When you land at Austin–Bergstrom International Airport, you wouldn’t think the Texas Longhorns football program is one that has generally been in disarray for the better part of a decade. In fact, put a non-American inside the Barbara Jordan Terminal, see the handful of shops with UT shirts, hoodies, mugs and key chains, and you’d think this was “America’s Team”. Unfortunately, that team is about three hours north on I-35. And at this point in college football, it resides 700 miles to the east in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Regardless, Austin, Texas, despite its growing and diversifying population, still wants you to be a Texas Longhorns fan. It may be losing some of its culture, like any rapidly changing metro does, but the Horns, at least at first sight, do not appear to have been affected.
Upon arrival, I decided to Uber to my friend’s house where we would be crashing for the weekend. To preface, the group I was with included four West Virginia alums who all arrived to town on Thursday. Based on the tales I heard from Thursday night, it was for the best I take an Uber. I’m not sure, even at 2:00 PM, anyone was in condition to be operating a motor vehicle. As someone who hasn’t had a need for Uber in a couple months, and who had been up since 4:00 AM, I chose the cheapest option without thinking twice. Shortly thereafter, my ride showed up with three people in the car. Uber Share, oops. It actually worked out well as there was an Oklahoma State grad in the car who was in town for a bachelor party. We were on the same flight together from Kansas City. The lucky son of a gun kicked off his weekend with a Heartland College Sports koozie in tow. Boy, what a deal. We were also joined by one of your more annoying Uber drivers who forces small talk. “Keep your eyes on the road big guy and get me to my destination ASAP”. Then, we had a woman in her mid-20s from California in town to visit friends. Lucky me, I was the last drop off.
As we drove from the airport, to the two drops offs in the downtown area, followed by my location in the Brentwood section, you couldn’t avoid construction if you tried. It’s another sign of a city that was 750,000 people in 2007 and is now 950,000, is booming, but might be struggling to keep up with the infrastructure demand.
Friday evening was spent at Taco Flats, where the beer was cold, the tacos were deluxe, and the guacamole was a little to spicy for my liking, but delicious nonetheless. Considering the guys I was with had spent their night out on Rainey Street Thursday and we had a tailgate kicking off at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Friday night became the calm before the next storm. For those wondering, this was not my first time in Austin and I had spent time on Sixth Street and Rainey Street. Both are enjoyable, Rainey more than Sixth, in my humble opinion. As I enter my 30’s, Sixth Street is something I would’ve loved ten years ago. Now, I’m OK.
Saturday morning began like the majority of my Saturdays have started this fall since moving to Kansas City. I’m no longer calling games at FCS Wagner College and there is no last-minute prep to do. So, it’s typically spent finishing up an article on the “Top 5 Storylines to watch this week” in the Big 12, along with listening to Lee Corso mumble through some horrendous analysis of the day’s games, while Kirk Herbstreit tries to reel him in to some extent. While I rarely watch ESPN anymore, I still enjoy College Gameday. The storytelling is fantastic, and the package on Coach Orgeron’s wife this past weekend was incredibly well done. Reece Davis has flawlessly replaced Chris Fowler and David Pollack adds a nice element as well. If ESPN ever gets a chance, Joel Klatt would be incredible on the show.
After a bagel for the road, we Uber-ed over to the LBJ Library where the tailgate was set up via the “folks” at Structure Tone, “A Texas Construction Leader”. Ryan, who we all stayed with in Austin, is an employee of the company and they were one of dozens of companies to have a tailgate tent set up outside the library. To say I was disappointed that we were the only ones in the area drinking at 9:30 would be an understatement. Sure, the party got going as we inched closer to kick off, but considering it was two years ago I was in Morgantown for a relatively meaningless early December game with temperatures in the 20’s and 30’s and the parking lot was rocking at 7-8 a.m. for a 3:30 kick off… enough said?
But the people who were setting up at that time could not have been nicer. Corby, a 2005 UT grad, was planning a tailgate two tents down. It was his first experience with this set up, which as he described it, “is the one good thing [former AD] Steve Patterson did here.” Previously, the LBJ Library lawn was not used for any official tailgating. But now, each tailgate tent could have a TV set up to watch the early games, cater food, or get help hauling coolers to and from the parking area. The whole set up was very well devised by Patterson and Company.
As the crowds began filling in by late morning, I was handing out Heartland College Sports koozies to people walking by, but here is what stunned me: So many of the people who were strolling through the lawn with UT gear on, had zero affiliation with the University. They weren’t even fans, but just people in town who wanted “the experience”. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t help what has long been perceived to be a lackluster homefield advantage in Austin. Tom Herman has repeatedly made it a point to praise his home fans when necessary to try and build something close to what we saw later that night in Death Valley where LSU hosted Alabama. I met guys in town from Toronto, another group from Boston, and then Atlanta.
This is probably one of the problems Texas has. Austin has become one of the hottest cities in America, up there with Denver and Nashville. As a result, with so many tourists in town, this leads to people killing two birds with one stone. Go to Austin, experience the city, and of course go check out Texas Longhorns football. This is how you get a lot of wishy-washy football fans. No one goes to Norman, Oklahoma, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or even, say, Oxford, Mississippi for the food, culture and city itself. If you’re from out of town, you’re there for the football. It’s funny to think how Austin’s success as a city, might in some ways, be indirectly hurting football. This is not in any way an excuse for Tom Herman, but I just found it all to be very interesting.
Those Texas and WVU fans I did meet were pleasant. There were actually more podcast listeners I met who were not regular readers of the website than regular website readers who did not listen to the podcast. We’ve seen 300% growth in our podcast this season versus last season, compared to about 40% increase in website viewership, and now I’m starting to understand why. For the record, I highly recommend both the website and the podcast on iTunes!
Having the TV at the tailgate, courtesy of DISH, added a great element, except if you’re Fred, the one Texas A&M alum at the tailgate, who we watched as his team blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead against Auburn. And like usual, every Aggie fan tells me they don’t miss the Big 12. I’m not buying it, but it’s the answer every one of them I’ve ever met has given me. It’s like asking if you miss an ex-girlfriend who dumped you or who you dumped and later regretted the decision. “Of course not,” is the standard answer.
The LBJ Library is about a two-minute walk from the north side of the stadium, which we made our way to at around 2:00. Since I was with a group of WVU alums, I found myself in the WVU section in the northeast corner of the stadium. It was actually a great place to sit as you get the sun and a great view of downtown Austin.
I’m not going to spend much time recapping the specifics of the game, because at this point you know how and what happened. But the game didn’t kick off until 2:45 local time, instead of 2:30, I’m assuming because of TV. By halftime, after 54 points had been scored, we had almost reached 4:45 local time. Two hours of football and we were two quarters in. I love college football. I love the Big 12. But when you get a high-scoring game, boy these things feel like a lifetime when you’re in the stadium. And more specifically, when you’re in the stands. When I’m in the press box, I can kill time working on my laptop. That’s not the case from Section 119.
— Heartland College Sports (@Heartland_CS) November 3, 2018
The second half really picked up and moved at a nice pace. There was less scoring, only three points in the third quarter from Texas, but because the game remained close, there was still a ton of momentum and anticipation around the stadium. Should I now mention that our WVU alum and host left the game with 10 minutes to play in the third quarter to go back to the tailgate? Why? The world may never know. It will remain one of life’s great mysteries.
Anyway, the fourth quarter saw WVU tie the game at 34, before Texas went ahead on a 48-yard pass from Sam Ehlinger to Devin Duvernay. At this point, some of the WVU faithful had clearly spent the past several hours drinking, sitting in the sun, and thought they were about to see their team lose. Things got testy up top as a couple of belligerent Mountaineers fans were looking to throw punches with each other. One dope kept punching the aluminum bench or the concrete ground to prove to his friends, “I have knuckles of steel.” He may have knuckles of steel, but he’s got mush for brains.
Alas, these WVU fans didn’t realize what they were about to be in for, as Will Grier hit Gary Jennings in stride in what may have been the throw of the year in college football thus far to put the Mountaineers down a point with 16 seconds to play. It was at that point that Dana Holgorsen apparently decided to go for a two-point conversion. After lining up, the Mountaineers used a timeout. Then, Grier completed a pass to David Sills, which would had counted had Tom Herman not squeezed in a time out at the last second.
Admittedly, I was yelling for Holgorsen to not go for two. Even though the old adage is you go for the tie at home and win on the road, I thought WVU had enough momentum to win this game in overtime. Most WVU fans around me agreed. But that’s why Dana Holgorsen is coaching at the FBS level and I’m not. He went for it and Will Grier ran a play eerily similar to the one he broke his finger on last season against Texas and scored the two-point conversion to put WVU up for good 42-41.
Chaos ensued and what a scene it was being in the Mountaineers section. The boys who wanted to fight were now hugging and all was well from Morgantown to Austin. As the game ended, it was a long walk from Section 119 down to the bottom, with more ramps than I’ve probably ever walked up and down at a stadium.
— Heartland College Sports (@Heartland_CS) November 3, 2018
Now, as much as I enjoyed my time with WVU fans, the “Eat Shit Pitt!” chant has got to go. There was plenty of that going on as we walked down the stadium ramps. It’s irrelevant to everyone in the Big 12 Conference and has little to no meaning anymore. The Backyard Brawl hasn’t been played since 2011 and it won’t be played again until 2022. Plus, Pitt is a crappy football program. Honestly, WVU gives Pitt football more attention by chanting “Eat Shit Pitt!” than anything Pitt does on the field. OK, the Panthers’ win over UVA on Friday night was well and good, but that’s about it. It also doesn’t make much sense to me as to why such a mediocre program would have such permanent real estate in the minds of West Virginia fans? But maybe I’m looking at it too rationally. You can’t always explain fandom.
One of the nice additions to the tailgating at LBJ Library was that they let you tailgate after the game for up to two hours after it ends. That allowed us to get settled in and flip back and forth between Alabama vs. LSU and Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma. However before the two-hour window was up, it was time to eat. We had tacos the night before, tacos catered for lunch at the tailgate, and the saps I were with wanted the cap off the trifecta with more tacos. So Taco Flats, again, it was. That being said, they do a great job, and had both games on at their bar. There were a couple of Texas fans that stopped by the tailgate on the way out and in Taco Flats, who saw all the guys with their WVU gear (I was in my Paul Finebaum Clown tee, go buy it here) and congratulated them on a great game. I’ll tell ya what, it was a really classy move. But most importantly, I’ll be holding off on the Tex-Mex for a few weeks after these past couple of days.
The night capped off knowing I had just seen the Big 12 Game of the Year to date in person, which held massive conference championship implications. The Texas fans were gracious, WVU fans rowdy, but fun, and another top-notch Big 12 road trip was in the books. Where to next? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter (@Heartland_CS or @PeteMundo), or on our Facebook page, as I consider which Big 12 town I’ll spend a full weekend exploring and experiencing.
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