Sunday, September 27, 2009

How 'bout those Coogs?

I might have been one of a handful of kids anywhere who dreamed of someday playing sports at the University of Houston. It was merely a matter of figuring out which sport to settle upon: did I want to pledge Phi Slamma Jamma, or did I want to play in the Run-n-Shoot?

I never got to make the choice. Puberty handled most of that decision: I topped out at 6-foot, filled out to more than 200 pounds, never developed a jumpshot, wanted to move away - if only four hours away - for college and decided to attend TCU in Fort Worth.

Over time, I lost my love for U of H. But last night the spark was rekindled. If only for a few hours. (I mean, Hakeem Olajuwon was on the sidelines last night. The Dream! I almost passed out.)

It's been a long time since anyone other than me and a few thousand alums cared about Houston's football program. That might have changed following the Cougars' 29-28 victory last night over big-brother program Texas Tech.

I don't expect the attention or the adoration to last for long. It never really does at forgotten Division I outposts like Houston. Richard Justice knows this: "When was the last time it felt like something really special was about to happen? Ten years? Twenty? Try never."

Indeed, things have really changed. Few people remember the days when U of H routinely beat Texas and Texas A&M, sent highly rated quarterbacks to the NFL and competed for conference championships and Cotton Bowl berths.

But I remember. Who else but a long-suffering Cougars backer could think of Andre Ware and David Klingler as gridiron heroes? And one memory, more than all the others, stands out.

Of course, growing up a football fan in Houston, it was something I tried to forget.

In the days before we had cable in our home, my father paid for a night (couldn't have been more than $30) at a run-down, trucker motel off Interstate 10 to watch the Coogs take on the mighty Miami Hurricanes on ESPN - the first Thursday night college football game shown on the network. It was a pivotal moment for the Houston program.

Unfortunately, nothing went well that fall night in 1991: Miami mauled the Coogs, the hotel room was so filthy that I refused to eat our snacks, and I was all kinds of tired and frustrated at school the next morning.

Well, the Coogs dropped out of the rankings the following week and didn't return until a couple weeks ago. That was 18 long years ago.

I'm glad they're back. Makes me feel like a kid again.

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