This was the fall of 2008, my senior year of high school. My good friend Michael just offered me a ticket to Texas Tech vs. UT game.
“I’m in. I’ll wear this red sweatshirt.”
Yes, there was a time when my closet didn’t overflow with burnt orange, and I could sing, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” without jumbling words. I’m a product of West Texas, a lad from Lubbock, and, by extension, there was a time when my finger and my thumb in the shape of an “L” signaled, “Wreck’em.”
Lubbock is an interesting place, balancing a realness with a paradoxical enigma. It is six minutes to the nearest Wal-Mart, but six hours to the nearest professional sports team. Wind farms located outside of the county provide power for people across the state, but a few times a year, the wind blows the wrong way and all you smell is a farm.
I still remember the game most on the 40 Acres have tried to forget. Right as the game was about to start, a decked-out 27-year-old stood up. Behind him, a 72-year-old man asked him to sit down again.
“It’s Tech-UT, are you kidding me?”
There was a staring contest between 72 and 27. Then 72 stood up. At that point, every other person in the west-side of the stadium did, too.
UT was No. 1, Tech was No. 6. Tech led early, UT came back and took a one-point lead with 1:29 left in the clock.
This was meant to be the pre-written narrative: UT came, Tech saw, but ultimately UT conquered. But then followed a series of extremely fortunate events for Tech: a favorable return, some quick passes, Blake Gideon drops an interception and then touchdown Red Raiders.
Fans on both sides tend to forget what happened next: Longhorns in such a state of disbelief that they just let the BCS slip away, Red Raiders in such a state of delusion that they rushed the field three separate times.
Three years later, even with a wardrobe and a heart of a different color, there’s something that sticks about that night. It traces back to the emotions in that stadium. With the Tech’s trademark offense-is-the-best-defense mentality, every game was in reach and out of reach at the same time. They dared to challenge the big names like Texas and Oklahoma, and hoped to survive little names like Baylor and Iowa State, and then dared to hope that both of those things would happen in the same year. And in 2008, that sort of happened.
A lot has changed since then. Tech lost to Oklahoma a few weeks later, setting off a three-way headache. Tech head coach Mike Leach was blindsided, first by a Michael Oher-led Ole Miss team at the Cotton Bowl, then by some twisted allegations of player abuse a year later, ultimately getting fired and replaced by Tommy Tuberville, who, for that matter, made a cameo in “The Blind Side.”
At Texas, fans have had to adjust their ways — an almost championship to 5-7 does that.
But there’s something about going to games with a different energy that’s strangely reminiscent of the 2008 Tech feeling. Every game has an air of uncertainty, wins are no longer divine rights and losses can be “moral victories.” It’s a hair-tearing, fist-pumping, love-hate roller coaster, probably best left to illustration by a Taylor Swift song.
Saturdays feel different, and that’s not a bad thing.