Texas Longhorns claim unity despite divide over 'The Eyes of Texas' - Sports Illustrated

Forde-Yard Dash: Losing Magnifies All Problems for Texas

Author:
Publish date:

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (sympathy cards sold separately in the suddenly downtrodden state of Florida, where FBS schools went 0–5 Saturday):

MORE DASH: Unrecognizable SEC | Sore Loser Trail | Nick Saban vs. UGA

FOURTH QUARTER: LOSING MAGNIFIES ALL PROBLEMS

A freak show of a Red River Showdown(31) provided a panoply of entertainment elements: comedy, drama, tension, athletic excellence, dysfunction, joy and sadness. The sadness came last: a photo went viral of Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (32) standing by his lonesome, just a few staffers in the frame, Hook ‘em Horns raised, while the band played the school’s alma mater, “The Eyes of Texas.”

A struggling Texas team losing the annual rivalry game to a struggling Oklahoma (33) team didn’t hit home as hard as the picture did. In times past, Texas players stood 100 strong for the playing of the song after every game, win or lose. But that tradition has come under fire for the song’s racist origins—both as a modification of a pet phrase of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and as an element of student minstrel shows at Texas.

sam-ehlinger-texas-oklahoma

In June, Texas athletes asked that “The Eyes of Texas” no longer be played at athletic events—one of many requested changes, some of which were adopted. The school decided that it would still play the song, but launched an effort to fully vet its origins and provide that information publicly. Athletes were given latitude as to whether they wanted to participate in the postgame tradition, and many have chosen not to. Almost none of them did Saturday in Dallas, other than the team’s star quarterback.

The “Eyes of Texas” situation has reportedly inflamed a number of the school’s boosters and fans, who have voiced displeasure to athletic director Chris Del Conte (34) about the players’ response. Others have voiced support for the players who do not feel comfortable being party to the playing of the song.

In the middle of this delicate situation sits embattled coach Tom Herman (35). At his Monday press conference, Herman read a statement on the team’s response to the controversy. It said in part: "I've encouraged our staff and team to join me in participating after games, if they are comfortable doing that. I do believe it's important that we acknowledge and thank our fans after a hard-fought game. Sam Ehlinger and some of our team did join me in standing with the fans who had cheered us so hard, and helped us greatly in our comeback against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. And I applaud them and respect that. Many of our coaches and staff also remained on the field with them to show appreciation to our great university, and our fans. And we will continue to encourage participation for all of those that are comfortable doing so. That said, some members of our program have concerns and aren't comfortable participating at this time. And I respect that as well.”

Really, there are no wrong answers here from the players—those who want to participate in the tradition have the right to do so, and those who do not shouldn't face any backlash for it. Not everyone on a team has to do the same thing, in lockstep, all the time. But the resulting visual Saturday was a picture of a team that is not united. Herman said Monday that’s an inaccurate assumption, and that the more fair picture of his team was its fourth-quarter comeback to get the game against the Sooners into overtime.

“The level of unity is phenomenal,” he said. “It's great right now. You don't see that kind of effort and tenacity and belief from an outfit that is not unified. A team that is divided, a team that's fractured, a team that has lost faith or hope, they don't play like that.”

Is this still an issue if the Longhorns are 4–0 or 3–1 as opposed to 2–2 and on a two-game losing streak? Maybe it still is, but assuredly it is a much smaller issue. When things are going wrong on the field, every ripple off the field is considered a sign of program failure.

Of course, coaches bring this on themselves to a degree by touting things like “program culture” as keys to success. Thus, when teams aren’t successful, the assumption is that there must be something wrong with said culture. This is the kettle of turmoil in which Texas currently resides.

STAT OF THE WEEK

The game that started the grumbling among Longhorns fans was the upset loss to TCU on Oct. 3. But that game was a pyrrhic victory for the Horned Frogs, because it led to their customary Texas hangover (36).

The good news for TCU fans is that their team has beaten Texas six of the last seven seasons. The bad news for TCU fans is that they have then turned around and lost the last five games that followed beating Texas, while failing to cover the spread the last six games that followed a victory over the Longhorns. The list:

In 2015, TCU pounded Texas 50–7, then beat Kansas State 52–45 as a 9 1/2-point favorite.

In 2016, TCU upset Texas 31–9, then lost to K-Sate 30–6 as a 3 1/2-point favorite.

In 2017, TCU beat Texas 24–7, then lost to Oklahoma 38–20 as a 6 1/2-point underdog.

In 2018, after losing to Texas 31–16, TCU beat Iowa State 17–14 but failed to cover the 10 1/2-point spread.

In 2019, after beating Texas 37–27, TCU lost to Oklahoma State 34–27 as a three-point underdog.

And this year, after beating Texas 33–31, TCU again lost to Kansas State—which was breaking in backup quarterback Will Howard (37) after a season-ending injury to starter Skyler Thompson—this time 21–14 as a nine-point favorite.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Dana Holgorsen (38), Houston. Holgo’s second season as coach of the Cougars didn’t begin until Thursday, after a ridiculous succession of game cancellations and postponements. Understandably rusty, Houston committed turnovers everywhere and fell behind Tulane 24–7. But then the Coogs got it together and rolled to a 49–31 triumph. In the process, they roared from forgotten team to dangerous team in the American Athletic Conference. Speedy wide receiver Marquez Stevenson showed his talents with a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown and a five catches for 118 yards and another score.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Jeff Scott (39), South Florida. Could you blame the former Clemson assistant for feeling a little homesick for Death Valley these days? Scott’s start at USF has been a struggle: The Bulls are 1–3 with the lone victory over FCS Citadel. While losses to undefeated Notre Dame and Cincinnati are no shame, being ambushed 44–24 by previously winless East Carolina is pretty bad. The Pirates jumped ahead 24–7 after 17 minutes and never looked back.

POINT AFTER

When hungry and thirsty in the most excellent city of Greenville, S.C., The Dash strongly touts a visit to Halls Chophouse (40). It’s a fancy steakhouse on par with what you’d find in a major metropolitan area. Try the New York Strip or just about any other cut of meat, and pair it with a Wicked Weed Pernicious IPA from up the road in Asheville, N.C. Thank The Dash later.

MORE DASH: Unrecognizable SEC | Sore Loser Trail | Nick Saban vs. UGA