Those who know me well know that I have suffered my fair share of sports heartaches. After all, I am an Astros fan, and was
an Oilers fan. Someday I might become a Texans fan, if somebody can ever state a plausible argument why the Texans are deserving of fan[atical] support.
I'm also a huge fan of Rice baseball and football. It hasn't been terribly tough to support their baseball program, which has developed into one of the best in the nation, year in and year out. Their football program, though? Well, not so much.
My father has held season tickets to the Rice football games for something like two decades, and even has one of those special assigned parking spaces. (You should see how enraged he gets when he arrives at the game and finds somebody else parked in his space, but that--and the impotence of the Rice Campos to deal with such an event--is a story for another day.) I sat through my fair share of terrible Rice football.
I also had the good fortune of being a student at Rice during the nationally-televised upset of Texas. The monsoon-like weather was some of the worst one could imagine for a football game, but we didn't care. We stormed the field and tore down the goalposts nonetheless.
In 1996, my idealism died. The Owls went 7-4, and yet were not invited to a bowl game. I furiously fired off letters to the bowls that had WAC tie-ins, including the bowl that chose Utah (whom Rice had annihilated 51-10) over Rice. I also watched a whole host of teams with lesser records get to enjoy the postseason. I learned a very hard lesson about college sports and money. I wasn't surprised, then, when the Owls finished 7-4 a year later and were still unrewarded with a bowl game, or in 2001--when we finished 8-4 and still stayed at home. The answer, quite simply, is that the only way Rice can get into a bowl game is to win the conference title outright so that bowls have no choice but to invite them.
Well, we know that isn't going to happen this year; Cougar High will clinch the C-USA West title with a win today. (Oh, but for a few breaks here and there in the UH game, and the Owls not taking Tulane lightly...) Yet I continue to see references
to Rice and "bowl game" in the same sentence together. I've also seen that both ESPN and CNNSI.com have picked Rice to appear in the Armed Forces Fort Worth Bowl.
I'd like to believe that it could come true. That a bowl game could look past a school's historically terrible (at least in the last 50 years) program and poor attendance records. What a story this could be: a new coach comes in and turns around a one-win team with essentially the same personnel as in the year before. A woeful offense responds to a brilliant young offensive coordinator by posting 40+ points a game.
We can't hope that our "story" will get us to a bowl game, though, if we don't first take care of business against ECU and SMU, though. We need to win both of these.
And then hope that somebody gives these kids a chance.