Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News had a big Sunday read on the state of University of Texas athletics, kind of the 2013 counter-measure to Sam Gwynne’s 2008 Texas Monthly cover story.
“Money doesn’t buy wins for UT” is the headline on the piece, which outlines the struggles of not just Mack Brown’s football program, but men’s basketball and baseball too, even as UT athletics generated $163.3 million in revenue in 2012—the most of any school for the fourth straight year.
Finger’s piece draws heavily on quotes from San Antonio booster B.J. “Red” McCombs, who offers up a gentle version of prevailing message board and blogger sentiment. “The coaches who are there have earned their right to be there,” said McCombs, referring to Brown, Rick Barnes, and Augie Garrido. “But that’s only going to last so long. How long? I don’t know.”
The piece is accompanied by an entertaining interview with San Antonio native and current MMA fighter Eryk Anders. Why? Because Anders is also the man who took away the Longhorns’ final chance to win the 2009 BCS championship, a game that Alabama won, 37-21.
Yes, he was the Alabama linebacker who at the Rose Bowl 31/2 years ago slammed into Garrett Gilbert from behind, sacking the UT quarterback and forcing the fumble that ended the Longhorns’ hopes of winning the national title game.
And yes, that play marked the precise moment when UT transformed from a college football superpower into a bumbling, inept program that could do nothing right. But Anders insists there’s no blood on his hands.
“Texas didn’t go down because of me,” said Anders, a former Smithson Valley High School standout. “I seriously doubt that play put a curse on them or anything. They weren’t going to score on us anyway.”
That, of course, is debatable. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that if Anders had been a step or two slower in getting to Gilbert, UT football might look much differently today.
Alabama, which had led the game 24-6 at halftime, was up 24-21 at that point. UT had the ball on its own seventeen-yard line with 3:08 to go. Gilbert, a highly touted, largely unused back-up who came in after Colt McCoy was injured on UT’s fifth offensive play, had thrown two first-half interceptions, but then struck for a pair of touchdowns in the second half.
He’d “proven himself capable,” Finger writes. “Even if he couldn’t reach the end zone again, all he needed was 50 yards to put UT within Hunter Lawrence’s field-goal range to force overtime.”
Of course, this is all still science-fiction, kind of like the article I wrote about what would have happened if the Aggies hadn’t joined the SEC. If Anders doesn’t make that tackle, maybe UT moves the ball, or maybe not. The next play could have been a touchdown or an interception (Gilbert threw two more on the Longhorns’ last two futile drives). Or maybe Lawrence makes it 24-24 with fifty seconds left, only to see his Alabama counterpart respond as time expired.
In any case, the loss became the flashpoint for the current cynicism about Brown, who as Finger writes, let the blowback from that loss unnerve him (and, clearly, Garrett Gilbert) for the entire 2010 season. What many fans have also always thought, however, is that UT wins the game with Colt McCoy.
“Texas played without its best player for nearly 56 minutes. There’s an asterisk,” wrote ESPN’s Ivan Maisel at the time. Though given what the Horns (22-16 since then), the Crimson Tide (two more BCS titles), and the SEC (now up to eight straight BCS titles) have done since then, I’d say that asterisk has disappeared.
Personally, I always felt the fourteen points the Alabama defense gave up to UT (and zero points the Alabama offense scored until the final minutes) came in part due to a mindset that the game was over. Gilbert and UT had nothing to lose, while Alabama had good reason to lose focus. With 3:08 to go, that changed, and Alabama once again became the better team. Similarly, with Colt McCoy, UT surely would have played a better sixty minutes, but Alabama probably would have too.