We’ve all heard about Texas football — mostly from Texans, of course — but a lot of football fans haven’t really experienced Texas football. They don’t understand how big Texas football really is.
Longhorn football isn’t just football. It’s a mindset. It’s an ensemble of characters with specific roles that are here to ensure your football experience is very Southwestern and, well, very orange. Burnt orange.
The University of Texas took its talents out west to the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, not exactly a Fiesta Bowl (or better) berth but still, it was in a beautiful city and also a great opportunity to possibly impress some California recruits. It was also a chance to immerse in all things Texas in a big, big way.
There were plenty of tailgates with plenty of barbecuing going on, plenty of beer, plenty of "Hook ’em" signs and lots of drawls (both fake and real). One of the Longhorn’s most iconic symbols is Bevo, their mascot. Bevo is a massive steer that for all intents and purposes, does nothing. Far away, Bevo looks cool. Up close, Bevo is wild-eyed, stinky and could use a gallon of Nyquil to dry up his Niagara Falls-like nostrils.
Bevo stands around with his eyes half-shut looking like he just did a wake-and-bake. He also gets his picture taken by hundreds of fans — trusting, adoring fans who actually think they are being protected from Bevo by a flimsy, metal fence that pens him. I flicked my finger at the fence and it wobbled, for what it’s worth.
There are a few dudes hanging around Bevo while he is standing around and doing nothing. Called "Silver Spurs", these brave students are Bevo’s handlers. They wear white pants, burnt orange shirts, brown vests and beige cowboy hats and have these long metal sticks called show sticks. Every time Bevo "shifts" — a shift can be as little as shifting weight from one back hip to another or taking four steps to other side of his pen — all hell breaks loose. Which is about every two minutes.
"Easy, easy, whoa," mutters one of the Spurs. This animal is prone to getting agitated easily so these Silver Spurs tickle his back legs, chest or side with their showsticks — sticks which have metal hooks at the tips — to "calm" him. Calm him?
Maybe if the men in charge of "Smokey the Cannon" would move that cannon to the opposite side of the stadium from where Bevo is chilling, Bevo wouldn’t get so agitated. At one point during the game, Bevo was blissfully sleeping on the turf but practically lifted off the ground in the same sleeping position after the "Cowboys" let Smokey rip one.
Being a Silver Spur is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a sexy job — one Spur has the unenviable task of having to attend to Bevo’s "needs." He doesn’t just scoop up last night’s dinner, he tries to prevent last night’s dinner from hitting the ground. A proactive pooper scooper? Why yes, yes he is. I watched with amazement as Bevo lifted up his tail, a Silver Spur sprang to action and positioned a shovel underneath Bevo’s tail to catch whatever was hurtling to the ground. Yes, there’s a guy who actually makes sure Bevo’s droppings don’t touch that filthy ground.
This isn’t just about Bevo, however. The whole marketing and branding of Texas is phenomenal — yep, the SEC could take some notes here.
Those defense signs you see at football games? You know, the white "D" and the white "picket fence" signs that always get shown on TV? Texas of course has those signs but Texas does it better than anyone. The band’s sousaphone player held up his "fence" sign during the game but the sign had a Texas twist — a giant burnt orange Longhorn cutout was attached to the sign. Brilliant.
So is the burnt orange color. It’s on everything. Women’s purses, men’s cowboy boots, children’s back packs are all burnt orange — the fact that only the Longhorns use that color makes it so identifiable. Texas doesn’t even need to put a logo on its burnt orange. Burnt orange is Texas. Got it.
The band didn’t play any rap music (although it did rock Led Zeppelin) but did play plenty of Texas-style songs, and perhaps this is what makes Texas football so fascinating. Texas football isn’t some Johnny-come-lately flavor of the year that will disappear without a trace. This football program is bigger and better than every football program out there. You see it. You smell it. You touch it. Texas Longhorn football is not going anywhere because their fans will follow them to the ends of the earth for yes, even a Holiday Bowl berth.
Suddenly, the Longhorn Network makes so much sense right now. Suddenly, burnt orange is a really cool color and I wouldn’t mind wearing it. Suddenly, I have a drawl.
As I left Bevo’s pen area, I took one last glance at those Silver Spurs and Cowboys and tried to keep that mental image frozen in my mind. That image stands out so much not because of what they were wearing, it was because of what they were doing — leaning against a fence and looking like they needed a piece of hay to chew on while watching the sun set.
It’s how a lot of people picture Texas. Except on Wednesday they weren’t in Texas. They were in San Diego, Calif.