question’s season (and vice versa), geography, or just good ol’ fashion hatred. Being in a completely different state was really eye opening for me in this regard. Oregon had two rivals: Washington & Oregon State. Oregon State is a geographic rival, and that’s pretty much where it ends. The fan bases were pretty cordial to each other, and the series has been lopsided recently. The rivalry with Washington, however, was impressive in its bile and vitriol. An old power in the PAC-12, Washington bullied a terrible Oregon program for decades. Many Ducks see the upset of a Brock Huard led Husky team in the 90’s as the big turning point for the program. That’s all well and good, but what makes the the rival is the sheer amount of venom between the two schools. And it makes sense. Washington was a traditional power, and was upended by a school it held in disdain for multiple seasons. Oregon, turning the tables, will never forget what that boot felt like against its throat for all those years, and will relish every time it gets to return the favor.

I often think about here Texas Tech stands with rivalries in this regard. For a rivalry to be more than geographic, there needs to be some sort of real stake between the two, or at least a lot of great games; it needs a shared hatred. Bedlam is a great example: the two biggest schools in Oklahoma, playing at the end of the season, and there’s consistently something on the line. The more wins are traded, the greater that rivalry grows. Texas has two rivals: Oklahoma & A&M. Neither of those are one-sided. We’ve been beaten mercilessly by Texas for the past few decades, and it hasn’t really been close. So when I read that Burnt Orange Nation article, while I was taken aback by the sheer amount of contempt in the writing. . . he kind of had a point. What has Tech done besides 2008? What threat have we posed to them? A win over Tech doesn’t make their season, but a win over OU does. If Tech wants UT to actually take notice, it has to turn the tables. Not just one win every 6 or 7 seasons, but consistently be a threat to them. Take the respect, and stop being an also-ran.

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It’s November 5, 2011, and the rut is starting to dig in again. An out of nowhere win against Oklahoma was promptly followed by a blowout loss, at home, to Iowa State. Things wouldn’t get much better when the Red Raiders traveled to DKR the next week, as an all to familiar sight began to unfold: a running back running roughshod over the Texas Tech defense. The echoes of the empty promises were deafening that season, as a tumultuously lead defense was paired with a offense rendered mostly toothless in Big 12 play. Texas Tech lost to Texas 52-20, and finished the season 5-7. This snapped Tech’s bowl streak, one of the longest in the nation at the time. But it’s the darkest nights that always birth the brightest lights.

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As alluded to above, Texas Tech’s record against the state school of Texas is dismal, if we’re being polite. Going into the match-up, Texas owned the series 49-15. That’s 15 total wins against a team Texas Tech has played every year since 1960. On top of that, Tech has been blanked in the win column in Austin since 1997.  The only times Texas Tech has won since that 1997 win were 1998 (Spike’s last year to coach), 2002 (Kliff’s senior year), and 2008 (Crabtree). The games in between those years featured many good Texas teams, and also some pretty bad ones. Regardless of the quality of Longhorn team to take the field against Tech, they always turned into Texas with the largest capital “T” you could find. They were this looming specter on the schedule every year; a team where a loss would cast a pall over a season, and a win could forgive even the most egregious of sins. Tuberville never beat Texas. Leach only did it twice. Kingsbury’s Big 12 record through 2.5 seasons was beginning to cause some to cast aspersions about his coaching acumen, and whether or not this favorite son was really our path to greener post-Leach pastures. To say a victory on Thursday evening would get a monkey off of everyone’s back would be a vast understatement. Even with bowl eligibility clenched, Kliff and the fans desperately needed a win.

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It’s November 3, 2012, and my brother and I have decided to call the weekend Armageddon. An LSU alum, his Tigers were playing Alabama the same night that Texas Tech played UT & Oregon played USC. We set up two TV’s in our living room to have as many games going on as possible and filled a 2 gallon Gatorade barrel with libations. This year’s iteration of the game featured a Tech team rated higher than the Longhorns, drive killing penalties and lots of field goals from the Red Raiders. Texas would ride the arm of David Ash and the legs of then freshman Jonathan Gray to a 31-22 victory in Jones AT&T Stadium. Texas Tech would finish that year at 8-5, and Tommy Tuberville abandoned a table full of recruits at dinner to take another job before even coaching the bowl game.  

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Preparedness, rivalry, or otherwise, Texas Tech was still going to play football on Thursday night, weather pending. Typically a match where Tech can use every advantage they can get, the rain felt like it was playing right into UT’s hands, throwing a wrench into an already struggling road offense while giving the Horns a perfect excuse to run the ball right down the defense’s throat. We just couldn’t catch a break against these guys, and it was happening again.

Enter providence. Jakeem Grant’s awareness on the interception-cum-hook & ladder to give Tech it’s first touchdown was a thing of absolute beauty, a perfect conflux of violence, aplomb, and pure dumb luck. The defense, one play aside, was playing the run, and playing it very well in a welcome change of pace. DeAndre Washington fought through some early adversity only to remind us of how much of a hero he’s been all season. Everything began clicking for the offense in the second half. However, things started falling apart on the other side of the ball just as quickly. What was at first was an impressive performance from the Red Raiders, one that made it seem like a win was imminent, turned into a contest of time and whomever had the ball last. But that maligned road offense wouldn’t be stopped, as seniors Washington and Grant refused to be blanked in their career by Texas. Washington continued to rip away yard after yard, and Grant came up with a huge reception to put the ball at the goal line after a Longhorn touchdown. And then, with the the minutes ticking down, Little People, Big World happened. A play call and design so filled with spite that I am still in awe of it. Tech would survive a late score and nearly botched onside kick recovery to take a true victory formation, and Grant further solidified his place in Texas Tech lore.

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It’s November 28, 2013, and Kliff has returned. Texas Tech is playing on Thanksgiving night for the very first time and looking to stop a conference skid that’s played a dour note on an incredibly promising start in the young coach’s first year. The gauntlet of the season had the Red Raiders featuring two true freshmen quarterback who both performed admirably, given their circumstances. However, the Longhorn defense was stifling again, sacking Baker Mayfield 7 times throughout the night. Texas had 2 100-yard rushers, and the longest play from Texas Tech was a 51-yard fake punt. The Red Raiders lose 41-16, and finish the season 8-5 with a promising bowl win over Arizona State.

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Asterisks are the malevolent double-standard in sports, and seem to be omnipresent phantoms these days. Fans are terrified of having them tacked on a record, but eager to place them wherever they can on an opponent, as long as the argument is beneficial to their position. More often than not, they’re just ways of people tacking qualifiers on to something. I’ve seen many people give reasons as to why Texas Tech won on Thanksgiving night despite the fact that they’re Texas Tech.

  • Texas was forced to use its third-string running back, and he still ran for over 200 yards in his first start. Imagine what Gray & Foreman could have done.
  • Injuries on both sides of the ball piled up for the Longhorns, including their starting quarterback. If he had been in the game in the second half when the weather let up, he would have hit the passes Swoopes didn’t.
  • The weather was awful, and hurt UT as much as it did Tech.
  • This has been an awful Texas football team, and it’s no big deal that Texas Tech beat them. It’s actually somewhat of an indictment on Tech that they still couldn’t put away an injury depleted 4-6 team.

The qualifiers and what-if’s are numerous for the game on Thursday night, but that’s also all they are: qualifiers and what-if’s. The same can be said for every college football game ever played and yet to be played. “If” just may be the most used word in prognostication and summation in the sport. Every single one of those “if’s” is valid, too. But they will forever only be hypotheticals. The record book will show a “W” for Texas Tech from the evening of November 26, 2015.

There will be no asterisk.

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It’s November 1, 2014, and I find myself unexpectedly in Houston. I say unexpectedly, because I was unaware that my then current relationship would end in Austin that morning. So, I made sure to get back to Houston in time to watch a not very good Texas Tech team try to begin salvaging a season with a win against UT at home on the anniversary of the Crabtree catch. Best laid plans. In his first start replacing injured Davis Webb, true freshman Patrick Mahomes got knocked out by Quandre Diggs, allowing third-string walk-on quarterback Vincent Testaverde, Jr. to take the spotlight. Testaverde would go on to lead the Red Raiders to their only offensive touchdown of the game. A down Texas team under first year coach Charlie Strong simply had too much talent, and the story repeated itself again. Another lock down defense, another hundred yard rusher. The 2014 Red Raider campaign ended at 4-8.

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Texas Tech beat the University of Texas on Thanksgiving night in Austin for the first time since 1997, for only the fifth win total against them in that time span. Catharsis is defined as “the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.” The first sentence of this paragraph is the dictionary example of catharsis.

Starting last season, I started to realize that the only thing Texas Tech people would bring up to defend themselves/bother Longhorns with was that 2008 game. While it was monumental, massive in implication that season, and cathartic in its own right, it was also the only bullet in the chamber. I’m not much for poking opposing fan bases, but I wanted something else, something more that Tech could hang their hat on; a single talking point doesn’t win the argument against a history of getting savaged by a team many in the fan base hold up as rivals. It’s like Kilimanjaro and Everest: both tall and impressive, but Kilimanjaro doesn’t have any other mountains next to itself to tower over.

It is impossible to say that this win will turn things around, that “Little People, Big World” will be our version of Oregon’s “The Pick”. In fact, it’s foolishness. It didn’t happen in 1997, nor 2002, or even 2008. But regardless of any future implications, you can say this: Texas Tech finally did something that it hasn’t done in 18 years, and damn if that’s not something to celebrate. So regardless of what anybody says about context, or records, or whatever else, just remember that your happiness is completely and totally justified. And that it’s alright to exhale.

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It’s November 1, 2008, and I can’t believe what I just witnessed. The Red Raiders felled a titan, and now the world will be forever ours. Walking out of the stadium, the entire city of Lubbock is in a state of pandemonium; my friends and I ford literal rivers of beer flowing through the east parking lot of The Jones, there are (controlled) fires all around, and cars are honking jubilantly in gridlock traffic. If the apocalypse is to happen, it will start in Lubbock if Texas Tech ever wins a national championship. We settle in to a couch at an apartment near the stadium to let the chaos subside a little and decompress. We watch the highlight of the catch over and over and over again on College Football Final. The feeling of vindication for the team, the coaching staff, and the school is borderline tangible, coloring every thought and sight. This was it. Texas Tech beat a Longhorn team, a championship-destined one at that,  for the first time since Kingsbury was quarterback. If we can beat them, we can beat anybody. Everything was going to change from that night going forward. I was ready for everything the future held. 

 

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