BYU Pre-Game

The Right Stuff

You know I’ve been a devoted Longhorn Football fan for a long, long time. But before I had even heard of the Longhorns I was a devoted fan of the American space program. Just as I remember details of Longhorn games from as far back as the 60s, I remember details of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions from the 60s and early 70s. Our family lived in Kensington, Maryland in 1962 and I was lucky enough to be at home sick the day John Glenn orbited the earth so I watched the mission with my mother from start to finish on live television. For the next four or five years I spent a fair amount of time lying on my back with my legs propped up at a 90 degree angle on a living room chair pretending to be a Mercury astronaut on the launch pad.

My father worked for IBM and he was transferred to Houston in January of 1963 as part of the team that would be working with NASA on the Gemini program. My mother, in an effort buck me up when I was scared about my first day at Rummel Creek Elementary School, explained to me that the Astronauts and their families were going through this with us as they had also just moved to Houston. During the last Mercury flight in May of 63, I remember my 15 year old brother Clayton’s concern about the fate of astronaut Gordon Cooper because the on-board computer that guides the capsule through re-entry had failed. My father reassured our family that Cooper we be fine because he could perform the calculations that the computer was supposed to do and pilot the capsule home on his own.  My father was right. In fact Cooper engineered the most precise re-entry and splash-down of all the Mercury flights.  You see, my father knew that Cooper had the “right stuff.”

My parents Hub and Helen in our Kensington home in 1962

My parents Hub and Helen in our Kensington home in 1962

In the very early days of the space program when those menacing Russkies had Sputnik orbiting the earth, our rockets always seemed to blow up. Since 2010 while Oklahoma and previously second tier Kansas St. and Oklahoma St. were winning Big 12 Championships, the Longhorns’ seasons always seemed to blow up.

Just as NASA and the astronauts encountered uncertainties and needed the “right stuff’ in pioneering space exploration, the Longhorns will encounter uncertainties and need to have the “right stuff” this Saturday as they face their first real test of 2013. Okay that’s a tortured transition I know but remember I’m not getting paid for this. Now I’ll go on with the story.

For the Longhorns to prevent an early blow up of their 2013 season they need the defensive line to hold just as the astronauts needed their capsule’s heat shield to hold.  David Ash, like Gordon Cooper needs to show the “right stuff” and not shrink in stature as he did last year versus OU, Kansas and TCU. Two interceptions were inconsequential against New Mexico St. On Saturday two interceptions could be big trouble for the Longhorns in Provo.

Mike Davis fumbles and dropped passes could be just as disastrous for the Horns on Saturday as a faulty oxygen tank was for Apollo 13. Okay fumbles and dropped passes don’t create life and death situations like oxygen tank explosions do but they won’t be helpful if the Horns commit them against BYU.

Another area of concern is Texas’ offensive line. The coaching staff wasn’t satisfied with the first unit’s performance against over-matched New Mexico St. It will be interesting to see if the coaches will have the intestinal fortitude to go with the younger second unit early in the season on the road if the going gets tough.

My last item on the pre-launch check list is the special teams’ play.  Anthony Fera’s 68 yard punt last weekend was a thing of beauty but his other two punts were clunkers.  The Horns need consistency from Fera this year because it’s doubtful the offense is going to score 56 points every week. I’ve never liked Mack Brown’s tendency to have one kicker handling placements and punting. Justin Tucker, currently starring for the Baltimore Ravens, was one of Texas greatest all time field goal kickers but he was a lousy punter. Kick-off coverage has been problematic for Texas for years. A detail that I haven’t noticed anyone mention is the 35 yard kick-off return Texas allowed New Mexico St. Keep your eye on this Saturday night.

In November 1969 the historically cautious mission control team decided to go ahead with the launch of Apollo 12 (with Longhorn Alum Alan Bean on board) during a thunder storm. Lightning struck the Saturn V rocket 36 seconds into the mission and again at 52 seconds in. The strikes caused temporary problems with instrumentation and fuel cells but the Saturn V continued to fly correctly. The astronauts and the “steely eyed missile men” in mission control quickly worked through the problems caused by the lightning strikes and there was no permanent damage to the spacecraft. Apollo 12 proceeded on its flight to the moon.  That afternoon, home from school, I answered the phone. It was my father calling from his office at IBM. Before I handed the phone to my mother I plaintively asked him why NASA had gone through with the launch in a thunder storm. His answer was succinct and to the point, “because they got balls.”

Hub Frink far left at IBM circa 1968. Check out the dude with the pipe

Hub Frink, far left, at IBM circa 1968. Check out the dude with the pipe.

On paper BYU doesn’t look like a big problem for Texas Saturday night. If, for Texas, some systems do fail, if they encounter a storm in Provo, Mack Brown, David Ash and company will need to have….let’s just say, “the right stuff.”

HooK eM,


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  35. Put me on the mailing list for comments from the Dark Side…

  36. At Provo. Still a rumor there’s a game. The worst pre game scene in America. I brought coffee and tea to be kind of an outlaw.

  37. Seriously trying not to eat the cheese… but I sense last wknd was ultra conservative on both sides, playing a team with a new coach. That said, Oregon State’s loss to mighty Eastern Washington brings cause for concern, seeing how we struggled against them. More than anything, excited for this game & next to figure out what kind of hand we may have been dealt… and thinking the identity of the team may be depth above all else (but what quality?- that’s the question!). Hook ’em!

    • Come what may be happy to be young enough at heart to be susceptible to eating the cheese.

  38. Mack doesn’t remind me of the steely eyed flight director, Gene Kranz. If fact Mack might have opted for a direct return abort had be been flight director on Apollo 13. I seem to recall from the book that not all of the Mercury astronauts had the right stuff. Was it Gus Grissom who prematurely punched the explosive bolts on the hatch after splash down which sank the capsule? Let’s hope no 14 can fly the mission without having to ad lib to much.

  39. Another great post, W.E., invoking your family memories intertwined with history. Top-five favorite book – “The Right Stuff” and weaving in the space program with the BYU game works for me!

    My son a “first-year” at UVA was at rain-drenched Scott Stadium to see the Cavs pull off an exciting late victory against BYU last Saturday. Game report is that BYU has a good defense but a lame offense, ironic given the Cougars of yore as a “QBU”. The game may not be as high scoring as we would want but then again the Longhorns are not supposed to be the Cavaliers, who face the Ducks tomorrow (bon courage! as the French would say).

    Meanwhile, we still await kickoff in the Middle East Conference while US offensive coordinator Kerry and Jane Fonda plead with the congressional equivalent of the NCAA that a strike on Syria State is necessary to defend “Alabama.” Coach Nick Netanyahoo says, “Thanks y’all for all the support.” They got a name for the winners of the world…and I want a name when I lose. Roll tide, and see you at the airport.

    • Hey Reed-speaking of Steely Dan, Bob and I saw them on campus last week. It was amazing. Fagen and Becker still bring with them the best musicians in the world. Can’t begin to describe how great it was.

      Stay safe over there.

      W. E.

      • Good to see Don and Walter are touring again, and would love to see them myself today. They’ve always been the masters.

        I take that back on BYU not being “QBU” anymore. Holy Jeezus…to think the Cavs stymied BYU the week before (and gave up 52 points to Oregon yesterday but the Ducks were merciful). No longer an elite program, now it seems inevitable we watch the death spiral we hoped would not happen but kind of had to expect.

  40. Re Gordo Cooper, one recalls that on that day, Gordon Gooper flew farther, higher and faster than any man in history. And, on that day, that he was — as he repeatedly told anyone who would listen — the “greatest test pilot” ever.

    If you haven’t seen the movie, and the incredible voice-over by the Band’s late Levon Helm, it is a must-see.

  41. What Dad also knew was that Cooper (and everyone else) had more computing power in his brain than the Mercury systems, anyhow.
    Unlike today, when a smartphone has more chips than the Apollo flights.
    Is David Ash smarter than an iPhone?

  42. I’m here in Salt Lake City. Already lots of burnt orange around town. Surprisingly not many locals even realize there’s a game tomorrow. I’ve seen 3 black people in 2 days. Also, despite the hot sun, most people are pasty white.

  43. Watched the last half of The Right Stuff there other night. Great movie dealing with some great people.

    • I ran across it while surfing a month or so ago and watched it again for about tenth time.

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