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Next on the Chopping Block: Rice

Four times this year, and, well, every year, NU plays an out-of-conference opponent. The question arises: who are these guys? Some people only want to know who they are in a football sense, but, to truly understand our opponents on the gridiron, you have to know where they come from, so football strategy can wait. I plan on getting to know these universities a little bit better with posts on each college, mainly with info gleaned from their wikipedia pages.


This week's victim: The Rice Owls.

Where: Houston, Texas. You know Houston: it's the fourth-largest city in the US, they control NASA somehow, Enron used to have naming rights to their baseball stadium, George H.W. Bush randomly pops in sometimes, and, for all intents and purposes, Houston and its rap-loving denizens invented purple drank, the beverage for which my site is named and will forever be dedicated. 

Size: 3,237 undergrads, or .38 Northwesterns. Rice is the second-smallest school competing in FBS football, the tiniest being their C-USA foe Tulsa. 

Stadium: The Owls play in the cleverly named Rice Stadium, which was built in 1950 to seat 70,000 people. They realized this was silly because if you added up all the people who have ever attended Rice since 1911 when it was founded, living or dead, you still wouldn't get 70,000. It's especially silly because last year, 13,552 people attended the average Rice home game, and because it hasn't sold out for a football game since the 1960's. So they shrank it to 47,000 seats. However, by the time they did that, it had already done its fair share of cool stadium things, like hosting Super Bowl VIII in 1974, and hosting JFK's "We choose to go to the moon" speech in 1962, you know, because Houston is all about outer space.

Mascot: The Owl. Because there's a bunch of owls on the crest of the university, because owls are mad wise and stuff. The question is whether they'll follow in the footsteps of Temple, who play the noise of an eagle screeching every time they get a first down for their Owls, or whether they'll play a dramatic "hoot".

Mascot if I ran the school: Easy. The Fightin Pilafs. Their mascot would dive into a pool of tahini sauce every game. Ones like this, are line em up, shut em down, knock em out the park. 

Notable Alums: The most famous dude to go to the school was clearly Howard Hughes, the really rich dude, movie maker, flier of stuff, and general badass billionaire, but he didn't graduate. Famous actual alums include Alberto Gonzales, who you may remember from his comical stint as attorney general of the United States, but more importantly, current Yankee Lance Berkman and former Yankee Bubba Crosby, one of whom I love dearly. (Hint: it's Bubba.)

Current NFL Players: Three. The most notable is last year's draft selection Jarett Dillard, a wide receiver for the Jaguars, but they also have James Casey, a tight end for the hometown Texans, and Ryan Pontbriand, the long snapper for the Browns.

Difference between the amount of times Rice has been to the NCAA tournament and the amount of times Northwestern has: Four. Rice basketball doesn't have a pretty history, although they do have awesome jerseys. Their most recent NCAA tourney appearance was when they won the Southwest Conference in 1970, that ended a 16-year tourney drought. They've had some decent players - Morris Almond was a first-rounder a few years back, and Mike Harris has been on-and-off NBA rosters for about four years now - but their main purpose is being one of the schools that loses to Memphis twice every year in the C-USA schedule.

Elsewhere in Owls Sports: The obvious jewel of Rice's athletic department be baseball. There are eight former Owls in the MLB right now, and they're a fixture in the College World Series, having been in the NCAA Tournament every year since 1995 and making the Series itself seven times in that span, including a championship in 2003. 


The highest mountain: I mentioned earlier that JFK delivered his famous speech at Rice in 1962. Surely, you've heard it. 

Note the beginning of the video. People are clapping - except for LBJ, who appears to be doing his taxes or something because he clearly couldn't be less interested in the speech, and then JFK delivers the crux of his speech, the climax: we choose to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Classic. But why is everybody clapping? It's because in this speech - this dramatic, famous piece of speech by one of the greatest, most powerful orators in American political history - the President decided to make a zing at the expense of Rice football. 

YES. YES THAT HAPPENED. He said that Rice playing Texas is equivalent to climbing the worlds highest mountain OR FLYING TO THE FREAKING MOON. WOW. That, sirs, is a presidential zing. 

Not only is it a presidential zing, but he seemlessly works it into the speech. Note that this is the comment that gets the crowd excited. First it's a chuckle - he made a funny about Rice, after all! - but it grows into applause - applause so loud that he can't launch into the "We choose to go to the moon" on his first two tries. (Although it works well for dramatic effect)

This sort of vaunted the Rice-Texas game to a sacred level. The President used their continual failure to beat their big in-state rival as a metaphor for human perseverence; it's kind of hard to be like "yeah, we'll schedule Oklahoma State instead this year to lighten our load a bit". As a result, the game is played almost every year, although Rice hasn't pulled out a win since 1994. After all, they do it not because its easy, but because its hard. Before this year's 34-17 loss to Texas in week 1, head coach David Bailiff lamented JFK's oratory, saying "I sure wish he'd said 'why does Rice play New Mexico State'", but, such is life. You get presidential zinged, you gotta live with it.

"Why does Rice play Northwestern" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Of course, JFK was exaggerating: of the 17 Apollo missions, only two - Apollo 1 and Apollo 13 - resulted in failure, meaning that the human race was successful 88 percent of the time, while all-time, Rice is 21-69-1 against Texas, about a 23 percent winning percentage, proving that flying to the moon is in fact, much easier than beating Texas is for Rice.

I'm mad: According to the Wikipedia, Rice has two on-campus pubs and an annual beer bike race. I mean, I'll transfer to Vanderbilt first - after all, they're both ranked No. 17 by the US News and World Report - but save me a spot in that race.

Why's it called Rice, anyway?: It's not named after the grain, it's named after William Marsh Rice, a really rich dude who mysteriously died in 1901 shortly after writing a very large check to a New York lawyer, who happened to also be the new beneficiary of his will he released shortly before he died. Surprise! The will was a forgery and the guy hired somebody to murder Rice. Didn't see that coming. It took them a really long time to convict the murderer and get all the cash back, and when they did, turned out they had enough money to found a whole college with free tuition for both men and women. Eventually, Rice's cash ran out, and they had to start charging tuition - almost $50,000 a year, nowadays - but the dude still has a school named after him, so there's that.