ASHES, TEXAS FOOTBALL & MEMORIES

Football in Texas is sacrosanct. It is a religion. New born baby Texans are given footballs as their first play toys. In Texas, there are really only two sports … spring football and fall football. Baseball is that “girly” sport meant to merely take up time between spring football and fall football. Basketball is played by people running around in their underwear and takes place between fall football and spring football.

Football is King in Texas. I am pretty sure there is a lost “Gospel of Texas Football” sitting in the same general vicinity near Nag Hammadi, Egypt where the Gospel of Thomas was discovered in 1945.

This is especially true when you are a proud graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, home of the Longhorns. And no game brings out the passion, the hatred, the joy … and yes, the stupidity more so than the annual Texas – Oklahoma football game.

The Texas – ou game has been played at the Cotton Bowl, located at the Great State Fair of Texas every year since 1929. Dallas is located almost exactly half way between Austin, Texas and Norman, Oklahoma, the town in which ou is located. Traditionally, the game is played on the second Saturday in October. Unlike all other college football games, the stadium seating is split, with 46,000 erudite, intelligent burnt orange clad alums and fans sitting on one side of the stadium and 46,000 red polyester wearing heathen … err … I mean the good people of Oklahoma sitting on the other side.

Beginning in 1978, I attended 22 consecutive Texas – ou games. I sat through 95 degree games, driving rain storms, sunny cool breezes. I saw the venerable old Cotton Bowl go from artificial turf to grass, the stadium size increase from 72,000 to 92,000. And the atmosphere of the game is like no other.

The sights, sounds and smells of the State Fair permeate game day. The smell of Fletcher’s corny dogs. Warm, Shiner Bock beer being served up in wax cups. Long lines to get on rides. Pig races. Turkey legs being sold. The laughter of children. Competing shouts of “Texas sucks!” and “OU sucks!” reverberating. You hear the clanging of bells and whistles from the Midway.

And then, when you go inside the Cotton Bowl, you are surrounded by your fellow alumni and fans. You can smell the grass field. Some years you can catch a faint whiff of whiskey in the air as flasks snuck into the game provide fortitude or whimsy. You remember past games and seeing some of the greatest players to ever play college football. And for a brief period of time, all is right with the world.

What brought that 22 year streak to a halt was an Indian Princess campout. My daughter Morgan, then in first grade at St. Monica Catholic School, had her tribe scheduled to go on a weekend campout strangely enough, in southern Oklahoma that same weekend. Well Dads, we must have our priorities. And so, the game attendance streak ended. And thankfully so. The weather that Saturday was horrifically bad, mid 40s, sleet, driving rain. My Longhorns were crushed … and when I saw my daughter’s smiling face and heard her laughter during the campout, again, all was right with the world.

And so, a new streak started the following year. As time went by, Morgan accompanied me to games. And just as she understood the opera from minute one, so too did she get Longhorn football and this game. She dressed in burnt orange as did her dad. We laughed, bonded, commiserated over the losses and rejoiced with the victories.

And then, a demon entered our lives. Eating Disorders. As her health deteriorated, she realistically could not stand up to the rigors of attending this game. On October 8, 2016, I attended the Texas – ou game by myself. My 16th consecutive game since the break in 2000. But, the game was different. For some reason to me then unknown, a lot of the joy and enthusiasm was not there.

Thirteen days later, on October 21, 2021, I once again took Morgan to the emergency room. She never left the hospital alive. On October 30, 2021, eating disorders claimed her as yet another hourly victim.

I have not attended another Texas – ou game since. Sometimes, there were supposed conflicts or other plans made. Conflicts and plans I had always managed to work around in prior years. Perhaps I felt that whatever joy or sorrow, laughter or sadness I had previously associated with this game would be gone. Perhaps I felt I would be haunted by the realization that Morgan would not be with me at another game. Perhaps I was hiding from painful memories and emotions. Perhaps cowardice had me in its grip.

Well, I refuse to allow cowardice, pain and anguish to become my masters. This October which will mark the fifth commemoration of Morgan being taken. But, I will return to the game. Tickets have been purchased. Tickets were also acquired by an incredible local doctor, a dear friend of mine, for her adult twin sons to attend their first Texas – ou game. And so, the game awaits.

It will be those young men’s first Texas – ou game. It will be my 39th. But, I will not be alone. I intend to take some of Morgan’s ashes with me. And by hook or by crook (and with a good bail bonds man standing by just in case), I will spread just a few of Morgan’s ashes on the grassy field of the Cotton Bowl. A place which held such significance, a place of joy, a place of bonding for Morgan and me.

A small bit of her will be left and become part of this historic, venerable setting, a place we shared and loved. And in having her become a more tangible part of our shared memories, I know she will yet again, fill my heart with love, with resolve, with purpose.

A dad with a strong heart, a heart filled with love and inspiration can accomplish anything. So, perhaps I will cheer a little louder, laugh more and find a way to embrace memories not with sorrow, but with a smile on my face.

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