Before the war in the trenches last Saturday night, there was....
THE BATTLE OF SAN JACINTO
Forget the Alamo and "remember the keg taps." Call it manifest destiny, Texas-Exes independence or what you will, but before every Longhorn football home game, there's a modern day land rush going on right down the street from Memorial Stadium. Tailgaters, not unlike the settlers of yesteryear, are converging on blacktopped frontiers in the hopes of staking a claim on one of the limited spaces in government parking lots along San Jacinto street. On the way to the game, did you ever wonder how all those people got there? Well before the tents go up, the kegs get tapped and the party gets started, the land must be claimed.
And since the public is not allowed to park in these government lots until after 6pm on Friday night, around 4pm that day, many eager tailgaters begin to circle the lots in their cars as government employees vacate the premises unaware that a massive game of musical chairs is being played all around them. As the 6 o'clock hour nears, the situation intensifies and State Troopers monitor the area to keep the peace. The cars must keep moving because there aren't any places to park on the surrounding streets. Some tailgaters have gotten smart and bring extra people to jump out of their cars to serve as human cones to reserve spots, but even then, a pack of pledges are still no match for a 1 ton truck. And just when you think you can't take it anymore, a bull horn explodes through the air like the cannon that started the Oklahoma land rush of the late 1800's and cars and people alike fill the parking lots like a shopping mall the day after Christmas.
After talking with some of these pup-tent pioneers, I learned that over the years the tailgaters have even developed a set of unwritten rules. There's a hierarchy among them and it's based mostly on tenure. Supposedly, the longer a tailgater has been setting up a camp in a certain spot, the more right he has to it. Squatters rights I guess. Some tailgaters work together to keep the status quo, sort of like the Teamsters. If a newcomer claims a space and the people around him don't recognize him as the guy that's usually there, his car will most likely get a visit from the neighborhood un-welcoming committee after he leaves for the night. We're not talking Tony Soprano here, but let's just say the offending party will find his tires a little short on air when he arrives the next day.
But if you're thinking that the chances of getting a spot in the lot are about as remote as scoring season tickets between the 20's, take heart, there's no need to call Steven Segal to break up this makeshift mob. In the end, Darwin still wins. For there is no honor among thieves and only the most persistent tailgaters will survive. So, next time you arrive at a tailgate just in time to down a cold one before the game, you might take a second to shake the hand of the guys who reserved the spot and put the tailgate together. You can bet they've been there for a while.
NORTH TEXAS RECAP
After the Longhorns politely handed the not so Mean Green a 27-0 loss and wished them a safe journey back to Denton, sports writers everywhere went fast to work writing about the ineffectiveness of the running game, the poor pass protection and the overall ineptitude of the Texas offense. But bear in mind that this is the same offense that began the game with two flawless drives resulting in 14 points within the first 10 minutes of the game. The offense didn't ware down, they got complacent, as evidenced by the number of dropped balls and linemen not staying with their blocks. Once the initial high of the new season wore off, the Texas players realized very quickly that they were playing an inferior opponent and put the game on cruise control. The one thing coaches fear above all else, including injuries and a lack of conditioning, is apathy. Once the players cease to care, the fight is over. Mack needs to regain the team's focus, and I have no doubts that he'll do that over the next two weeks. I'd imagine the practices this week will feature a back-to-the-basics theme with a bootcamp-style mentality. Nothing you would want to be a part of, I can assure you. And while I don't think the Longhorns are as weak on offense as the papers might lead you to believe, there are obviously some areas that need work. With three new starters on the offensive line, the collective confidence of the entire unit will need to get stronger. They've got to gel as a group and, when they do, each man will know his assignments as well as his teammate's assignments, which will, in turn, allow them to pick up the blitzes and maintain blocks more consistently. If you don't know where you're going or who you're supposed to block, you're going to go nowhere quickly. Other than that, I thought Simms did a nice job throwing the ball to spots where only his receivers could catch it. Most of the eight sacks given up were coverage sacks as Mack has sent an ultimatum to his quarterbacks to tuck the ball away and take the sack rather than throw an ill advised pass. His strategy is to punt and play defense rather than risk the interception and a reversal of momentum. I can't say I disagree with this philosophy, but I'd rather Simms look to escape the pocket and throw the ball away first. Last weekend, I watched a Kentucky team all but decapitate Dave Ragone of Louisville because of his persistence to stay in the pocket and take the hit. By the end of the game, he was so punch drunk he couldn't remember his name much less rally his team.
As for the defense, the secondary has picked up right where they left off and what else needs to be said about Derrick Johnson that hasn't been said already. He was named the Big XII defensive player of the week and will most likely be wearing the number 60 by next year, a number reserved for only the best linebackers at Texas. I've never seen a player go sideline to sideline faster. On the defensive line, I'd like to see defensive end Kalen Thornton come back as the rotation of Sendelein and Pickeryl was less than formidable. They're not bad players, they're just young and their lack of experience could make the defense vulnerable to the option. More experienced teams like Oklahoma and Nebraska, who run the veer consistently, will try to exploit this weakness.
Overall, I'd say it's a start. Not a great one, but at least they didn't pull another NC State on us. As far as I'm concerned, the real season starts in five weeks at the Cotton Bowl. So with that it's on to the....
On to Chapel Hill, Mack's old stomping grounds, to play the Tarheels of North Carolina. UNC showed a little spark last year by beating Florida State on the way to reclaiming their season after three straight losses, including a 44-14 drubbing at the hands of the Longhorns in Austin. This year however, the loss of key defensive players like Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims and the lack of a proven quarterback has left them with many holes to fill. They were exposed last weekend in a 27-21 loss to Miami of Ohio, a game in which the Heels gave up a record nine turnovers. And though they are probably a better team than their record might suggest, Texas shouldn't have a lot of trouble and I look for the Horns to pull away early in the second half.
Glory be the funk's on D, the Horns are gonna roll on UNC.
UT 38 - UNC 13
TAILGATE UPDATE w/NAD E. LITE
For those of us (accidental tourists) making the journey ("I would walk 10,000 miles...") to Chapel Hill (Tarheel Town) next weekend, here's some information (411) concerning possible places to party (get your groove on) before the game. On the north side of the campus (nerd alert) there are several pubs (dude, where's my bar?) located on Franklin Street (Ben would be proud). It's sort of like "the drag" ("can ya smell that smell?") in Austin. One place in particular, "Top of the Hill" (better get a shirpa), has an outdoor deck ("it's all good on the wood") and features a restaurant ("what's the soup du jour?") and a brewery (beer - made fresh daily). It's only about a 10 minute walk (wind aided) to the stadium (House of baby Blues) and I'm guessing ("is that your final answer?") this is where we'll find most Longhorn fans (agent burnt-orange). Shoot me an email (reach out and spam someone) if you're interested in meeting up before the game (Mack's back).
QUOTE OF THE WEEK"Does UNT have a radio station and if so, what are its call letters?"