The sickness got me in 1982. I was eight years old when it snuck in and swallowed me.
Like most young boys at that time I had a decent collection of NFL pencils in my activity box. They sold them from a vending machine at Stubbs Elementary, and I skipped a lot of lunches to buy more.
Of course, the blue and silver Cowboys pencil was my favorite. I didn't dare sharpen it. It was ridiculous to think I would actually use it because its sole purpose was to be looked at and admired. Among the various workhorse pencils (those that were actually used for writing and erasing) were a handful of orange Bengals, two or three Oilers, and a crapload of Lions. My heart would race when I saw that blue and silver fall to the bottom of the vending machine, only to have it broken when I saw it was another Detroit Lions logo. Stupid Lions. They piss me off. Anyhow,I also had one worn, nubby 49ers pencil.
It was a chilly Friday in January and school had just started up again for my 2nd grade class. I knew the Cowboys and 49ers were playing in the NFC championship game on Sunday and I felt like I needed to help out. I isolated the two pencils in my activity box and left the others to fend for themselves. The worn down, shabby 49ers pencil would spend the weekend alone with the pristine, shiny Cowboys pencil in the dark box. It was gonna be a blood bath.
I talked to them both. "49ers, you suck. Cowboys are gonna stomp on you. Cowboys- you are so great. You're my favorite team." I'd thump the 49ers pencil a little. Tore a little bit off the tip of the eraser. Broke off the end of the lead. I tortured that poor pencil and got it really riled up. I kept laughing at it. "49ers- you're so ugly. Look at you and your broken tip. You embarrass me." I left school that afternoon feeling supremely confident. I had done my part to ensure the Cowboys would destroy the 49ers.
On Sunday afternoon I was devastated. How could this happen? What more could I have done? I felt sick to my stomach and couldn't sleep. I walked into school on Monday morning in a daze and immediately broke the stupid 49ers pencil into as many pieces as my little hands could handle. I then poured Elmer's glue all over the shards.
It was all my fault! If I hadn't ridiculed the 49ers so much, they would not have had that big chip on their shoulder. No one would ever remember Dwight Clark. They were so pissed because I tortured that ugly pencil!
The only solace I took was in knowing that I could control the fate of my favorite teams. All I had to do was figure out the exact formula and not tempt fate.
So, the years went by and I worked on perfecting my formula. Funny, I never worried about it when I was actually competing. Didn't have a lot of rituals before my little league games or in high school sports. Yes, there were certain routines (sitting with the same person on the bus, showering before a basketball game) but I never blamed myself for the loss if I had accidentally altered anything.
Texas Tech football, however, is a completely different story. They win or lose based on the actions I take in the days leading up to, and sometimes during, the game. I took my childhood experience with the pencils, magnified it by 1.34 billion, and focused all my energies on the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
It's a work in progress, but here are some of the more extreme examples:
It's 2002 and the stage is set. We had just upset Texas and were now set to face OU for the Big 12 South title. By coincidence, one of my customers was a big Sooner fan (lots of them in Amarillo). We were scheduled to close his loan during game week so we had a lot of fun ribbing each other. I had my Raider Red bobble head in the closing office with me. He signed the paperwork anyway.
Then, unfortunately, karma kicked me in the teeth. On Friday, on my way to the office, a squirrel jumped out in front of my car and I ran over it. I knew it was a bad sign. Karma was gonna be so pissed at me. And of course, Oklahoma ran over us, just like I ran over that squirrel. Mental note: Avoid running over squirrels before a big game.
I'm sorry Kliff Kingsbury.
The company you keep
In 2004 our Red Raiders traveled to Lawrence to take on the up & coming Kansas Jayhawks. We had recently moved to San Angelo and I invited one of my employees over to watch the game. Kansas jumped on us and took a 30-5 lead. "Sorry Jeff. I know you didn't drive over here, but you gotta go." "Can I at least finish my queso?" he asked. "No, just go. Leave the beer". He left.
I kicked my own employee out of my house and made him walk home. I'm sure there are all kinds of HR violations in there, but my daring calculation worked. Sonny, Taurean and Trey got my message and led a furious 2nd half comeback. We won 31-30. Mental note and key component to the formula: Never watch a game with Jeff again. He's a great guy, and we're still good friends, but he can't watch a Tech game with me. Ever.
Sorry Jeff, but hey, we went to the Holiday Bowl and won.
Everyone is familiar with this rule. The success of the team ties directly to the shirt I choose to wear on the Friday before the game and, of course, on GameDay. In 2006 I bought a cool white T-shirt with black sleeves. It looks great on me. Makes me look like a baseball player. Anyway, I wore it when Tech went up to Colorado and I sat on the couch listening to the game with my Dominican rum. We proceeded to get stomped by the worst team in the conference, 30-6. I took the shirt off in the 4th quarter, and we scored, but it was too late. I didn't wear it again all season, until the Insight Bowl. "C'mon man. You're crazy. You have no control over this team" I kept thinking to myself. 'Besides, the shirt looks great on you." So I gave in. I wore the shirt all day and into the night. Got lots of compliments. "Are you a baseball player?" they would ask. "No, I just really take care of myself," I said. "Lots of cardio". "Portion Control".
The game starts, and Minnesota dominates. The tight end scored 8 touchdowns in the first quarter. I sat in my chair, dumbfounded. At half-time I was ready to turn the game off, but then I looked down. It's the shirt! I ripped it off and put it under the bed. I frantically donned a more trustworthy black shirt and guess what happened?
You're welcome Graham Harrell.
So sure, all of us know the impacts of wearing the proper shirt. Several of you even know the effects of watching the game with the right people at the right place and at the right time. But for me, the endless variables and combinations keep getting worse. The loss to Oklahoma State in 2007 was my fault because I watched the last few minutes of the game downstairs instead of upstairs. Damnit, I knew better than that. It's not your fault Crabtree. It's not your fault. Missouri beat us 41-10. My bad. I saw several Mizzou stickers on the backs of cars that week and knew it was a bad sign. I should have warned somebody. This formula is tricky!
Luckily, the sickness isn't always evil. There have been times when I got the formula right and I take full credit for some of the bigger wins. Oklahome in 2007? Yeah, that was me. I avoided several squirrels that week. The '05 win goes in my victory column too. Nebraska in 2008? I switched my rum cup just before Jamar got the interception in overtime. Nebraska last year? I scheduled a doctor's appointment on Friday to ensure the win. The same doctor I had seen just before the OU game in '07. It can get complicated, but I was making progress.
And, of course, the biggest feather in my cap was the UT game two years ago.
I finally had it down. Proper attire. The right cup for rum and coke. No Jeff. No squirrels. What could go wrong? I went out on a limb and had a reuben sandwich at Fox & Hound before the game. It worked! My reuben sandwich put the words in Musberger's mouth.
"CRAB-TRAAAY PULLS FRAY, and TOUCHDOWN RED RAIDERS!"
But then the formula starting screwing with me.
It's Oklahoma week again. I didn't drive anywhere all week for fear of crazy squirrels jumping out in front of my truck. On Saturday I got my seat at Fox & Hound. I ordered my Reuben and started chain-drinking Coors Light drafts. I had hand picked my group's wardrobe. I had a mix-tape of the Goin' Band, Joe Ely and Terry Allen to listen to on the way to the bar. What could go wrong?
The game starts and Oklahoma jumps on us, again! WTF! I did everything right this week! My shirt was undefeated and I didn't run over a single rodent. Everyone was dressed according to my specifications. WTF? Why are you screwing with me, formula?
We gotta get outta here. I made my group leave at half-time. We went to my house in hopes of fixing things. It didn't work. Oklahoma kept scoring. So, I've got five or six people in my house just laughing it up and having a good time. They're not huge Tech fans so they're talking about Thanksgiving, and fantasy football, and charity, and their kids, and crap that no one cares about. I, however, was fuming. I turned off the TV, calmy looked over, and said "You guys can stay, and it's gonna get real awkward, or you can leave, right now." They chose to leave. One of them left his shoes.
I spent the rest of the night racking my brain. What did I do wrong? Everything was lined up perfectly. I had finally figured out the formula. Where was the error? How did Oklahoma get past my preparations?
Then, suddenly, it came to me. It was effin' Roger.
Roger and I have been friends for over 10 years. We worked together in Amarillo and he laughed at me when I ran over that squirrel. He's now a football coach here in San Antonio and I called him a few hours before the game. I was so nervous, I needed some reassurance from someone who knows the game pretty well. He assured me that we had it in the bag. "No worries", he said. "This is your year".
But I forgot that he has the stench of the squirrel karma all over him! How could I forget that? Stupid, stupid, stupid. Never again. I would never talk to Roger before we played Oklahoma again. He tried to call me last year just before Nick took the field, but I ignored his call. He called again. I turned my phone off. He had a flat tire and needed help. Screw you, Roger. You better call Triple A.
It worked! Nick destroyed OU and Roger got his flat fixed. Everybody was happy.
So now I start thinking that this quest for the perfect formula might be getting out of hand. Do I have a problem? "Nah. Everybody avoids emergency calls from their friends if it helps the team, don't worry about it" I told myself.
The next week we headed up to Jerryworld to watch the Baylor game. That HD screen is probably the most glorious thing I've ever witnessed but I quickly realized there was a problem. Every time I looked at the screen, we had a bad play. Glance at the screen, Potts throws a pick. Take a peak again, Baylor scores. Crap! I can't even enjoy this beautiful, 8th wonder of the world. I force myself to watch every play, live. I pull my cap down low so I won't be tempted to look up. And of course, it worked. We squeaked by with a win all because I refused to look up at what I really think might be heaven on earth. I make sacrifices for this team. I can control this right? It's not getting worse.
Recently I've come to realize,it is getting worse. Every year, I add a few more calculations to the formula.
I've been able to keep the sickness at bay for the last couple of weeks, but when I close my eyes I can see the blackness coming. This is a huge week for DTN. How can I ensure victory? How can we all save the day? What can we do to help?
We can't beat the sickness, but we can damn sure help our Red Raiders beat the Texas Longhorns. Our team needs us. Let's solve the formula. If we roll our sleeves up, we can figure this out. Unless of course, we aren't supposed to wear sleeves. It's Texas week!
The sickness. It's a mean bitch. Is anyone else afflicted?