Late to the Game: Who Is Your Favorite Unheralded Longhorn Athlete?

Late to the Game: Who Is Your Favorite Unheralded Longhorn Athlete?

Assistant editor Chris O’Connell isn’t from Texas; he’s from New Jersey. That’s OK though—he’s here now. But without growing up in a place that cherishes college sports the way many parts of the South—and especially Texas—do, Chris has taken it upon himself to learn more about all aspects of college athletics in a series we like to call Late to the Game.

Everyone loves Kevin Durant, even Sooners. Earl Campbell can do no wrong in Longhorns’ eyes. Vince Young won’t have to pay for a drink in Austin for the rest of his life. But what about everyone else? What about the athletes who didn’t win Heisman Awards, get drafted in the first round, or open a steakhouse? I went to the tape. And by “the tape,” I mean I nagged my Longhorn friends with a mass email.

First up is Jason Saldaña, BS ’01, who you might remember from a couple weeks ago. He’s the guy who likes strawberry Oreo Blizzards. He also likes David Thomas.

To me, a damn Yankee, that means one thing: My pal Saldaña loves square burger patties and Frosties. But alas, he tells me I’ve got the wrong Dave Thomas.

“Every time I see old clips from the 2005 team I feel like David Thomas should be my favorite.”

But why was Thomas, BS ’05, Life Member, so important to that BCS National Championship-winning team?

Saldaña explains: “As I’ve gotten older and more boring, it has become more obvious that most great football teams have great tight ends.”

In fact, Thomas had a game-high 10 receptions for 88 yards in the 2006 Rose Bowl. Thomas was also a part of the Super Bowl XLIV-winning New Orleans Saints, and played in another, a loss to my Giants as a member of the Patriots.

Makes sense to me. And just for the record: In my opinion, Saldaña has aged like a box of fine wine.

So, one vote for a football player. Surely Shane Scott, BFA ’01, will have a different answer. He gives me seven to choose from, and though I love his nomination of Justin Tucker (“give a kicker some love”), we’ll go all the way back to the late-’80s and Travis Mays.

Mays passes a critical part of the Late to the Game test right away: awesome nickname. In the 1989-90 season, Texas made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament on the backs of three men: Lance Blanks, Mays, and current Australian basketball coach Joey Wright. The name for this wrecking crew? The BMW Scoring Machine. That’ll do.

After a brief career in the NBA, Mays went overseas, playing for 10 years in Greece, Israel, Turkey, and Italy. He is now associate head coach of the Texas women’s basketball team, which is very cool. Check him out, bowtie game on point:

Next, I need a female perspective. I’m hoping my friend Ashlee Jahn, BJ ’12, will vote for an obscure women’s basketball player, maybe a rower, or anything off the gridiron. But of course she tells me about another football player.

“Tarell Brown helped the Longhorns win the National Championship,” Jahn says. “He broke his arm when going for the ball in the fourth quarter, but continued to cheer his team on to victory from the locker room.”

She’s right. Brown was an important, under-the-radar part of that 2005 Longhorn team, and a guy I had never heard of, even though he has been a solid starting cornerback for the 49ers and Raiders for almost a decade.

So what have I learned? UT has had a ton of great, under-appreciated athletes that everyone should know about it (even northerners like me): Chris Mihm, Quan Cosby, and James Brown are among others submitted by my friends. While the latter is not the Godfather of Soul, through my research for this piece, I’ve discovered that Brown was only the second black quarterback to start an entire season at Texas. The first was Donnie Little in 1978, and now I’ve fully flung myself down the Wikipedia wormhole.

What about your vote? Got a favorite pole vaulter or an all-timer who finishes at the net—tennis, volleyball, or soccer? Leave a comment below.

Photo illustration by Melissa Reese


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