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Dear Longhorns

Oct 5 2018
Photo by
Jim Cowsert/Icon SMI
Photo by
Jim Cowsert/Icon SMI
Oct 5 2018
D

ear Longhorns,

45–35.

Man, I can’t believe that was 10 years ago. Doesn’t feel like it.

It’s always been funny to me that a scoreline can almost become its own brand. I went to multiple bowl games in college and even competed for a national championship, but it’s that one game against OU from 2008 that I still get asked about the most.

Looking back on it, the first memory that comes to mind is the anticipation leading up to the game. The excitement, the nerves — all of it is etched into my brain forever.

OU came into the game ranked higher than us and had one of the most explosive offenses in the country. People thought we were a pretty good team, but OU was favored by everyone who had an opinion about college football.

Sounds kind of familiar actually.

Early on, they landed a few quick punches, as they’re liable to do. That’s something that might happen, they’re a good team. But when they do make a play, the only thing that truly matters is how you respond. When their side of the field is rocking, what can you do to shut them up and get your fans singing “Texas Fight!”?

Around the start of the second quarter during that game in 2008, we were down 14–3 and in a pretty tough spot. I was familiar with the past heartbreaks we’d had against OU. I’d watched the games when we came into the matchup with the better team and ended up folding early. But as I waited for the kickoff after OU scored its second touchdown, I wasn’t thinking about what had gone wrong. I wasn’t thinking about how bad it would feel if we lost. Honestly, my only thought in that moment was that I had the opportunity to do something big. I could feel it. I knew it wouldn’t happen by doing anything extraordinary or outside of my abilities. But if I followed my blockers and saw some open space, I could make a play.

Honestly, my only thought in that moment was that I had the opportunity to do something big. I could feel it.

And 96 yards later, I was in the end zone and all of the energy and momentum in the Cotton Bowl shifted entirely in our direction. And that’s really the thing that makes the Red River Rivalry special — every play is a zero-sum game. One fanbase will be elated and the other will be devastated. And the fanbase that is elated will then get even louder, because honestly, what’s better than seeing a hated rival devastated?

We carried that momentum for the rest of the game and forced Oklahoma to play all the way to the end with us. And by the time we got to the fourth quarter, we had worn them down. They didn’t want anymore.

And that feeling — the feeling of knowing that you went out on neutral territory and man-for-man outplayed the Sooners? The experience of watching as the crimson filters out of the stadium but the burnt orange remains strong?

I can’t begin to describe it. It wouldn’t be right. I could never do it justice.

Let’s just say, there’s a reason people remember 45–35.

There’s a reason why you’ll always remember being part of this rivalry.

Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports

If you grew up in Texas, you’ve probably been watching UT and OU play since you were a little kid. If you were anything like me, you sat there on pins and needles during every play, hoping and dreaming that someday you’d get the opportunity to play in the Cotton Bowl and represent the Texas Longhorns.

But no matter how much you’ve thought about this moment, nothing can truly to prepare you for what you’re about to experience. And, honestly, the biggest piece of advice that comes to mind is to just try to enjoy it. Football is a sport based on repetition and striving for perfection. It’s about knowing your role so deeply that it’s almost second nature. All of that comes from a lot of hard work and effort.

But playing in a game like this? That’s the fun part.

All the stuff no one else sees — the 5:30 a.m. workouts, the lifts, the practices, the film sessions — that’s the work. All the sweat, the effort and the energy you’ve put into this sport — not just since you been at Texas but throughout your entire life — has been leading you to this moment.

And, honestly, there’s a part of me that feels a little jealous. I wish I could walk through that tunnel at the Cotton Bowl again. I wish I could feel that rush of energy as 46,000 people cheer their lungs out and another 46,000 curse the ground you walk on. There’s an electricity in that atmosphere that will never compare to anything else you ever experience in football, before or after.

Beyond that, there are so many people who deeply care about the outcome of this game, but so few who get to determine it.

And that’s your opportunity here.

This Saturday, you get to run out on the field at the Cotton Bowl and represent not just your school, but your state. This Saturday, you get to write your own chapter in a story that’s been unfolding for more than 100 years.

What a blessing.

Hy Peskin/Getty Images

I think this is our biggest game as a program in nearly a decade. I really do.

The reason I feel that way is because I can sense how close we are to getting to where Texas should be. I’ve heard how loud our fans were during the USC and TCU games, and I know they can sense it too. And where Texas should be is always in the Top 10, always winning at least 10 games and always in the conversation for the national title.  

Right now, I think we have the guys we need to get there. I see a roster loaded with young talent that reminds me of some of the great players I competed with when I was on campus.

I know we have enough to win because we have Sam Ehlinger, a tough quarterback with poise who will sacrifice his body to get this team the extra yard.

I know we have enough to win because we have guys like Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey causing matchup problems with whatever DB has the unfortunate task of trying to cover them.

I know we have enough to win because we have a player like Caden Sterns roaming the secondary. You know back in ’08 we had another safety on the roster who ended up with two interceptions in his first ever Red River Rivalry game. And, yeah, it’s early, but it’s hard not to see a little bit of Earl Thomas when I watch Caden play.

I know we have enough to win because the very best players in Texas stay in Texas. Just like you, I could never see myself representing another state. Especially not Oklahoma.

Just like you, I could never see myself representing another state. Especially not Oklahoma.

The toughest thing about competing in this game isn’t the opponent or the atmosphere. It’s just reminding yourself to actually enjoy the moment. When Texas has struggled in the past, it’s been because we played too uptight and folded under the pressure.

Yes, you’re playing against a great team. This is Texas-OU, that’s how it should be. But if you come into this game excited to win rather than fearful of losing, this is yours for the taking. I have no doubt in my mind.

Ten years ago, I played in a game that’s still talked about to this day.

And 10 years from now, I hope we’re talking about what you will do this Saturday.

It’s your time.

Hook ’em,

– Jordan Shipley