Brown left searching for answers -- again
DALLAS -- Napoleon had Waterloo. Nixon had Watergate. Janet's bra had Justin. And Mack Brown has Oklahoma.
The weight of Bevo and everyone who can make a Hook 'Em sign continues to perch on Brown's shoulders -- shoulders that seem to sag a tiny bit more as he makes the familiar postgame walk to the Cotton Bowl press tent.
Tradition calls for the losing coach of the Red River Shootout to make the first appearance in that interview tent. Brown knows the drill all too well, what with this being the fifth consecutive time he's taken a seat before OU's Bob Stoops.
Once again, with the regularity of leaves turning burnt orange each fall, Brown must explain why his program can't beat the team six hours north of Austin. How is it possible that a program with Texas' means, its tradition, and, of course, its players, somehow be on the wrong end of a five-peat?
"I'm responsible for this team," said Brown, his grey hair streaked with sweat. "The players win. . .the coaches lose at our place."
Brown was gracious after the defeat. Then again, he's had some practice with this sort of thing. His only moment of public exasperation came when someone asked Texas running back Cedric Benson if he still considered himself a Heisman Trophy candidate. It was an irrelevant question, given that Benson rushed for a grand total of 92 yards, 133 less than OU true freshman Adrian Peterson.
But Brown couldn't help himself, much like he couldn't stop himself several years ago when he stepped in to deflect criticism of Chris Simms after another OU defeat. He leaned toward Benson and half-muttered, "Say, yes."
So Benson said yes.
Texas lost this one, 12-0, which is as deceiving as four coats of makeup on Anna Nicole Smith. OU had 11 more first downs, 12-plus more minutes of possession time, and 301 rushing yards. The scoreboard said it was a close game, but the 79,587 sitting in the ancient Cotton Bowl knew better. So did Brown. You don't get shut out for the first time in 281 games and think otherwise.
The Longhorns still had a chance to give OU a nervous tic late in the final quarter. Texas had moved to the Sooners 35, five minutes remained on the clock. . . and then quarterback Vince Young fumbled away the ball -- and UT's hopes of a comeback that would have earned Brown a shoulder ride.
Brown clapped encouragement as his offense moved toward the sideline. He didn't see tight end Bo Scaife, the only active UT player to beat OU, slump dejectedly on the metal bench. He didn't hear offensive guard Kasey Studdard let loose with a single expletive. He didn't acknowledge the Sooner fans directly behind the UT bench who were yelling, "Four more years of Mack, baby!"
As the clock raced toward another OU victory, co-defensive coordinator Greg Robinson tossed his headset to the ground, angrily tugged grass from the ground, and put together a few expletives of his own. Frustration.
Brown removed his headset a few moments later, glanced at the scoreboard as OU lined up in the victory formation, and began jogging toward midfield and his nemesis Stoops before time -- and Texas -- expired. Handshakes were exchanged. Compliments offered. Then Brown jogged toward the Texas end zone -- the first time any Longhorn had been there all day -- and sang, "The Eyes of Texas," with his team and UT crowd.
After that, there was a sprint down the field, past the Sooner players who had planted an OU banner in the grass, past the Sooner band that chanted, "Poor Texas! Poor Texas! Go OU!" past the Sooner fans who draped themselves across a chain-link fence bordering the tunnel.
No one was spared. Even costumed mascot "Hook 'Em" was subjected to the jeers. Hook 'Em responded by blowing kisses to the crowd.
The three Orange Bowl committee members, wearing their rep ties and orange polyester sportcoats, didn't bother stopping by the Texas locker room. Why bother, right? Barring a football miracle, the Longhorns won't be playing in this season's national championship game.
Bobby Bowden has Wide Right. Brown has Oct. 9. It's too bad, because, as Brown said, "this is a better team than last year. I thought we'd win."
Brown didn't duck a single postgame question. He sat patiently with fingers interlocked as the microphone was passed from one reporter to the next. He didn't even flinch when Benson, perhaps not realizing how it sounded, said, "I guess [OU] just had the better game plan."
Sitting outside the tent was Stoops and a handful of Sooner players. Brown shook their hands. He stopped on his way back to the UT locker room to hug OU running back Kejuan Jones. Then, with two gun-wearing Texas Rangers trailing behind him, he made his way across the street, through a gate, up a ramp and into the Longhorn locker room.
In the distance you could hear the screams from people as they rode an amusement ride called "1001 Nights." Texas fans, no doubt.
Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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