Saturday, May 16, 2009

Longhorn Territory

You can tell a lot from the picture above. The degree to which Austin embraces the Longhorns and UT is hardly matched anywhere else I’ve ever been.

If you think about it, that orange and white symbol is a trademark that belongs to a “product” – the UT football team. But the success of that team, and of the university as a whole, has made them so popular that they are a part of the city’s identity. Most t-shirts, caps and other products you can find around Austin bearing the symbol are not affiliated with the University at all.
It’s already striking that you find the Longhorn symbol on walls inside stores and restaurants, but to find it on the street signs is even more remarkable. In Brazil, that’s the kind of thing that would generate controversy, with many people complaining that the signs have been turned into advertising media. And that would probably happen here as well, if it was two golden arches or a white apple instead of a bull’s head next to the street name. It is no longer seen as just a sports thing: it’s part of Austin’s identity.

Of course, sports are a big part of it – Austin still stops to watch the big games, whether on TV or at the Darrel K. Royal Memorial Stadium. But people are pretty fanatical about sports in Brazil, too, and you don’t see that sort of identity correlation. I’d be tempted to say that the Longhorns are the official Austin team, but their only official affiliation is with the university. They are not even the only team in town, with A&M and Huston-Tillotson shaking up some serious dust in their games as well. Porto Alegre, for instance, is divided by the rivalry between the two local soccer teams, GrĂªmio and Internacional. But you don’t see their logos anywhere other than their stadiums, merchandise stores and fans t-shirts. The longhorns, on the other hand, seem to have long ceased to be a mere team, being now an institution in the city.