Moments after Texas’ loss to Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, Sam Ehlinger stood on the field with his horns up during “The Eyes of Texas.”
Members of the Longhorn coaching staff and a few other players joined the senior quarterback on the turf as UT’s alma mater played, but the image of No. 11 looking toward the clusters of burnt orange in the bleachers after the game has resonated most with fans.
“The Eyes of Texas” is a UT tradition Ehlinger has enjoyed since he was a young boy growing up in Austin. Both of his parents went to the University, and he grew up rooting for the Longhorns, always dreaming he would become one himself someday.
A crushing defeat to a bitter rival would not stop Ehlinger from participating on Saturday. Nothing would deter the quarterback from honoring the University he loves — not his own disappointment or the insults Sooners fans hurled his way.
“I’m truly humbled and blessed to be in this position,” Ehlinger said after Saturday’s game. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
The masses of UT fans who saw the photo of the moment circulate on the internet over the weekend deemed Ehlinger a hero — a true Longhorn who bled burnt orange no matter the circumstance.
His teammates on the other hand were ungrateful and entitled, numerous fans said. They had abandoned Ehlinger during a time meant to unite the team and its fans and given up on the program.
This is one interpretation of the photo, but maybe there’s more to it.
Ehlinger’s teammates venerate him. Joshua Moore, redshirt sophomore wide receiver, previously said his quarterback is like a brother to him. Jordan Whittington, redshirt freshman wide receiver, said Saturday after the game that Ehlinger gives him faith. Texas head coach Tom Herman said Monday that unity on the team is strong.
So maybe the players didn’t bolt for the locker room because they don’t appreciate their fans, their quarterback or the Longhorn on their helmet. Maybe it’s “The Eyes of Texas,” the school song dozens of student-athletes have been trying to remove since June, that they don’t like.
“The Eyes of Texas” is beloved by thousands of Texas fans, but it has a complicated history that dates back to the late 1860s when Robert E. Lee coined the phrase “the eyes of the South are upon you.” William Prather, a future UT president and regent, altered the phrase to include “Texas,” and the inspiration for the song was born.
The two UT students who wrote “The Eyes of Texas,” Lewis Johnson and John Sinclair, set it to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and debuted the song at an annual campus minstrel show where they likely donned blackface, according to Edmund T. Gordon, a professor of African and African Diaspora Studies.
The University has looked to reclaim the song while acknowledging its origins, but it’s a painful history that players like junior safety Caden Sterns can’t ignore.
“Knowing that that your school used to host those shows is beyond me,” Sterns said in a video posted on the “Rewrite Not Reclaim” Twitter account Sept. 18.
Back in July, Sterns said he understands why fans and players might still sing the song. It means something positive to them, just like it does to Ehlinger.
Yet, this same grace isn’t extended to those who feel hurt by the song and choose not to sing it. Ehlinger still participates in the tradition, but he also said he stands with his teammates. Meanwhile, the Texas fan base remains at an impasse.