From the JFK assassination to the quixotic dreamer who claimed to have shot and killed Bigfoot behind a San Antonio Home Depot after luring him out into the open with a rack of baby back ribs, Texas has long been home to some interesting conspiracies.
Austin, the state capital, has housed more than its fair share of conspiracy theories, as well. In fact, Alex Jones, who operates from a studio whose location is a “carefully guarded secret,” makes a fine living yelling at 2,000,000 listeners on the radio five days a week about an assortment of them—most particularly that the government is probably going to kill you very soon.
But perhaps the most common Austin-centric conspiracy has to do with the hometown Texas Longhorns football team, and their strange propensity for finding themselves on the right side of bad officiating calls.
This is why so many in the college football world looked on in perplexed amazement when word started filtering out of central Texas late Saturday afternoon that Longhorn fans were claiming to have been cheated out of a sure win by an obviously corrupt officiating crew in their matchup against Oklahoma State.
Wait ... Really?
Do you mean the same Texas Longhorns that have so greatly benefited over the years by generous, often blatantly terrible calls? The team for which SB Nation's Rodger Sherman laid out a disturbing (albeit incomplete) laundry list of the most recent occurrences of calls that went the Longhorns’ way? To wit:
After all, Texas fans should know better than anybody that sometimes, referees make bad calls that swing the tide of victory from one team to another. It happens to the Longhorns all the time, except they’re the team that normally ends up winning.
Included in Sherman’s history was this visual of an official who was apparently pretty pleased after a Longhorn touchdown.
Of course the official above, and all instances of strange or phantom calls that benefit the state’s premier program, will always be explained away as mere coincidence or a simple mistake by Texas fans. But when those same fans are on the receiving end of controversial calls, their attitudes change.
I took particular interest in a story posted at the Longhorn fansite Barking Carnival late Saturday evening, written by an extremely talented writer who goes by the screen name “Scipio Tex.” In it, he wrote (emphasis mine):
The game outcome was determined by the officiating crew. Any other viewpoint is ignorant of objective and empirical reality. Right now, I’m simply interested in determining what kind of human garbage we’re dealing with: pro-Cowboy or anti-Texas game riggers, corrupt gamblers, straight-up racists who want to undercut a predominantly black coaching staff at the state Flagship or simply petty small men who decided early on they were going to “get” Texas for some unknown slight. I truly don’t know. I’ve just never seen anything so blatantly purposeful in a football game.
Society's tinderbox status aside, throwing out a charge of racism without any verifiable or substantial proof of such is irresponsible journalism—plain and simple. Still, defenders of the writer have gone to great lengths to suggest what the writer wrote was not, in fact, what he said ... or was trying to say. Or something.
Me? I can’t read it any other way.
If everything is racist, then nothing is. After posting this opinion in the story's comments section, I was promptly banned from the site. That might seem drastic, but at the same time, Scipio was merely giving voice to the feelings of countless fans fed up with the current, confusing, despair-steeped state of Longhorn football.
So, the conspiracy theory drums beat on: undeterred, undaunted and almost completely unmoored from reality.
In 1995, comedian Dana Carvey had a great riff on the supposed conspiracy involved in framing O.J. Simpson. Buying into that theory, Carvey suggests, would require one to believe that everyone was involved. Not because it made any sense; but because it sounded like a great idea.
“It’s 5:30 a.m. at South Bundy and someone walks up to you and says ‘We’re framing O.J., you in?’
‘Framin’ O.J.? I could go to prison, I’d risk my entire career! And I really like O.J.!
But you’re right, it’s just too good. I’m in.’”
On Saturday night, as the cries of foul rang forth from Longhorn enclaves the world over, many shared Carvey’s sense of the absurd. Because bringing Texas football down would require all of us to join in the plan—unequivocally, and with no questions asked.
Yes! We're in!
But here’s where the story takes an interesting turn. While UT’s protestations of being cheated have mostly been met with derision and deaf ears, a sideline altercation between Texas head coach Charlie Strong and a game official certainly felt wholly beyond the pale. It may not rise to Zapruder-film levels, to say nothing of Keith Hernandez's indescribable inhumanity, but that doesn't mean the moment wasn't concerning on a number of levels.
Watch below as Coach Strong argues the call, then seemingly attempts to pull away as the official leans in. At that point, it looks as though it's the official who is initiating contact, reaching for his flag immediately after bumping Strong.
I’m not ready to completely buy into the theories floating around The 40 Acres, but that clip is pretty alarming.
What's more so, though, is the real fear that, if Strong somehow doesn’t last as Texas's coach—be it by dint of some grand conspiracy perpetrated by old Texas money, or a simple lack of success on the field—the next coach will somehow cakewalk his way to a Big 12 Championship.
In short order, Strong has cleaned up the mountain of mess left by Mack Brown and begun the difficult task of turning around the gargantuan battleship that is UT Football. There may be no quick fix, but Strong has brought toughness and discipline that has been sorely lacking at UT for quite a while. More important, he’s attracting stud-level talent, at one point playing an ungodly 15 true freshmen against Notre Dame. A few years from now, that kind of game experience could pay off big time, should Strong still be around to see it.
Indeed, the saddest irony of all is that if Strong doesn’t make it through this season, the next coach likely will cash in on Strong’s steady hand. And those Texas money men, currently so despised by Longhorn fans, will pat themselves on their finely tailored backs and proclaim victory, purporting to know all along that Strong just “wasn’t the right guy for the job.”
In the end, we all have a tendency to cling to the idea that the world is somehow conspiring against us, that there's something out there, insidious and strong, working to undo our success, our dreams, our lives. Yes, members of the Big 12 have legitimate complaints regarding the seeming unfairness from officials in games played on UT's turf. Some may even seem to be borne of directives from above, all 100% coordinated to give Texas the upper horn.
But that's the funny thing about conspiracies: We never want to believe that these mysterious machinations may, at some point or another, actually work out in our favor. We only pay attention when we're in the conspiratorial crosshairs.
We'll likely never know to what extent, if any, the Longhorns have been boosted or broken by some nefarious force. For us in the sane majority, though, the cries of foul ringing forth from Austin warrant a very simple question: If there was some grand conspiracy aimed at helping UT in the past, is it not plausible that greater forces could have, for whatever reason, now turned against them?