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06joyce1.jpg (9804 bytes) FROM THE DISTAFF END OF THE BENCH

Notes and Comments from Rice's No. 1 Fan

By Joyce Pounds Hardy '45

We were not cheering for you tonight
There should have been some "we's" in there somewhere

07coachcdctghugvx35.jpg (44697 bytes)
Funny, isn't it, how quickly life can sometimes turn on a dime (Mark Anderson photo)

HOUSTON (Jan. 12) -- This has not been a good day.

I have been in shock. My Rice doctor son even called from the hospital, knowing I'd just have to be in critical condition, to see if he needed to meet me in the emergency room. Another son came to the house, knowing I needed to vent my hurt and my anger and my disappointment on someone, and he listened to me even though he was hurting, too. I should have written this column earlier in the day, but believe me, my thoughts would have melted my modem.

I thought I had written my last column for 2006 and had not intended to write another one any time soon. But I am mad -- mad at a system and a society that accept as the norm the practice of our coaches, our role models of integrity, our teachers of rules and responsibility, that it is all right to breach their promise so easily, to break their word so casually, to sign a contract they honor only until a better one comes along, to be dishonest about their intentions. The sports I know and love are becoming opportunistic spring-boards, and I don't like it.

Since when doesn't a signature on a contract mean anything? Since when can a man preach "trust me, believe in me, follow me, I am here for you" and walk away within a year with a clear conscience? Oh, I am sure he prayed about it, but I don't think God gave him the answer he wanted to hear. I'm sure God didn't say, "Sure, me boy, follow the money with My blessing. Everybody else does." Or maybe his God did, who am I to judge?

Once more because of Todd Graham I was close to tears this morning, not because of heartfelt pride and gratitude as I had been so often during these last five months; no, I took Todd Graham's desertion of our program personally.

How many times did he look us in the eye and say "I love Rice University, I love what Rice stands for--the real student-athlete, I am here for the long haul, whatever it takes to win a National Championship like Coach Wayne Graham did in baseball, I will do it. Trust me. Trust me."

And we did.

Honor

Ex-coach Graham, you preached to the players that they must honor the men who played for Rice before them, that tradition is the heart and soul of a great team, that if we wanted to be a championship team, we had to look like a championship team.

You designed that beautiful equipment truck with a montage of Rice's great football players, great athletes and great coaches, and you put your face, bigger than life, right in the middle of it. I never thought that we would have to air-brush you out so soon.

Yes, Todd, we bought into your dream.

You were empowered. You came into our athletic program and fired everybody, some of them were good, dependable, hard-working, loyal people. You wiped the slate clean, you brought in your own passionate, devoted, competent, loyal staff. And we said OK.

You raised millions of dollars and changed the face of our facilities. And we said, great.

You wooed old football players, alums, faculty, administration, trustees, students, long lost fans and infused them all with your enthusiasm, your passion. And we said, amazing.

You gave us the courage to hope again. And we said, thanks.

You transformed our players into a team of winners and took us to a bowl game. And we cheered.

But we are not cheering for you tonight.

PS: (Saturday)

Dear Readers,

I wish yesterday I had voiced all the pain and disbelief and disappointment our young players are having to cope with because of the sudden back-stabbing exit of a two-faced lying coach who had just preached his "Trust me. I'm not going anywhere" sermon, just before he slinked out the door in the middle of the night.

I wish I had said how I truly felt about the embarrassment of being "used" by a self-serving coach who took us all for fools and sucked us in with his me-me-me rhetoric. In retrospect, I should have been forewarned because of all the "I's" in his promises, I can, I will, I am. There should have been some "we's" in there somewhere.

I did discover this morning that the sports writers knew something about Rice Athletics other than crises and criticism, that they had followed our year of transformation even though they seldom wrote about it, that there were others on the Chronicle staff besides MK who cared what happened on South Main.

Lopez surprised me, Justice proved again with his words that he admired how Rice played the game. The sports casters were philosophical, even kind, in their comments on the sandbagging tactics of our ex-coach. Even they were shaking their heads over the power of money.

Irony

I found it ironic that Thursday night, simultaneously with the sleazy departure of Todd Graham, the Association of Rice Alumni was bestowing upon Wayne Graham an Honorary Alumnus Award, only one of two in existence, and he received a standing ovation from 500 mostly gray-headed Alums.

What a contrast. I know that the University of Texas offered Wayne (a UT ex) the moon to leave Rice and become their head coach and he said no.

There are still men of their word in the coaching ranks, although they seem to be few and far between.

I was proud of Chris Del Conte, who had developed a symbiotic relationship with Todd Graham, for putting a brave, heart-rending, even optimistic face on the news, for saying that Rice will not play the money game. Just as I was proud of President Leebron for saying that Rice will move forward and do it the "Rice Way," which has become synonymous with the right way.

Our last forward movement was a giant step for Rice Athletics, and I have no doubt that our next move will be an affirmation of our commitment, so hard won a year ago, to continued excellence and support of our whole athletic program. The pride we feel in our program has been won by the Student-Athletes themselves, by their hard work, their dedication, their dreams.

And believe me, those dreams are still alive and well at Rice.

Then again maybe I can let it go. Maybe less is better. Maybe tonight I can sleep.

Maybe tonight I can turn off my heart.

Email Joyce.....                  Check out more of Joyce's columns below....

Editor's note:  Joyce Pounds Hardy graduated from the Institute in its athletics glory days.   She sent a whole generation of Hardy children to Rice, as both students and student- athletes  -- that familiarly-named classmate of yours was almost surely one of them.  Joyce has been among Rice's most omnipresent, loyal, never-say-die fans since before most of you were born -- and you'd better believe she's managed to develop an opinion or two about Rice athletics over the years. We're extremely happy to be able to welcome her back to our pages.  For those of her many fans, there's nothing more reassuring than to know that Joyce is back.  And to those of you relative newcomers who haven't had the opportunity yet to sample her thoughts, be prepared for a treat -- and be ready, also, to learn some things you didn't know about our wonderful school and its rich history.

A Christmas Card to the Rice Football Team
06troygift2.jpg (96720 bytes)
Photos by Buck Hardy

xmasholly.jpg (34054 bytes)HOUSTON (Dec. 23) -- I just wanted to thank you for the best Christmas present I have had in a long, long time: the opportunity to be a part of that huge exuberant flock of Rice Owls cheering for their team at the New Orleans Bowl yesterday.

06troygift35a.jpg (66320 bytes)I am still smiling because of your gift, because of the joy and the excitement my fellow Owls and I shared on that trip. New Orleans is always special, but 6,800 Rice football fans came together in an even more special way. Young and old, students, alumns, administration, trustees, faculty, staff and friends were of one heartbeat, one very proud heartbeat.

The game itself wasn't memorable, but the journey there was, and is, and will be for a long time. I'll admit that I said more than my fair share of "dadgumits" and one pretty loud "damn."  I hurt for you as you tried so hard for 60 long minutes to turn things around, but no one in front of me or behind me or on either side of me ever quit cheering.

After the game was over and I watched you leave the field with your heads down; I found myself praying that you would look up and see at least 5,000 Rice fans from goal line to goal line, still standing, still clapping, honoring you until the last man disappeared into the tunnel.

If you didn't see it, then close your eyes and picture that most beautiful tribute to a team we all admire and appreciate more than you will ever know.

I wish each of you a joyful Christmas and may God bless you everyone throughout the New Year.

--Joyce

The party has just begun

HOUSTON (Dec. 18, 11 p.m.) -- If I could turn back the clock -- not far, just back to 7pm tonight, Monday, December 18th -- my Christmas wish would be for each one of you to have been among the Rice Owl fans who were celebrating our 13th football dinner.

True, there were only 12 dinners scheduled, but from the first pronouncement of Coach Todd Graham's shared vision for 2006, he said there will be a number 13 dinner to celebrate our going to a Bowl Game! It would not have surprised me to see fireworks exploding over the football field below.

The excitement, the joy, the camaraderie, the pride that filled the R Room tonight was all the fireworks we needed. The place was sold out, people were turned away because the fire code wouldn't allow anymore bodies in the door. Laughter rolled from one end of the room to the other and back again. We heard from Jim Crownover, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, how Todd Graham had convinced him and President Leebron that Rice deserved excellence in Athletics as well as Academics, but he needed them to believe that he could do it with their help. And he got it. Big time. Because he wouldn't take "No" for an answer.

Next to the podium came our new equally invigorating, smart, funny, dynamic Athletic Director, Chris Del Conte, who brought the most amazing and unusual message that there were 200 students in Willy's Pub waiting on these seniors to join the rest of the team and them in a send-off celebration to the Bowl Game. Talk about a super salesman, he made Santa Clauses out of some most generous fans who on hearing that some 600 students wanted to be at the game but needed help buying those $40 tickets. Going to New Orleans was going to be expensive enough. And Voila!  600 tickets for those students were in the Santa's bag. I guess the (I have run out of superlatives) greatest news that Chris had for the assembly was that Rice had sold 7000 tickets to the New Orleans Bowl, more than any other team going to a bowl. Friends, that's a miracle.

When the man of the hour, our Coach of the Year Todd Graham himself, stood at the podium, smiling at the standing ovation, humble and serious, thanking us for giving him the chance to teach and coach at Rice University, I got those tears in my eyes again. He gave well-deserved credit to his staff, introducing each in turn and thanking them for sharing his passion, his energy, his goal of winning with honor, his dedication to resurrecting pride in Rice football.

He praised the 87 players who had trusted him to do what he said he would do, who had stuck with him through 110 degree practice sessions, learning new ways, new plays, accepting demands of time, discipline, and belief in their fellow players. He said that he remembered the look on every player's face when he addressed them on that first morning a year ago, saying they thought I was crazy, but I could see the hunger in their eyes to be winners.

He gave special praise to the "honored guests, the 13 seniors" who had become the leaders of a remarkable football team. A lot of seniors at the beginning of the season who were within sight of graduation opted not to stick around and tackle the monumental task of learning a totally new system with a new set of coaches. We gave the seniors who climbed aboard in spite of a heavy commitment standing O's as was their due, hugs from me as is my way. They no longer wonder who that red headed old lady is coming at them with her arms open wide and a bag of Hot Tamales in her hand at practice. And that's a good thing. 

Andray Downs spoke for the seniors, saying that when Coach Graham started talking to them about being a championship team with championship coaches and facilities and equipment, he thought, "whew, this guy is blowing smoke, has he looked at this place? We're almost sharing shoes." But he said that Coach made them into a team of believers. Last Friday, as I was watching practice, I chanced to sit by Robbie Heos, a senior, who was nursing a sprained ankle (I performed a "laying on of the hands" so I am sure he will play Friday), anyway, I asked him what he thought about the changes this year, and he was quick to point out the difference in the coaching staff itself, "they are young and energetic and innovative. They inspire us to be the best."

That about says it all. Kudos from the heart to our All American Jarrett Dillard and our Championship Team. For those of you who were there with me tonight, the evening was a keeper, wasn't it? What a Christmas gift for all of us. For those of you who weren't, meet us in New Orleans, the party has just begun, and if you're lucky, you will be first in line for tickets to Dinner # 14.

Coach Graham, my bags are packed

HOUSTON (Nov. 27) --Tears?  They came in disbelief, in joy, in gratitude, in celebration. They came with the sharing of a long buried dream come true, with family and friends standing beside me. The scoreboard read Rice 31, SMU 27 and the game was over.

'I wished for my husband, Tom, to have been there to cele- brate with us, but then he had a better view than we did.'

There were 12 loved ones with me that sunny Saturday afternoon. Three of my sons, who had put up with a rabid mother owl all of their lives, turned to look at me and see my reactions. One after the other they came and hugged me, silently, in the midst of raucous jubilation, no words had to be said. Our Rice had done the impossible.

Some of my children are Longhorns, but that day they were all Rice Owls again, the blue and gray blood that they were born with pumping as strongly as it had when they were kids sitting year after year in the end zone of Rice Stadium. The week had already held so many blessings: our family reunion, Thanksgiving, my birthday, the engagement of a granddaughter, the announcement of a great- grandson on the way. Surely my cup runneth over.

The reverence of the moment did not last long. All of the pent-up emotions that had roiled under the fašade of “that’s the way it is,” burst into the sunshine like fireworks on the Fourth of July. My sons and wives, their best friends and my best friends rejoiced until the long blue line of policemen squeezed the last of the celebrants off of the field. And still we savored the victory with awestruck friends on the concourse, on the apron around the stadium, in the parking lot, reluctant to go home, reluctant to leave this moment in time to history.

'If Todd Graham doesn’t climb to the top of the list for NCAA Coach of the Year or CUSA Coach of the Year, it will be a travesty of poll- sters.  The honor would not be just for win- ning games, but for character, perseverance, courage, vision.'

 

Even today, the tears come with pride. I wished for my husband, Tom, to have been there to celebrate with us, but then he had a better view than we did. Probably Mr. Neely was up there smiling too, and hopefully, he and Tom had reconciled their priorities. I forgot to add to Tom’s list of reasons for saying ‘no” to Mr. Neely’s insistence he go out for football—Tom was on the Rice track team as well as being pre-med and holding down three jobs.

After staying up until 2:00am , I got up at 7:30am Sunday, ran out to get the Houston Chronicle and savor an unbelievable front page article and photograph that said, “Rice Has Heart And Bowl.”  I reveled in a story and picture on the front page of the Sports section entitled “Grabbing The Glory.” I went to church, hugged and was hugged by every Owl that I saw, every Longhorn, Aggie, Tiger, Sooner, Red Raider, and unknown, and thanked the Good Lord for prayers answered. I rewatched every sportscast that I had taped the night before, and reread every line in the paper about the Rice Owls. Then I took a nap.

Now that I am almost back to earth, I rewind to the beginning of the season, to the words of a new coach who kept saying he didn’t want to just win games, he wanted to win the Conference and go to a Bowl—this year. Yeah, sure. I didn’t pack my bags. But then, again, I wanted to believe so badly that someday, somehow, in my lifetime, it might happen again. I was there for the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl, age 36--as my children announced to the world Saturday. 45 years is a long time between Bowls, but I would have kept on cheering, even if this day were still in the future. Thank Heavens, it isn’t. Now maybe those who snickered about Rice football and joked about liking gravy on their Rice, will snicker no more. Rice Baseball shut them up in 2003, and I’m liking our chances of a repeat in 2006.

'I didn’t pack my bags. But then, again, I wanted to believe so badly that some day, somehow, in my lifetime, it might happen again.'

If Todd Graham doesn’t climb to the top of the list for NCAA Coach of the Year or CUSA Coach of the Year, it will be a travesty of pollsters.  The honor would not be just for winning games, but for character, perseverance, courage, vision. He taught his young players that it was all right to cry for a fallen comrade, to comfort those who hurt, to respect those who wore the Rice uniforms before them, to ask for and thank publicly the alumni, the fans, and especially the Rice students for their support, to show gratitude to their parents, to their coaches, and to Rice itself with a sincerity that touches the heart.

Kudos to the assistant coaches, too, who were inspired and inspiring, relentless in their teaching and relentless in their encouragement of their young charges. Much credit goes to them for their hard work in making Coach Graham’s dream come true.

If Jarrett Dillard doesn’t win the Biletnikoff Award for his record-setting numbers as a receiver, his unbelievable catches for touchdowns, his confidence and acceptance of responsibility, his talent for doing what needs to be done, then I will probably claim politics. I hope sentimentality for seniors does not deprive him of the honor he deserves.

Every player on that Rice team deserves a medal for playing like demons-on-a-mission. The defense’s holding SMU to two field goals on the one yard line was magnificent, Joel Armstrong’s overcoming some rough plays to spiral that football perfectly when it was do or die; Chase Clement who quarterbacked us to this point in history and had to watch this game from the sidelines. Andray Downs, Brian Raines, George Chukwu, Chad Price, Quinton Smith, Mike Falco, Clark Fangmeier, and all the other unsung but not unpraised heroes of the lines. We give thanks to them this Thanksgiving, 2006.

Coach Graham, my bags are packed now; and even if the Bowl game is on Christmas Day and my family has to cook its own Christmas dinner, I’ll be there.

 

This week's watchword: smart

HOUSTON (Nov. 22) -- This week I’m going with smart. Coach Graham has said over and over the reason his new system has worked, complex as it is with changes at the line on every play, is because this team is made up of smart kids. He said that was a giant plus for Rice when he decided to take over a program with a 1-10 record and a team that had been coached to go over right tackle, over left tackle, over right tackle. Even I could call the plays.

This coach didn’t just hope, he believed, and he made the team believe in him and in themselves, and now he has made believers out of us. As the season has progressed, game after game has proven to be a miracle comeback, and yet perhaps one cannot call the results of hard work, high expectations, and undaunted optimism a mere miracle.

Coach Graham came in and wiped the slate clean, he started from scratch as an artist would take a fresh canvas, and even though the paints were the same and the colors were unchanged, his vision emerged with confidence and clarity. We, the loyal few who clung to memories of what used to be and battered dreams of what could be, dared to become excited.

He promised that his team would be the best disciplined, the best trained, and the hardest working team in the Conference, and that his coaching staff would be the best disciplined, the best trained, and the hardest working staff in the Conference. Now after surviving an 0-4 start against behemoth opponents, his/our/Rice’s team has won 6 out of the last 7 games. Is there anyone left who does not believe in his promises?

After Saturday’s win over East Carolina, as the clock reached 7 seconds and Fangmeier, our freshman walk-on, kicked a 40 yard field goal and the score board flashed Rice19-ECU 18, I saw it in slow motion. The scene below me was unreal, ECU’s 3 seconds of futility ending the game was a blur, my brain was computing as if its battery were low. Everyone around me was jumping up and down, the students were pouring onto the field, screaming like banshees waving those crazy blue wiener-looking things they had bonged together the entire game, the team was pumping helmets in the air, bumping chests, the entire field was a swirling sea of blue. It wasn’t until my son turned around with a bouncing smile that my switch flipped on and I went bonkers, too.

I didn’t leave the stadium until there was no one left on the field. My trainer would have been proud of how long I jumped up and down. I have never left a game early in my whole life, as my children will attest, even when the game was painful to watch. Now my fetish was vindicated. But then, you were there—probably one of my fellow jumpers. How sweet it was.

Maybe now, people would quit talking about the glory days of Jess Neely. Thinking back I don’t believe that Coach Neely won too many more than half of his games, but he was a legend. Rice was always a threat, always competitive. Coach Neely was adamant about the student half of the student-athlete. Afterall, he wasn’t just a hard-nosed coach, he was a lawyer and education was important to him, just as it is to Coach Graham. Smart makes up for lot. And Coach Neely was not above scouting the student body for walk-ons.

I knew Coach Neely in his early years at Rice, the war years. I was a freshman and even then I loved sports. True, I was an athlete although women weren’t called athletes then, we just “played.” I loved athletes too because they were the best looking guys on campus. What’s not to love? They were smart too. I know because I married one.

He had approached my husband, Tom, and asked him to come out for the team. Tom had been All-State at Lamar High School and was enjoying Intramurals at Rice. Tom, who was pre-med and working three jobs, said “No.” Later after one of his intramural games on campus, Coach asked Tom again and Tom said “No” again. Mr. Neely, as Tom always called him, was not happy. He got red in the face and said, “Son, you had better get your priorities straight!” and stomped off. He never spoke to Tom again.

I also knew Coach Neely at the end of his years at Rice, when I came back to finish my degree. The date on my Rice ring says 1967, but I will always be heart and soul with my Class of 1945. OK, so I had 20 years and five children between my sophomore and my junior year, it gave me a unique perspective on campus.

A lot had changed, the football players were young enough to be my sons, but they were still good-looking and smart, and I was still their greatest fan. Mr. Neely was still scouting for walk-ons from the student body, and our record was usually middle of the pack. Through 6 or 7 following coaches, we fans hoped and accepted our fate.

Rice was not a power house but they were respected. If I remember correctly, this year the latest computation of NCAA graduation rates for football teams covering the last 6 years is Rice at 88%, Texas 14%, Houston 49%. We took some consolation in that. But Coach Todd Graham did not, he saw it as a means to an end. He likes to coach smart kids.

They are quick to learn, if they don’t understand something they ask “why.” Once the players understood the new concepts of their coaches, they executed with confidence. Those of us who merely watch have witnessed Coach Graham running up and down the sidelines, lined with players, yelling at each one, scolding, cajoling, teaching, encouraging, questioning, in rapid fire as is his style, hyper to the max.

They’re learning on the job, they trust the system, and they believe. After all they are smart kids. 

The secret is out -- it's the hot tamales

HOUSTON (Nov. 15) -- Not only do dreams come true, they are coming true for the Blue And Gray at a rapid and consistent pace.

I can't take credit for the Owls recent success even though I finally (after two years of trying) got to give the football players those red HOT TAMALES to fire them up. Come to find out that Coach Graham loves Hot Tamales and said "come on down." So at practice last Wednesday, I walked down 44 steps to the field, carrying ten pounds of candy, and was greeted as if I were a VIP.

Coach Graham came walking over to give me a hug and get a handful, then came Coach Applewhite, and Kelly (super equipment manager), and then a huge number 8 Rice football jersey, complete with shoulder pads, sauntering toward me without any legs. It was Mike, Coach's five year old son, who had been working out with the team and was heading to the showers. Kelly gave him a hot tamale and told him it was probably too hot for him, but he said, "Ummmmm," took a big handful and walked on off toward the locker room. His father's son, indeed.

Right after that, half of the tired, sweaty, nice Rice football players came over, gave me a hug, took handsful or cupsful of those little red hot suckers and went and sat down on the benches. Then Coach walked me across the field to meet the offensive line, and I got the same treatment, plus some thanks and some tired smiles. (Eat your heart out, girls.) I told Coach Graham how surprised I was (not at their kindness) but at their enthusiam at meeting me. He said, "Well, I did give them a ten minute break when you arrived."

Nonetheless, they were on fire against Tulsa and I couldn't be more proud.This week I'm going down on Friday afternoon, and you can bet your bottom dollar no one will have a bigger smile than I will. The good news is that this is Homecoming weekend and I will be able to cheer for them in person and bask in the warmth of their new fire.

Last Saturday, I listened to the game on my new hundred-dollar transistor radio, which is the only way I can get that #@&*%! radio station, and I found myself holding my breath for long periods of time. Then I discovered that I could hardly wait for Rice to get the ball and score again. Clement to Dillard is a beautiful thing. Interesting how Tulsa worked so hard to shut down Quinton and let Jarrett out of the bag, meaning that sometimes they just had him one on one--big mistake.

We did have a little bit of trouble with the play clock. I had gotten used to the fact that Chase never got squeezed by the count down, but this day, the clock was snapping at us. The kicking game is back on track, thank heavens, and the defense have turned into bulldogs on turnovers--four as a matter of fact. Tenacious is becoming a well-earned adjective for all our players this year..

There was no denying that Tulsa's defense was brutal. And well it should have been since Coach Graham had coached most of those defensive players for three years. Our team took some wicked blows, but fortunately we kept on ticking and clicking. And no one was more proud of his Rice team than Coach Graham. Unless, it was those of us who had suffered very few W's in Rice's column in far too many years.

Winning is fun. I had forgotten how good it feels. If I am dreaming, please don't wake me up until the season is over.

Good to be alive and full of hope again

HOUSTON (Nov. 9) -- "Hope is the last thing that dies in man," to quote Rochefoucauld, and since I know this for a fact, I am here to tell you that hope and I and the 2006 Rice football team are still alive and kicking butt on the both ends of the Rice bench. And a beautiful sight it is to see.

I have cheered for every Rice team and coach since Jess Neely (he was probably the only one who was ever older than I was) and win or lose, grind it out or let it fly, I have been in the stands pumping my arms up and down, flapping those war owl wings, and cheering for the blue and gray since I was 16 years old. Through good years and bad, rain or shine, it didn't matter, I was there with my husband, Tom, and my five kids in tow. Loyal to a fault, just ask my now grown sons who have had to put up with me and the fact that I have never left a game early in all these years. Sometimes this was painful.

Never has Rice had a coach, young as he is, arrive with a comet on his tail. He streaked across the sky and lit up old players, tired fans, dubious trustees, indif- ferent students, cynical professors, sleepwalking staff, and a public that had forgotten Rice played football.

An historical note: in 1949, when the construction of the stadium was under way, (it only took Brown and Root nine months to build it, working 24 hours a day) Rice sent out notices to all alums that in order to buy a season ticket for football, we had to buy a one time option, costing $200 for each seat. The option would be good for 20 years.

My young doctor husband, Tom, Rice '43, was still in the Navy following World War II, and with three children, we didn't have $400. So Rice let us pay it off at $5 a month, no carrying charge. It was the first thing we had ever charged and we were scared to death. They were probably the most valuable things we owned. When Tom finally came home from the Korean War and we moved back to Houston for good, those tickets were our pride and joy. We never missed a game after that.

Believe it or not, you youngsters, the stands were packed in those days (70,000 fans) for the old Southwest Conference games. Oh, how we hated some of those teams (only in games of course).  Ferocious competition, blood on the line, bragging rights for the year, all Texas teams except Arkansas: A&M, Texas, Baylor, SMU, TCU and our our beloved Rice. Texas Tech did not join the SWC until 1960.

Our seats were # 1 and 2 on the fifty yard line, East side. Of course seats #1 and 2 on the other side of the imaginary fifty yard line were the visitors. The competition was so fierce that a Boy Scout was stationed on every row to separate the rabble rousers--us--and the Aggies mostly because they stood the whole game ON the seats.

I sent the President of A&M a registered letter telling him that Rice had a tradition too--"being able to see the North End Zone, and we would appreciate it if he would tell his cadets to at least just stand down on the floor.." Even though he signed for the letter, he never answered me. So they kept on standing on top of the seats, sawing varsity's horns off, and kissing after each touchdown, which made it even worse.

The crowds have thinned, much to my regret. The old Southwest Conference was special; it seemed as if everyone in Texas had a relative on one of the teams and homegrown rivalries were fierce.  The WAC spread us out and who cared about opponents who stretched some 5000 miles West of home. The Conference USA is going to be better, but now our competition covers seven different states, all East. No more nexr door rivalries, except Houston. But then you know all of this.

One thing hasn't changed, however, the heart and spirit of our Rice players. And into this orphaned, near-death football progran came Todd Graham. He put the Energizer Bunny to shame. Never has Rice had a coach, young as he is, arrive with a comet on his tail. He streaked across the sky and lit up old players, tired fans, dubious trustees, indifferent students, cynical professors, sleepwalking staff, and a public that had forgotten Rice played football.

Our amazing team, most of whom had to learn an entirely new system--an obviously complex schematic set of plays--offense and defense--that has the growing fan base in a state of shock. I never thought that I would live long enough to hear the radio announcer (lousy as our radio stations are) say that Rice has sent out five receivers!  FIVE. I have pleaded for years to at least send out two, with no luck. So I am in heaven. When I watch the CD's of the games, I find myself having to rerun the plays because I can't believe that Jarrett caught that ball or that Q got through the hole that wasn't there, or that seven different receivers are catching Chase's passes, or that the line is holding the opponent on the 2 yard line, fourth down and taking over the ball.

Oh it's a new day on South Main, and it's good to be alive and full of hope again!

 

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