I'm sitting here on a sunny Thursday afternoon in Austin, TX. It's beautiful outside...the kind of day where you want to play hooky and play golf, or have drinks on a patio or bike around the lake. But that's not what I'm thinking about. No, all I'm thinking about is heading to my car after the store closes, so I can make a new preset on my XM radio. You see, on Sunday, I have to make a little road trip and that means I won't be able to watch the SMU versus UConn men's basketball game. Fortunately, we live in an age, that seemingly any sporting event is accessible from seemingly anywhere. I've watched a UT/Ohio State football game on AFN on a military base in Iraq, I've followed national signing day on twitter, I've streamed Astro games while in the south of France...very few sporting events are completely unavailable. And that makes me happy.
All of this got me thinking about what does it mean to be a fan. Some people can recite stats for days, some people travel hundreds or thousands of miles to attend games, some people have bought every piece of attire and memorabilia. I don't think any of those things make on a fan. No, I think being a fan comes down to loyalty and faith.
Faith is what convinces Cowboy fans that they can overcome Jerry (or Romo or the defense or whatever their individual gripe is). Loyalty is what keeps them tuning in after yet another 8 and 8 season. Faith is going to the Cotton Bowl to see SMU during the Mike Cavan/Phil Bennett years with 3000 other fans. Loyalty is continuing to renew your season tickets. Faith is believing that the Astros suffered through three horrendous seasons because there is a long term plan in mind. Loyalty is studying up on the next generation of potential major leaguers and getting excited for their potential.
It's easy to buy a shirt or put on a hat and claim that you're a fan. But do you consider those thousands of Miami Heat patrons who left game 6 of the NBA Finals fans? Those are probably the same people who have been fans all of their lives since they signed LeBron James. It's easy to be a fan when your team is playing for titles, it's not so east when you are hoping for a miracle to win.
Sports have become so popular that there are no right or wrong answers any more. Can you be a Kevin Durant fan AND a Mavericks fan? Can you cheer for a university that you didn't attend? Are you allowed to change favorite teams? I think so, but others may not. I live in Austin and it seems like the number of people who aren't from Austin increases each day. Do they have to stop supporting the teams that they grew up cheering for? Are they allowed to root for a local team? Can they do both?
What does being a fan mean to you?
It's been almost 20 years since I started college at SMU. That seems like a really, really long time. It's been even longer since SMU has been to the NCAA tournament. I wasn't even paying attention to SMU when they won the Southwest Conference Regular season title in 1993. I remember the Sports Illustrated when former Mustang Jon Koncak was (briefly) the highest paid player in the NBA. I was in school when SMU played the #1 Arkansas Razorbacks in 1994. I witnessed the 'revival" under coach Mike Dement when we made an NIT appearance in 2000. That team had two future NBA players on it, which was a big deal to us. Quinton Ross played several years in the NBA and still plays professionally overseas. Jeryl Sasser was a first round draft pick. We made the final four in the CollegeInsider.com Post Season Tournament in 2011 (yes, that's a real thing). These aren't even enough to be footnotes in your history if you are a North Carolina or Duke alum. For Mustang fans these are fond memories. Larry Brown has changed all of that.
When we were in school, I went to probably 90-95% of the home games. There were plenty of good seats available. The only time it seemed to be close to a sell out were those times when a ranked opponent (i.e. Fresno St or New Mexico) showed up or if it was a nationally televised game (I seem to remember a couple of 11pm games versus TCU). Those games notwithstanding, attendance was so sparse that every chant or cheer could be heard throughout the arena. Larry Brown has changed all of that.
The big time SMU recruits I remember were players who had accolades (Mr. Basketball Colorado, Texas 5A player of the year, etc) but weren't heavily recruited by the NCAA basketball blue bloods. Basketball is one of the few sports that one impact recruit can impact your program. Jeryl Sasser, for example, led us to the NIT without much help (Ross was a freshman that year). We weren't getting those guys. Larry Brown has changed all of that.
I can't remember SMU basketball being this exciting. Since I've relocated to Austin, I haven't been able to get to any games. But Coach Brown has made us relevant enough that we're on tv at least once a week. Every Monday I check the new polls to see how many votes we get. I don't think I've ever been able to do that before. ESPN's Bracketology is another can't miss for me. I don't know if we've ever even appeared on that page prior to this year. And I'm excited for our future...Coach Brown has signed the highest ranked recruit ever for SMU and he enrolls in August. Two of this years top freshman had narrowed their collegiate choices to Kentucky (8 national championships), Kansas (invented basketball) and SMU. So, thank you, Coach Brown. Thank you for bringing pride to SMU. Thank you for bringing wins and expectations to SMU. And thank you for doing it the right way and with class.
I can't help but get a bit nostalgic around the holidays. We've had our first doors open now 1,263 days. (Yes, I just used days as my measure of time). Sometimes it feels like no time at all, but most of the time it feels like the longest 3 1/2 years of my life.
I focused a lot over the Christmas season about getting my heart in the right place and making sure I saw what was important. It's easy to allow stress and pressure to succeed to bring you down and overwhelm you. I will admit, there were a few times this year I thought Gameday Cloth was going to open up like a Blue Whale and swallow me whole.
But sitting on the precipice of 2014, reflecting back, as one does, on 2013, I'm grateful. I've met some of the most amazing people I couldn't imagine my life without all because of the store - customers, employees, vendors; all now friends. I've been able to see a dream realized. I had a vision in my head and it is now an actuality. How many people are lucky enough to say that in their life? And what fashion female wouldn't be excited about a massive store that also acts as your personal closet and shopping spree? Let's be real.
I'm not one for resolutions. I'd rather try and make a positive change I can keep. Some may say that's a resolution, but for some reason, once that's what it's labeled, I break it. Two years ago I vowed to make more time for myself, last year to focus more on work and this year I will focus more on those around me. Of course, I also vow to get out of debt and pray every day, but neither of those have yet to come to fruition after years of attempts. But sitting here today in the quiet, I'm so proud of what the store looks like and has become and am so grateful for all of the people that have gotten us to where we are. It seems only fitting that I spend my next year investing in those people that have so tirelessly invested in me, us and our dream that is Gameday Cloth.
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Let's be honest...there's only one choice for the game of the week. I could talk about Bama's revenge, or A&M being disrespected, Manziel's chance at a second Heisman trophy, or Alabama's quest for it's third consecutive national title. I could talk about that, but I won't. Those stories and many more are being told ad nauseum all over the internet.
I'm old enough to remember the "Hurricane Bowl" between the Aggies and Tide the last time they met in College Station. Remember, for a long time, Texas A&M football wasn't as popular as it is today. Sure they would sell out when they played Texas, but for most of the other home games, if you bought a Blizzard at the College Station Dairy Queen, you got a free end zone ticket to that weeks game. I seem to recall that being the case for Bama, but I may be mistaken.
I do remember the circumstances surrounding the game. The Tide were supposed to visit A&M in September for an early non conference game (Bama was SEC, but A&M was in the Southwest Conference...look it up). Then Hurricane Gilbert looked as if it were headed straight to College Station. Citing player safety, Alabama coach Bill Curry asked for (and received) permission to postpone the game until December. On that September day, the day that it was supposed to happen, it was sunny and beautiful in College Station.
The Aggie fans had a field day...I vividly remember several of the Chicken Curry t-shirts being worn by the Ags. And after A&M beat Texas on Thanksgiving, they were riding high and ready to defend their house. But it was not to be. Led by the late, great Derrick Thomas, Alabama won 30-10. Thanks to Dairy Queen, I was there.
Other Games I'll be Watching:
TCU at Texas Tech - TCU's starting QB is out for "several weeks" and Tech is still using a true freshman walk on. If he leads them past the Frogs, it significantly impacts the race for the Big XII title.
Iowa at Iowa State - Okay, I won't actually watch this game...but I do like knowing who holds the Cy Hawk trophy.
* Let's not concern ourselves with who Dustin took shots at. Let's just send angry thoughts his way.
I wish that I could tell you that I had some strong memories of Notre Dame and Michigan, but I don't. I wish that I could tell you that I had strong feelings on either of those teams, but I won't. I wish I could tell you that I will be cheering for (or against) one of these storied programs, but I can't.
I do have some early positive memories about the Wolverines. A long time ago, kids, not every team, nor every bowl was available for you to watch. There was no internet, and no DVRs. So, if you did stumble upon one of those rare games, you either got sucked in or indifferently turned the channel and moved on with your day. I remember being mesmerized by Jaime Morris and the Wolverines in the Hall of Fame Bowl. It made such an impression that I rooted for them the following year when they won the NCAA basketball tournament. I was even wearing a Michigan jersey in the middle of the North Carolina section when "the Timeout" was called a few years later.
People tell me that I'm supposed to hate Notre Dame. I tried to for a while, but I don't. They are arrogant, entitled and have unfair advantages. But it seems that every advantage they have, my beloved Longhorns have similar circumstances. I have liked and rooted for Brian Kelly since his U of Cincinnati days. I was entranced by the Manti Te'o story last year (as you were too, admit it). I don't particularly like Rudy, I just can't hate Notre Dame for that.
This Saturday the first and third winningest college football programs will be meeting. And, since Notre Dame is (sort of) joining the ACC, they are meeting for the last time in the foreseeable future. They each claim 11 national championships and have sent too many players to the NFL to count. This is why I'll be watching.
Other Games I'll be Watching:
South Carolina at Georgia - USC had a big win last week and UGA had a big loss...If UGA loses, their title hopes are done. If South Carolina wins, they have a very favorable schedule going forward.
Florida at Miami - Nostalgia...that and seeing what a Florida team with (almost) its full roster can do.
West Virginia at Oklahoma - With the Mountaineers rebuilding, this game isn't as exciting as it was last year. However, this game should show how far they have to come and will give us a better indication on how good (or bad) Oklahoma is.
Washington State at USC - Could this be the first big upset of Mike Leach's Wazzou career?
Dustin is clearly biased...but so are you. Let's all move on shall we? And thanks to Wikipedia for it's help.
I've had the pleasure of visiting 2nd Bar and Kitchen a handful of times, but with all of these restaurant posts, I wanted to visit it once more before I wrote about it. Before I get to the food though, I want to mention Congress Bar which is adjacent to 2nd. It's simply my favorite bar to watch the bartenders perform their craft. Eye droppers, test tubes, zesting...it's really a show when they are concocting their drinks. Even if you aren't drinking anything stronger than Austin tap water, it's worth going just to watch the show.
Back to 2nd...the food is fantastic. As I've said, I've had the chance to visit a handful of times before and since I've moved to Austin and they've always exceeded expectations. This time I went the safe route and ordered the Bar Congress Burger. I enjoyed it but the Pork Belly Bahn Mi that my sister ordered was so delicious that nothing else on the table could match it. You can't really go wrong with either of those. Nor can you go wrong with the Short Rib Sliders that my brother in law ordered. We started the whole thing off with fried buffalo pickles and each ended with a dessert (I had the peanut butter cookies...wow). It's was a great meal from start to finish.
The item that I would recommend above all others at 2nd is easily the Black and Bleu Pizza. Normally I'm not a big fan of red onions, but in this case, don't alter a thing on your first try. Everyone will get to experience what a true foodie (which I am definitely not) gets to experience with this pizza. Without fail you get how the blue cheese and black truffle mix perfectly with each other to make this beautifully sweet taste that easily balances out the onions. The pork belly confit melts in your mouth and the medjool dates complete the experience. It is an eye opening culinary experience that speaks to every palate. It is amazing.
If I can't convince you to try the black and bleu, seemingly everything else on the menu will be the best thing you've eaten that day. Enjoy!