A wise man once said, “Beware of football Bum Steers.” Baseball is fine, and so is basketball, since both of those seasons will have wrapped up by the time the January issue goes to press. But football is a different story. Just when you think a player or a coach or a team has thoroughly, unquestionably qualified themselves for inclusion into the hall of shame, just when you’re all set to ship the magazine to the printer and consign them to thirty days of newsstand infamy, the bums will do something to redeem themselves.

It was with this caveat in mind that we watched the 2010 season unfold. We’d been casting about for our Bum Steer of the Year, running through the usual suspects of disgraced politicians, contemptible corporations, embarrassing celebrities, fallen heroes, and stupid criminals. None of the candidates was a slam dunk. Sure, the State Board of Education had been heaped with national ridicule back in March during the textbook debates, but that was an eternity ago, and besides, nothing says “worst-selling magazine cover ever” like an image of Don McLeroy performing a root canal on Thomas Jefferson. Ouch and ouch. BP? Deserving of the denigration, sure, but I don’t need a congressional committee to tell me that a steer drenched in oil is not funny.

Then along came the Longhorns and the Cowboys, the state’s two most storied franchises. The Longhorns, of course, were fresh off a season in which they’d played for the national championship, and they kicked off the year ranked number five. The Cowboys were looking ahead to hosting the 2011 Super Bowl, and the word on the street was that this could be the first time ever that an NFL team might play in a Super Bowl held at their own stadium. The bottom fell out almost immediately, as the teams commenced a disastrous, simultaneous, slow-motion collapse, the likes of which we’d prefer never to see again. By the first weekend in November, when the 4-4 Horns fell to Kansas State 39—14 and the 1-6 Cowboys fell to Green Bay by an even more humiliating 45—7, our decision was cast in pigskin. The year 2010, we concluded, would be remembered for the Longhorns’ looking like greenhorns and the Cowboys’ looking like, well, cows and/or boys (especially soon-to-be-fired head coach Wade Phillips, who at times, standing on the sidelines with that miserable look of stupefaction on his face, seemed to possess such a perfectly bovine quality of flat-footedness that you half expected him to bend over and start grazing).

But just when we’d assigned one of our favorite illustrators, Drew Friedman, to the task (“All right, make it look like Jerry and Bevo came straight from their games and have been drinking for hours . . . ”) and begun to think of cover type (“So a bum and a steer walk into a bar . . . ”) the unthinkable happened—under new head coach Jason Garrett, the Cowboys won two straight, and the Longhorns squashed Florida Atlantic 51—17 (actually, that last one was pretty thinkable—Florida who?). Which brought us to the moment of truth: Thanksgiving, a holiday of peace and togetherness, when both teams played on national television with a chance to salvage their seasons (a little) and ruin our plans. By then we had seen early sketches of Friedman’s illustration and knew it was going to be an instant classic. “Don’t worry,” said deputy editor Brian D. Sweany, a lifelong Cowboys fan. “No way can we beat the Saints.” By halftime I wasn’t so sure; by the two-minute warning, I was pacing the floor, vowing never to do another football Bum Steers cover. And then, just as they’d done all season long, America’s Team got creative and found a way to lose. Within seconds, a text popped up on my phone from creative director T. J. Tucker, a Texas Tech alum all too willing to root hard against UT: “One more to go!”

But that one was almost as bad. A&M clearly had the upper hand, but they couldn’t quite put the game away, and the hapless Horns kept hanging in. (The whole thing brought back unpleasant memories of 2007, when we were planning to name A&M head coach Dennis Franchione as our Bum Steer of the Year, only to watch him beat UT, momentarily scrambling our plans, but then, thank God, resign.) Finally, mercifully, time ran out on the 24—17 Texas loss, bringing to a close the worst season of the Mack Brown era. We had our Bum Steers, solid on both counts, for which we give thanks.

Next month

The most powerful people in Texas, the state’s best new restaurants, the life of John O’Quinn, a “super” art collection, a look inside the Kinkaid School, and the most beautiful pictures you’ve ever seen of Big Bend.