Texas Tech football: Even hardcore fans are struggling to keep the faith

LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 12: A general view of play between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jones AT
LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 12: A general view of play between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jones AT /

After another disappointing loss at home, it’s growing tough for even the most dedicated Texas Tech football fans to remain emotionally invested in the program.

I fell in love with Texas Tech football on October 2nd, 1999 when as a freshman, I stormed the field after the Red Raiders upset No. 5 Texas A&M 21-19.  I was on the field that day when the goalposts came down as I was two years later when the Aggies returned and fists flew after a 12-0 Red Raider win.

Looking back, that game in the final year of the Spike Dykes era is when I would say my true college experience began.  It was the genesis of my total immersion into the world of everything Texas Tech.  I’ll never forget the following Monday, Dr. Bill Dean holding up a copy of the University Daily (now The Daily Toreador) in one of my Mass Comm classes and joking that if any of our parents recognized us from the picture on the front page, a picture of a streaker heading towards the fountains on Broadway, we were in trouble.

In all, I’ve been to 122 Texas Tech football games in person including four bowl games.  For the last 13 years, I’ve been a season ticket holder despite living in Lubbock for only one of those seasons.  In fact, the closest I’ve lived to Lubbock in the other 12 years was 3.5 hours one-way and in five of those years, I lived in Colorado where I made the 14-hour round trip drive to each game.

I don’t say that to brag.  Many of you have been fans longer than I have or have similar stories of traveling great distances to support this program.  If anything, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit the lengths to which I’ve gone to support a program that has not won an outright conference title since 1955.

Those aren’t the actions of a logical man.  I’ve skipped family reunions and my brother-in-law’s wedding because of Tech football.  In fact, when one of my college roommates, who’ve I’ve known my entire life, got married in Dallas, I ran into his older brother in the Lubbock airport as he was headed to the wedding and I had flown in from Plano to watch Tech and OU in 2005 (and I’m so glad I was there to see Taurean Henderson score on the last play of the game to send the Red Raiders to the Cotton Bowl).

Again, I’m not bragging.  I don’t really care to have a trophy or badge as the fan of the year.  I’m merely trying to provide some context.

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All I want is for this program to be relevant again.  But after Saturday’s 33-31 loss to a bad TCU team in Lubbock, I might be out of emotional capital available to be invested in this program.  And when people as illogically invested as I’ve been start to reach their limit, it should be a huge red flag.

I know I’m not alone either.  My life-long best friend was born in Lubbock and has been an obsessive Red Raider fan for as long as I’ve known him.  He used to wear a Thyrone Thurman jersey to middle school beneath a sweet Texas Texas Starter jacket as was cool in the 1990s.

After this most recent loss, he texted me to say that he wasn’t going to bring his family to the Kansas State game on their way to Ruidoso for Thanksgiving break as he had intended to do all year long.  His explanation was simple, “I just can’t anymore.”

It’s not hard to understand why even the most hardcore fans are starting to lose any ability to care about this program.  This will mark the 10th-consecutive year that the Red Raiders have failed to finish the season as a ranked team.

But it goes beyond just that sobering fact.  The unfortunate reality is that Tech football no longer rewards our dedication, not even sporadically.

AD Kirby Hocutt pointed out this offseason that approximately half of the program’s season ticket holders live 100 miles away from Lubbock or more.  It takes incredible dedication to invest the amount of time and money that it takes to make such a trip just to leave Jones Stadium doing the college football walk of shame back to the car after almost every meaningful game.

Some people go to the games to party.  Some go to see the band or the Masked Rider.  Some go to tailgate and never even go inside.  But for those of us who go only for the football, it’s becoming more and more difficult to give of ourselves for a program that’s been stuck in the mud since essentially the beginning of the Obama administration.

I know my friends and I aren’t the only ones like that and chances are, if you are spending your time reading a Texas Tech blog, you are cut from the same cloth.  What should terrify the leadership of this athletic department is that even people of such life-long hardcore dedication are starting to give up the ghost.

That’s not to say we are going to stop watching games or discussing what this program does when we get together, but its beginning to feel like many people that have never given a second thought to being just casual participants in Tech football are now headed that way because we’ve expended all of the literal and figurative capital we have for a program that’s just 60-63 since the end of the Mike Leach era.

This isn’t a Matt Wells issue.  This isn’t a Kliff Kingsbury or Tommy Tuberville issue either.  This is a Texas Tech issue.

Sure, Red Raiders that went to college in the 80s or 90s love to point out that this program has always been considered mediocre and when they were in school, it was about like it is today.  The problem is that a generation of fans raised on Texas Tech football in the first decade of this century is now on the verge of falling into the casual fan category.

When that generation, which is now at the point of being real adults (age-wise at least, not in terms of actions according to my wife) who have legitimate money that could be invested in this program no longer believes that this is a program worthy of any significant investment, there are going to be ramifications.  Us “children of the Air-Raid” are starting to turn into the same type of cynical, sarcastic, and uninvested fans that those raised in the Jerry Moore era have been.

When I was a freshman, fan engagement was rather low as the Dykes era sputtered in its final year.  My family wanted to come to the Iowa State game for Family Day and they bought the cheapest seats possible.  With only about 30,000 fans at Jones Stadium that day, we watched the game from expensive seats on the West Side at about the 40-yard-line because there were wide swaths of open seating to be found.

Saturday’s crowd reminded me of that day.  Sitting in my seats in section 103, there were more empty seats near my wife and I than I’ve ever seen.  She was able to sit reclined in her seat all day with her feet propped up as she played on her phone.  “This is great!” she exclaimed.  But it’s not for those of us who still give a damn.

On my drive home last night, I had plenty of time to ponder just why I continue to support this program at the level that I am and I’m questioning for the first time since 2007 whether or not I want to renew my season tickets.  I’m tired of missing other high-profile games on TV just so I can sit four hours at Jones Stadium just to have my blood pressure spike and my sports gonads rammed back up into my stomach once again.


Since 2015, only three times have we left Jones Stadium after a win over a team that we really cared about beating; Arizona State in 2017, Houston in 2018 and Oklahoma State this year.  What’s more, we haven’t seen a home win over TCU since 2013, a win over OU since 2009 or a win over Texas since 2008.

I know this is the first year of the Matt Wells rebuild but this is the 10th year of the post-Leach rebuild and all we have to show for it are two 8-win seasons and victories in the Holiday and Ticket City Bowl.

I don’t know if this new coaching staff will get it turned around but I’m skeptical.  Not because of anything Wells and Co. have or haven’t done but because of what I’ve seen over the last decade.  We gave each of his predecessors time to get this program back on its feet and we were proven to be foolish in our hopes so forgive us for struggling to be optimistic this time around.

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Perhaps Wells will one day rekindle the magic at The Jones, a place that’s become as sad to see in person as your grandparents’ house after both have passed.  (The life and warmth are gone.  Only the structure remains the same.)  But what I am certain of is that even the most hardcore fans of this program are starting to lose heart and that’s a place this program can’t afford to get to.