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Appreciating Texas Tech in the Moment

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The college football season is so short that taking time to appreciate the ephemeral greatness of what you’re looking at becomes more difficult by the day. We do bowl projections in April. Recruiting is year round. Mid-season firings have become standard operating procedure. Faster is better has become the rule, often at the cost of appreciating the rarities, quirks, or genuinely unique and rare moments in the game. ↵

↵Take the 2001 Miami team, for example. Sometimes teams are great, sometimes they are interesting, but rarely are they both great and full of interesting people. The 2001 Miami squad provides an example of that tiny logical intersection of interesting, great, loaded with talented and bizarre people like Clinton Portis (later known as Coach Janky Spanky) and Martin Bibla, perhaps the only lineman ever quoted in the New York Times describing his mother’s bra as a “Polish wallet.” ↵

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↵(Also, boggle at the backfield for that team: Portis, Willis McGahee, Najeh Davenport and Frank Gore. An embarrassment of baller dollars in the pimp bank is what that was, pure and simple.) ↵

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↵To continue the theme of conscious, deliberate acknowledgment of the glorious and temporary, take a moment to fully appreciate the peacock freak-beast lurching this way from Lubbock, the 2008 Texas Tech Red Raiders. ↵

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↵The Red Raiders pop at the seams with talent. System QB or not, Graham Harrell was the guy who said of Texas leaving 1:23 on the clock with a Longhorn lead, “They left us too much time to score.” He will pass for over 4,000 yards for the third straight season. This is insane, you know it, and yet it is still happening despite everyone knowing the Raiders are going to pass the ball 50 times a game, at least. ↵

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↵Michael Crabtree will coast easily past the 1,200 yard mark in receiving despite playing with the equivalent of a glowing red arrow pointing at him for opposing defenses. Twin running backs Shannon Woods and Baron Batch loosen the rivets of defenses by alternately blocking, running routes, and busting free in Texas Tech’s deceptively effective run game. Brandon Williams has 10 sacks on the year, is seventh nationally in the category, and legally owns 1/13th of Colt McCoy at this point after sacking him twice. The talent on this team is undeniably present and undeniably deep. ↵

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↵The chemistry and personality of this year’s model of the Red Raiders is particularly notable though. The offensive line shines in the oddball department. Rylan Reed is a 27-old-cancer survivor and former baseball player who, prior to his career anchoring the line for the astonishing Texas Tech offense, threw 97 mph fastballs in the minors. He can also bench 565 pounds, a school record. If you like, he can do 225 on the bench press 23 times in a row. ↵

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↵The oddness only gets deeper: Center Shawn Byrnes’ physique earned him the nickname “Kool-Aid” (large red torso, disproportionately small legs.) Louis Vasquez is called “The Burrito Tower.” Brandon Carter goes with a lip piercing, a mohawk, and face paint to give the “Mankind” moniker the appropriate costume. He happens to wear this on the football field. At every game. Like it's nothing. ↵

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↵The weird stems from the top and the bottom at Texas Tech. Head coach Mike Leach is famous for flying the Jolly Roger from the film tower at practice, driving 500 miles with his family in the car to get a fake Van Gogh of himself painted, and for doing radio interviews while simultaneously ordering a drive-in dinner. His weirdness is an established and documented quantity, and merits no further explanation here. ↵

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↵In need of further defense, though, is Leach and the Red Raiders’ skill. Located farther from any other school in Division One and posted up in a desolate corner of West Texas, Leach has routinely struck oil in the middle of what others would deem a football wasteland. ↵

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↵It did not come quickly, and it did not come without doubters, but Leach has never had a losing season at Tech, is 5-3 in bowls, and in his ninth season is holding four in a row and waiting on a straight draw before he sees the last two cards. He is a gambler, but not a mad gambler, and while he is what Bob Stoops calls a “different” coach, he is still a coach at heart. ↵

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↵If you doubt Leach’s essential coach-ness, then go back to what may be the second most important game of Leach’s career: the 2006 Insight Bowl against Minnesota, where the Raiders came back from 31 down to beat Minnesota in overtime in the greatest comeback in NCAA bowl history. That’s no hyperbole. No team has ever come back from that many points to win a bowl game, and no team has since. ↵

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↵In the second half, the Red Raiders were everything a good football team should be: tenacious, hell-bent on scoring points, physical, and running headlong to the finish, scoreboard be damned. After the game, a clearly spent Leach uncharacteristically came close to emotionally breaking down (Dick Vermeil he is not): ↵

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↵⇥"We talked at halftime that we had a great opportunity to make history, and the reason people come to Texas Tech is to play all 60 minutes," said Leach, who fought back tears during a postgame interview. ↵
↵That’s coachspeak at its finest, meaning rhetorically speaking Leach is just as coachy and basic as the rest. Being able to fire back from being 31 down, though, is what separates him from the pack, and what makes him and this Red Raiders team so authentically unique. If you blink and let the details distract you, you might miss just how great both the coach and his 2008 squad truly are.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.