October 1, 2014. We were sad to learn of the recent death of Dick Miller. May his stories live on.
© Copyright 2014 by Dick Miller
I attended graduate school for two years at the University of Texas at Austin, just when their football team was at the peak of their winning ways. During one of those years, they won the national college football championship, and the windows of the clock tower on campus were illuminated in orange, the school color, in the shape of a number 1, in celebration. Texans certainly take their football very seriously.
That point was brought home to me quite clearly when I returned with my Houston-born wife to my home and job in Staten Island, New York. We had an opportunity to attend a football game with some friends at a small local private college. When we arrived at the stadium and took our seats, she turned to me and whispered, “This is it? My junior high school had a better stadium than this!” She even admitted to having injured her date at a high school football game by striking him in the head with her rosary beads during a moment of exuberance. Texans certainly do take their football very seriously.
But back to my school days in Texas. I resigned my substitute teaching position in Staten Island in order to accept a fellowship for the first year, and had saved up, knowing I’d be without income for that year. But then came a surprise: I was three credits short of a Masters degree in Science Education. It made sense to stay on for the following summer to qualify for the degree. I discovered a program in Educational Administration and Supervision that appealed to me, and for which I qualified for a full scholarship, so I signed up. It was during those classes that I met Marcia, a local educator, and her husband Jim.
If you are not quite ready and willing to accept the premise that Texans take their football seriously, Jim should convince you. He was an alumnus of UT Austin, and held season tickets for all their football games. Not only did he attend all the home games, he and Marcia usually travelled to attend away games, and Texas is a very large state. He was so dedicated to that team that he once attended a critical game while Marcia was in labor delivering one of their children (he made it to the hospital in time for the birth).
On top of the surprise of the summer session in which I met Marcia and Jim, I also found that I was completely captivated by the study of Educational Administration and Supervision, and by the professors who ran the program. In addition, there was an academic year fellowship program available for the following year. Was I interested? You bet!
The program was structured with the first term taking classes on campus and getting a tiny stipend, with the second term in a field assignment doing an internship with a much more generous stipend. As a result, I was able to remain in Austin for the next football season, but no longer was able to afford a ticket to watch the games, even at the bargain prices charged to students.
What follows is the ultimate Texas Football Fan story, as told to me after the fact by Marcia.
Jim and Marcia were attending a game between UT and Notre Dame, a very hot team in those days, and one of UT’s traditional archrivals. The game was much anticipated, and the atmosphere leading up to the game was electric. All 100,000 seats in the stadium were filled, and the game was hard-fought, with neither team able to get a big lead.
As the clock wound down to the final seconds, Marcia, the practical one, started moving in the direction of the exit, realizing what a mob scene it was going to be when the game was over. Jim, the ultimate fan, was riveted to his spot until the final second. Note that Marcia and Jim are quite tall: Marcia is nearly six feet, and Jim is six feet four inches, so they could see one another, even with everyone standing up. Marcia was watching Jim, but the reverse was not true: Jim’s eyes were on the game.
With 17 seconds left on the clock, UT kicked the winning field goal and the stadium exploded with cheers. I was watching the game on TV at my fiancée’s apartment about two miles away, and we could hear it with the sound on the TV turned off. Marcia turned to look at Jim and saw him jumping up and down, beating with his fists on the shoulders of the poor man sitting in front of him. The rest of the story she got from Jim after they got home.
Jim told her: “I was so excited I couldn’t contain myself. I was jumping up and down and thumping the poor guy in front of me when suddenly I felt my arms being pinned behind my back and a voice shouting in my ear above the crowd noise, ‘ No! No! No!’ I turned forward again and saw who I was beating on.”
It was Lyndon Johnson.
The guy who pinned Jim’s arms was a Secret Service man assigned to protect the former President who lived at his nearby ranch and enjoyed a game of football as much as any other Texan.
Jim turned to the President to apologize, with the crowd still roaring, and all he could manage to say was, “We won!”
Well, I suppose if you’re limited to just two words to say to a former President of the United States of America, they might as well be as joyful as those.
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