If you think opera is extravagantly staged, you should see Longhorn football at the University of Texas. To steal a line from Colonel Sanders, they do football right.
Now by that I don't mean "play" football. They do play it pretty well here, but so do a lot of other schools. What makes football in Austin is the pageantry, and you've never seen anything until you've been to Austin. It qualifies in the category of "you had to be there," but let me try to give a little description of what Saturday night at the Miami University game was all about.
I guess we should start with the band. But which one?
There is, of course, the Longhorn Marching Band, which looks about 800 strong when it comes pouring onto the field at halftime, flags flapping in the cool Gulf breeze, twirlers prancing and trumpets--and trumpets and trumpets and trumpets--blaring. They call it the Show Band of the Southwest, and its reputation is well deserved.
If that doesn't impress you, what about the Texas Longhorns Alumni Band, which also looks about 800 strong as it comes pouring onto the field at halftime? It's made up of former band members who've gone on to other, but certainly not bigger or better, things. They were back for an appearance Saturday night. Before the halftime show was over, the opening ceremonies of the Moscow Olympics paled in comparison.
Still, that's only the half of it. On Saturday night, the University of Texas brought together the largest collection of tubas in the history of humankind, assembled them in the middle of the field and gave them surely the snappiest rendition of "Darktown Strutters Ball" ever heard. It brought tears to my eyes.
What brings tears to the eyes of true Texans, however, is "The Eyes of Texas." Where I grew up, folks sang the "Star Spangled Banner" just before kickoff. Here they sing "The Eyes of Texas," and when that last line about Gabriel blowing his horn comes down from 74,000 fans, you know that this idea of statehood is only temporary. Give us back our republic!
This anthem is accompanied, of course, with the "Hook 'em Horns" salute, which is a gesture of the right hand that borders on the obscene, save for the direction of the palm. What you do is take your index finger and the little finger of your right hand, stick them up in the air, raise your right arm, and with the palm out--now this is real important if you don't want to give offense--with your palm out, sort of shake your hand forward. You can put the paper down and practice for a minute if you're really into this. We can wait.
Now this "Hook 'em" stuff goes on just before the opening kickoff, and at the end of halftime, when the band does another stirring rendition of "The Eyes of Texas," and of course when the Longhorns score or intercept a pass or walk a straight line or take a drink of Gatorade. The fans do it, the players do it, I think even a Miami player or two fell into the act.
There are also the Texas Cowboys, a group of young men about 55 strong who wear jeans and chaps and black cowboy hats and burnt orange (the UT color) kerchiefs. They shoot off Old Smoky, the campus cannon. Then there's another group of cowboys whose name escapes me. They wear tan jeans and burnt orange shirts and hats and spurs and kerchiefs, and they handle and provide shovel duty for Bevo, the Longhorn steer who is the UT mascot, and who, incidently, could crush your favorite Terrapin with one hoof.
All these cowboys have their ladies--sorry about that phraseology, but it's true--with them, and in the tradition of the Old West, when the cowboys run down the sidelines, the womenfolk huddle together at either end of the field, sort of as if they're guarding the home fires.
I almost forgot the cow bells. The Longhorn band is one clamorous jangle during the whole game. Either they're tooting their horns or clanging those bells. It's truly distracting.
That's pretty much it, other than the cheerleaders, the fans in their burnt orange shirts, the 40-yard-long Texas flag and a few other odds and ends. I wish I could tell you how the game ended, but it just didn't seem very interesting.