espnW: Texas Longhorns
The first serves in the 2013 NCAA women's volleyball tournament will be struck today, and the 64-team field features plenty of aces as well as a few floaters. In the 32-year history of the tournament, 10 different champions have been crowned. Seven are in the 2013 field, including reigning champion and top-seeded Texas, which also claimed the crown in 1988. The other former champions are Stanford (six titles), Penn State (five), Hawaii (three), Nebraska (three), Southern California (three) and Washington (one). Only two teams -- Penn State and Stanford -- have earned bids to all 32 tournaments. Aside from the seasoned programs, there are four teams making their tournament debuts in 2013: Alabama State, Duquesne, Hampton and IUPUI. The semifinals and championship will be held in Seattle Dec. 19 and Dec. 21 and aired on ESPN2.
The hype around Texas-Ole Miss had been mounting for months. If there's one thing Oxford is good at, it's gossip. Had I heard all the hotels were booked and houses were renting for $20,000? That ESPN's "College GameDay" was coming? Was I aware Bevo would be in the Grove? Or all the past Texas governors would be here? And Matthew McConaughey rented out the City Grocery restaurant and bar for the whole weekend?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I'd heard it all. Eye roll.
It got so out of hand the rumors sparked their own #TexasGameRumors Twitter trend.
"2pac has been living in Oxford the whole time, and is making his re-appearance in oxford with a duet with george straight," wrote @BobbyMeinhold.
"Lance Armstrong is biking from Austin to Oxford and has rented out highway 6 while he's here," said @wesleywalls.
I tried to hunker down, run my errands early in the week and avoid the Kroger rush. It proved impossible. On Wednesday, I ducked into a department store and was bombarded. "Do you know the weather forecast for Saturday," a frantic woman standing by a rack of red dresses asked.
The university doesn't allow tailgate setup on campus until 10 o'clock Friday night, but as early as 10 that morning, the Grove was full of fans who would wait there a full 12 hours to save their spot. One of my best friends, a bartender, called me after her Friday lunch shift. She had sold 10 gallons of Bloody Marys and was on her way to drop off Red Bull for the bartenders working that night.
People on the Square popped into restaurants yelling "Are you ready," prompting diners to erupt in the "Hotty Toddy" cheer. Frat boys bought rounds of Patron shots at 3 p.m.
The lines of traffic around the Square and down University Avenue looked like ants. The town had a Mardi Gras vibe.
Truthfully, though, I was partied out. It was the third home game in a row and I was tired, a little crabby and (as I wrote about last week) sick of fried chicken. I started wishing I had gone to Nashville with my friends to escape the insanity.
Kickoff wasn't until 8:15 p.m. and I wasn't sure I cared anymore. After the Friday boozing and all-day tailgating, the game seemed to be kind of an afterthought anyway. Ole Miss hasn't had a great football team in years and no one expected a victory. The saying "We may not win every game, but we've never lost a party," is cliché but true.
Walking into the stadium, though, I felt something I'd never felt before. Twenty minutes before game time, the crowd was electric. Players were dancing to the PA during warm-ups. Fans were on their feet, cheering for "The Star-Spangled Banner," cheering for the marching band, cheering for promos on the JumboTron. Red pompoms were shaking fast.
When Van Halen's "Right Now" started blasting, I got goose bumps.
Before heading back into the tunnel, the players stopped in front of the student section, soaking it in. They jumped up, reaching for fingers through the railings and chest-bumping each other. The fans lost it. It felt like Vaught-Hemingway might actually lift off.
It made me think about all those times I'd said how foolish dudes who painted their chests and go shirtless look; about the times I'd belittled the "nuts" who drive RVs across the country to games and brides who won't pick a wedding date until their team's schedule has been set. For once, my inner cynic was quiet.
The game started. Ole Miss got creamed. Final score: 66-31 Longhorns. But it didn't matter.
In that moment before kickoff, I didn't roll my eyes once.