Three years ago, as I waited in the rain outside the Frank Erwin Center for a game against Oklahoma State, I saw a small group of people folding up tents at the front of the line. A few weeks later, when it came time for the game against hated OU, I decided to follow their lead and spend two nights outside in a sleeping bag. I met many of the hardiest Longhorn basketball fans, who opened up their tents and tailgates to me. These guys led me through my O-Zone indocrination, taking me on road trips to Stillwater and Atlanta. Some people join frats or rush sororities. That spring, I pledged South O-Zone.
Over the two following years, I was front and center at practically every home game. I made road trips seemingly everywhere — Norman, Waco, College Station, Lawrence, New York, even Atlanta again. Some of my friends began to notice a disturbing trend. When I left the state of Texas to see the Horns play basketball, they’d always lose. To Oklahoma State in Stillwater and Xavier in Atlanta. To OU in Norman, Kansas in Lawrence, and the Aggies in College Station. To Duke in New York City, then the Sooners and Cowboys again in Oklahoma. By the time we made it to Atlanta in March of this year, I had an 0-8 record at out-of-state UT basketball games.
As a Red Sox fan, I’m used to having the “cursed” label thrown in my direction. But as a realist, I also know that the trade of a player in the 1910’s can’t make a ball roll between a first baseman’s legs in 1986. And by the same token, my mere presence in an arena can’t make a basketball team lose. So when Kenton Paulino hit that buzzer-beating three-pointer against West Virginia to propel Texas into the Elite Eight — and erase my “curse” — I felt completely vindicated.
Two days later, we lost to LSU and waited in bitter, cold, windy weather to thank the team as they boarded the buses. And as Brad Buckman thanked us for all of our support, I realized that I had seen that class of seniors mature through their four years on the Forty Acres. And suddenly I had the crazy idea of watching the team mature throughout an entire season, in person.
At the time, I still had dreams of standing in the same place outside the Georgia Dome a year later, congratulating the team after winning their first national title. But over the coming weeks, the entries of LaMarcus Aldridge, P.J. Tucker, and Daniel Gibson into the NBA draft tempered those dreams. Add to that the transfer of one of my favorite players, Mike Williams, and things weren’t looking good. But I had already made a mental commitment to this crazy trip, and I continued ahead in my plans.
As the pieces of the schedule came together, it began to look like I couldn’t have chosen a better year for the ultimate road trip. With games in New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Knoxville, and the usual Big 12 haunts, the 2006-07 campaign offers a great package of road games. And thanks to all of those dream-shattering changes to the roster, this is actually shaping up to be a perfect season to watch a team grow from game to game. With seven young, incredibly talented kids, there is not a single person who can reasonably claim that the team I watched on Thursday night will be anywhere close to the team I see suit up in Lawrence, Kansas on March 3rd.
So that’s how the pieces fell in place. How a crazy, random thought on a cold, depressing night in Atlanta could blossom into an incredible journey. Now, eight months later, I take my first trip of ten outside of Texas. And maybe by March we can make that 1-9 out-of-state record look a little bit better for the superstitious folks out there.
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