Sept. 13, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
LARAMIE, Wyo. -- It was always in June back home in Winters when they would turn the football field into a rodeo arena, and the grass would give way to the dirt. From the judge's stand you could look down and watch them load the animals into the chutes. The highlight of the evening - the last event - was always the bull riding.
I remember looking down at the young riders - would-be cowboys who came to earn minimal prize money. All you had to do was ride that dude for eight seconds. Sounds easy, but the Brahma bulls were just about the meanest animal on the planet, especially when you put a young cowboy on top of them and opened the gate to watch `em come bucking out. The riders looked so cool in their starched jeans, worn boots and hats soaked through with sweat.
It seemed like it took at least five minutes for them to get seated astride the big animal. And it took about two seconds for them to be summarily dispatched by the lurch of the bucking bull. Oh, they would hang on as long as they could, and actually look pretty good doing it, but in the end, the bull always won.
The Wyoming Cowboys, latching on to the tradition of their land, started the 2009 football season with the theme, "It's a whole new rodeo." And on Saturday afternoon, the determined young `Pokes hung on for most of the first half of their football ride against the No. 2 ranked Texas Longhorns.
But in the end, the bull won.
The Longhorns' trip to the high plains just east of the front range of the Rocky Mountains was heralded as the biggest sporting event in the history of the state of Wyoming. Ever since the game was substituted on the UT schedule for Arkansas when the Razorbacks asked to be let out of their meeting this year, the anticipation had been building. Laramie is a town of 26,000. Saturday, more than 31,000 packed into War Memorial Stadium on the UW campus.
That excitement, plus the enthusiasm of a new direction under first-year head coach Dave Christensen brimmed over when the Cowboys actually took a 10-6 lead over Texas with a blocked punt return late in the first half. Christensen, after all, had a wild card against Texas - he had studied the Longhorns as recently as last year when he was a very successful offensive coordinator at the University of Missouri.
While the Texas offense was struggling to find some kind of rhythm in the rarified air high in the valley between the Laramie Range and the Snowy Range at 7,200 feet above sea level, the defense was doing a stellar job. The 10 Cowboy points had come from breakdowns in the Texas kicking game.
In his tenure at Texas, if his team wins the coin toss, Mack Brown has always elected to defer the choice to the start of the second half. That way, in a perfect world, Texas could have a scoring drive to end the first half, and then get the ball and a chance for another to start the second.
So when Colt McCoy brought his team onto the field with 1:32 remaining after the blocked punt, the ball was at the Texas 30-yard line and it was time to go to work. In the light air, McCoy's passes had been uncharacteristically erratic. Now, in the tradition of the old west, the cavalry was about to arrive.
First it was a 12-yard and then a 14-yard pass to Jordan Shipley, then eight to John Chiles, and 11 to Malcolm Williams. With just over 30 seconds remaining in the half and the ball at the 25-yard line, McCoy hit James Kirkendoll across the middle. A twist and a balancing act later, Texas was ahead, 13-10. It had taken McCoy and the boys just over a minute.
True to Mack's wishes, the second half began the same way, with D. J. Monroe taking the kickoff 41 yards to the Wyoming 40, and McCoy capping a five play drive with a nine-yard run that took the score to 20-10.
At that point, the rodeo ride had ended. Texas used the rest of the "eight seconds" to put away the Cowboys, 41-10.
When Mack Brown met with his team on Sunday, he was able to reflect on a couple of things. First, he showed them figures reflecting that UT - after two games - is almost exactly the same as it was at the same point last year. So is McCoy. Too often, people remember the finish, rather than the journey when they start comparing teams and years.
The Texas defense effectively pitched a shutout. The Wyoming points came after a failed fake punt set the Cowboys up at the UT 14 and on the blocked punt for a touchdown. Otherwise, Will Muschamp's crew - led by players of the game Sergio Kindle and Lamar Houston - did not yield.
The special teams play was a mixed bag. The kickoffs were great, the returns were good, but the blocked punt and a failure to convert on a fake field goal and a fake punt left reasons for improvement.
All of that not withstanding, the outcome of the game reflected that Brown got exactly what he expected, and exactly what he wanted. He expected Wyoming to be well prepared and to come out fighting. For the Cowboys, the day actually turned into a positive. Most folks in Laramie were clearly appreciative the Longhorns would travel there to play, and the young Cowboys offered a level of play that is encouraging for the future of the new coach and his program.
The interesting thing about Laramie is that at more than 7,000 feet, the vistas generally do not do justice to the majestic Rocky Mountains. There are areas of the plains that could just as well be Lubbock as Laramie.
But as the Longhorns headed toward the airport to fly back to Texas, driving west toward the sunset, in the distance you saw them. And then you came to realize this: even though clouds may shroud them, and sometimes they seem an illusion, the Rockies are still the Rockies.
And so it was with Texas. Mack had said it best at halftime, right after McCoy and his offense had driven for that score.
"We just need to come back out and play like Texas," he said. "We need to just be us."
What Mack wanted was a challenge, and after only the second game of the season, he wanted live game action to provide positives, and things that can be fixed. He wants his team to play for the fun of the game, and to validate what can be each week, rather than be fixated by what might be down the road.
There are things in life you come to expect as constants. The Rockies are still the Rockies, and Texas is still Texas.
It is a long season, a long ride. And if you want to win at the rodeo or in football, you have to stay the eight, and realize that a ride is good only if you finish it.