Swamped. Busy. Yadda. Just read Richard Justice if you’re looking for something to read today …
I heard from a UH grad during the Rice game a couple of weeks ago. He texted to say that while sitting there in the rain he was struck by how far UH had come. He said there was a full house at Robertson Stadium that night. That kind of game, he said, would have drawn maybe 15,000 just a few years earlier.
The University of Houston was left to die when the Southwest Conference broke up, and UH very nearly did that. The Coogs were 28-51 in the first seven seasons in Conference USA. They were 0-11 in 2001. Crowds routinely dipped below 20,000 at Robertson Stadium. Students stopped going to games.
When Dave Maggard interviewed for the UH AD job, he took a walk around campus and would stop random students and ask: “How’s the football team doing? How about the basketball team? Do you go to games?”
He found out that almost no one seemed to care about sports at UH and realized if he took the job, he’d have huge work to do, not just in coaches, facilities, graduation rates, etc., but also to change the culture of losing. Everything began to change when he hired Art Briles in 2003. Three years later, UH won the C-USA Championship Game in a packed Robertson Stadium, and Briles and Maggard celebrated with a long, emotional hug in the locker room. They’d done what almost no one thought possible.
The pre-Maggard attendance woes were something a lot of us 90s-era Coogs saw ahead. Attendance at the Dome was dreadful when the team was losing (or not playing UT or A&M). There was no reason to believe that taking games to a commuter college campus in a stadium that had long since seen better days was anything more than a cost-saver. My first game at Robertson certainly didn’t leave me impressed with the move.
But I recall the CUSA Championship game of the Kevin Kolb era and even though it’s hard to conjure significance from it when you’re used to seeing meaningful SWC games, the atmosphere definitely changed by that time. When I see the games on TV or online these days and I see the excitement that students have and that Case Keenum generates, that’s what I mean when I say there’s no stat on his resume that I need to see to consider Keenum the best quarterback that the University of Houston has ever seen. Better than Kolb, Ware, either Klingler, and from the veer era: Elston, Davis, Burrus, Woodall. You name it – any sport, and era, any name – Case just stands a little taller.
To me, stats don’t determine that. A perfect season or lack thereof doesn’t determine that. The NFL’s evaluation of him as a professional athlete doesn’t determine that. It’s strictly what one individual means to the school as a whole. And the fact is that there’s a very real sense that Keenum has made a meaningful impact on not just the athletic program, but to the school as a whole. Since that happens to be a school I grew up loving and rooting for, and later attending and graduating from, that makes me really appreciate what Case has accomplished as a student-athlete, as well as what the others that David Justice gives credit to have accomplished in their roles. It’s a very different UH than from what I grew up with … and that’s a good thing.
I’m sure there will be slightly fewer tickets sold next season when I assume David Piland is leading the team instead of Case and the names on the back of his receivers’ jerseys will change from the talented crew we’re used to this season. But I know that whoever follows will be building on a lot of what Case Keenum built in his time here.