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  • Standard Ole Miss Grove attire
  • A sample spread
    Meredith Rainey
  • Hotty Toddy!
    Meredith Rainey
  • It’s game time!
    Meredith Rainey
  • Welcome to The Grove!
    Meredith Rainey
  • Fans enter Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
    Meredith Rainey
  • The square in Oxford
    Meredith Rainey

Oxford Mississippi’s official population is just over 19,000. But come Saturdays in the fall, what some might affectionately call a sleepy college town wakes up with a buzz of excitement and activity as the population explodes to more than triple, with college football fans eager to cheer on their Ole Miss Rebels. They prepare to do that in one of the most inviting and unique tailgating spots in the country.

“The Grove is unlike any other place on earth, especially [during] big games such as Texas vs. Ole Miss. The feeling and experience are indescribable,” Ole Miss senior Margaret Anderson says. The Grove is a place Longhorns fans have been excited to go since the announcement UT would face Ole Miss in a series of games starting in 2012. The first of those games happens this Saturday in Oxford.

The closer you get to Ole Miss, the greener the grass and the taller the trees. The campus of The University of Mississippi, which welcomed its first class in 1848, has been ranked by many publications as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country.

Its roads and walkways are lined with vibrant oak, elm, magnolia and pine trees. Its old stone and brick buildings are accented with classic details quintessential of a traditional southern university. And on Saturdays every fall, the largest green space on campus, known as The Grove, is dotted with hundreds of red, white and blue tents and young adults dressed to the nines, ready for a good time.

“It's the biggest and most well dressed party in the USA that happens six times a year,” Ole Miss junior and Attorney General of the Student Body Matthew Kiefer says.

Inside the 10-acre Grove, you’ll be greeted by unparalleled southern hospitality and enjoy some of the best food and fixin's you'll find at any college tailgating. And don't worry if you don't know anyone. If you're friendly, you will have dozens of people calling you by your first name in no time and you will be satisfied with a tummy full of homemade pimento cheese, fried chicken, deviled eggs and decadent finger sandwiches.

“There's a sense of hospitality that you can only experience when walking through the brick arch of the Walk of Champions. We welcome and offer shelter and refreshments to both opponent and friend and win or lose, there's always a party,” explains Ole Miss Student Body Vice President Emmalee Rainey.

Besides the great food and the lush setting, something else that makes The Grove unique is the dress code. While you can wear whatever you want, you will find students dressed in their Sunday best or something you might see at a cocktail party. You'll see girls in dressy sun dresses or knee length evening gowns and heels, boys in khakis and long-sleeved button downs, ties and perhaps seersucker blazers. The formal game day dress adds to the excitement, giving it a sense of being even more of a special occasion than it already is.

Matthew Kiefer describes the uniqueness of The Grove, “It’s the feeling of 30,000 people walking around in their Easter best, where a ‘hello’ and a ‘y'all’ can make acquaintances into friends, and friends into family.”

The tents are also more formal than what you might see in the parking lots around Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium on game day. Many have chandeliers, living room lamps, flower arrangements and sterling silver platters and cutlery, making it feel more like a backyard party than tailgating. In fact, to call it tailgating is both inadequate and inaccurate, as vehicles aren’t allowed in The Grove.

Between the delicious food and friendly faces, you can spend hours just wandering between the tents catching up with old friends, making new ones and sharing your thoughts on what you think might be in store for the Ole Miss Rebels when that first whistle blows.

University of Texas Longhorns fans were able to scoop up about four thousand tickets to this Saturday’s game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, but thousands more UT fans are expected to stampede into the Grove to get a taste of a different type of tailgating. Regardless of who wins, Longhorns fans will undoubtedly be charmed by the small Mississippi city home to one of the most beautiful college campuses and best tailgating in the country. Hotty Toddy!

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In the interest of full disclosure, Emmalee Rainey who is quoted in this article is my stepdaughter.

  • The pre-game party at Schultz's Beer garden.

Longhorns vs. New Mexico: Enjoy the tailgate

Longhorn football

The New Mexico Lobos come in to Austin flying high after scoring 66 points last weekend and running for 350 yards — against Southern University, a Division 2 football team. That's like the high school varsity taking on the freshmen team. Nevertheless, the Lobos won only one game last season, so being undefeated is a big deal. It won't last long.

Let's just say Texas will have a great opportunity to get their younger players a lot of experience on Saturday.

So what does a die-hard fan do when the game is not particularly competitive? Enjoy the tailgate!

This will be the last home game for three weeks, so with all due respect to the football team, this is the week to get your party on. The tailgate culture at Texas has grown exponentially over the last 10 years, and if you haven't truly committed to tailgating before a Longhorn game, this is the game since there is little danger of the home team falling flat.

But, channeling my inner Mack Brown here: make sure you go ahead and stagger to the game. First of all, you need to support the team, and second, you will see not just the coming out party for Texas star running back of the future, Johnathan Gray, you will also see the famed triple option offense run by the Lobos.

"We go from a team last week [Wyoming] that lined up with no backs about a third of the game," explains Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, "to a team that when the ball is snapped will have three backs in some way, shape or form in the backfield, so you couldn't be going from one end of the spectrum any further to the other."

"All of a sudden we've gone from [coaching against] four and five wideouts on defense, to coaching against a triple option that looks like the modern day version of the wishbone," adds Brown. "It will be a week of discipline and assignment football that our defense will really have to try to figure out."

The triple option is fun to watch: three running backs going every which way, fake hand-offs, dive plays, and the occasional long bomb to keep the defensive backs honest.

The triple option was the starting point for the old wishbone, which was invented at the University of Texas. Emory Ballard was the offensive coordinator at Texas under the legend, Coach Darrell K. Royal. Back in 1967, Royal and Ballard invented and installed the wishbone offense and changed the college game, and it won Texas a couple of National Championships.

Still, the Texas defense lines up pretty well against New Mexico's triple option. With Alex Okafior and Jackson Jeffcoat at end and Chris Whaley playing great at tackle, the Texas defensive line should be able to clog the holes in the middle.

If the Texas linebackers do their jobs, it should be a great day for the defense; shut outs are hard, but entirely possible. Last week the defense gave up a couple of big plays, one an 80-yard touchdown pass. Look for the Texas defense to be a little ticked off about that.

On offense, Texas will have the pleasure of experimenting with the first team and trying out some younger guys. This is where Johnathan Gray, the most coveted freshman running back in the country comes in. After running just five times last week against a decent Wyoming team, he will get the ball a lot more Saturday. He's a tough runner who is light on his feet and cuts hard.

Gray will be fun to watch, and in a few years, if he is the Heisman hopeful so many believe he can be, you can say 'I saw him when.'

"He will get more involved," promises offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. "The nice thing about where Johnathan is at right now is he is a very good football player who has two guys that have experience in front of him with Joe [Bergeron] and Malcolm [Brown]. We don’t have to throw him in the fire. He can go out there and let those guys do their deal and we can get him in on some specific plays that he has prepared for throughout the week."

The offense played well last week, and quarterback David Ash looked confident and threw with accuracy and authority. The Longhorns want to throw the ball deep more often so you may see them open it up a bit more against New Mexico. Make no mistake, this is a team that will win or lose by running the ball, but the ability to throw downfield is necessary if they want to keep a defense from cheating against the run.

Texas will win, big, the oddsmakers put the spread at 38 points. While winning the game is as close to a given as there can be, there are some things to watch for, harbingers of things to come.

What to watch for

  • Johnathan Gray. Let's hope he gets the ball 10 - 15 times, just to see what he can do with it. Texas has a great stable of running backs, so this could be fun.
  • Throwing the ball deep more often. "I think you have to go get more explosive plays in the passing game, said Brown. "And continuing to keep the other team from having explosive plays on defense. I mean, those were the two things that probably hurt us the most [last week]."
  • Defending the run. The Longhorns must hold the line of scrimmage against the Lobos triple option, and they would love to keep the team below 150 yards rushing. Mack Brown described the New Mexico offense as though it really concerned him, maybe it does. "The thing you can't do with an option offense like they're going to run, is you can't let them keep the ball. They could go for five fourth downs to keep the ball away from you on Saturday night. We just can't allow that to happen."
  • A defensive shut out. The defense is frankly unhappy about the way they played against Wyoming. This an inferior opponent that runs the ball hard. The Texas defense wants to make a statement.

See you at the tailgate.

Texas Longhorns vs. New Mexico Lobos

Time: 7 p.m. - Darrell K. Royal — Texas Memorial Stadium
Television: The Longhorn Network
Radio: KVET-FM 98.1 / KVET-AM 1300
Honored: This is Alumni band and Cheerleader weekend. Longhorn legend and Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell is named honorary captain and will take the field before the coin toss.

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Once again Grande Communications and The Longhorn Network will showcase a public viewing of the game at Republic Square Park (400 Guadalupe Street) that starts at 6 p.m.

  • Texas Tech plays the Texas State Bobcats on Saturday at 6 p.m.
  • University of Florida Gators
    InceptionWallpaper.com

College football games of the week: Top picks for the second Saturday of theseason

Trey's Picks

Slim pickin’s this week, folks. I can’t remember the last time I saw a college football schedule that looked so... “meh.”

Still, there are a few games of interest. And remember, these picks are for entertainment purposes only (unless you win, then I want my cut).

This Week — All Games on Saturday, Sept. 8

No. 23 Florida Gators at Texas A&M Aggies: 2:30 p.m. on ESPN

The Ags are still undefeated. Whoop! The good news is Florida has no game film of A&M from this season to look at while the Aggies do (Florida beat Bowling Green last week). The bad news is A&M has no game film of A&M because they haven’t played yet. They say the most improvement in a season usually comes from game one to game two. The Gators are on game two, the Ags are on week one.

They do get Florida at home and everyone will be SEC crazy. The crowd will sway, do their weird hand signs, grunt and lean over — all the things they do weekly — and wave their towels ferociously. Florida coach Will Muschamp didn’t make many friends in Aggie Land with his comments about College Station and Kyle Field is going to be loud. Unfortunately, Kyle Field doesn’t tackle or catch the ball, so the Aggies are going to be in a little bit of trouble.

I see a lot more talent on the visiting sideline than the home sideline, and while the “SEC!” chants are going to be loud and the heavily-armed kids in the band will stomp and turn to the crowd’s delight, the Gator defense is going to limit A&M’s passing success and the Florida ground game will take over in the second half. Or, A&M wins 77-0 and Florida quits midway through the first quarter. One of those two things. Whoop!

This probably isn't the sexiest game of the week, but the Ags get in here, since it is their SEC debut.

Texas Tech Red Raiders at Texas State Bobcats: 6 p.m.

Texas State won at Houston last week, 30-13, despite being 37 point underdogs. This is the biggest game in San Marcos ever and the place will be packed. It can’t possibly mean as much to Tech as it does to Texas State. This is a shootout, and usually, Tech wins shootouts, but not this time.

Texas State rises up and moves to 2-0 in Division I football with a shocking upset of Texas Tech. Texas State 33, Texas Tech 31. Someone please pick this up for television.

No. 16 Oklahoma State at Arizona: 9:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Network

Fresh off their 84-0 absurdity, Oklahoma State travels to the desert for a late-night date with Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats. The crowd will be into it and this is the sort of game that can set the tone for the RichRod era.

I don’t think they have enough to get by Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys are starting a true freshman at quarterback on the road. I think this will be a very entertaining game and Arizona will have a shot to win it late, but will come up just short. Oklahoma State 34, Arizona 28.

Worst Game of the Week

Savannah State Tigers at No. 6 Florida State: 5 p.m.

Sorry, Savannah State. I don’t mean to do this to you twice in a row, but 84-0? And now you play a better team. A better team that doesn’t mind running the score up to prove a point. Enjoy the check.

Last Week's Picks

Before you go, let's take a look at how close (or far off) I was on last week's picks.

No. 9 South Carolina at Vanderbilt

Why it was included: The first televised game of the year.
Prediction: Boring, Steve Spurrier unhappy, sloppy, 20-12 Gamecocks win.
Reality: Boring, Steve Spurrier unhappy, sloppy, 17-13 Gamecocks win.

That’s close enough for me. It was your classic ACC SEC vs. SEC season opener — the first game of the season on TV and neither team was really ready to play yet. I saw no mention of coaches' wives; instead I got 1,000 references to Aaron Rodgers brother, the quarterback at Vandy. Did you know that he was there? Me, neither!

Washington State at BYU

Why it was included: Mike Leach is back on the sideline.
Prediction: Wazzu doesn’t have the horses to compete, Leach is sorta crazy, 38-28 BYU win.
Reality: Wazzu didn’t have the horses to compete, Leach didn’t say anything of interest, 30-6 BYU win.

I thought we’d see more from the Cougars, but it’s clear there is no talent on that team at all. I expect a hotshot Texas high school quarterback for Leach in the fold next year. On the positive side, they held BYU to only 30, which is less than I thought. On the negative side? Everything else.

No. 25 Auburn vs. No. 14 Clemson

Why it was included: Top 25 match up right out of the gate
Prediction: Big day from Tajh Boyd, Auburn flexes SEC muscles, ACC not trustworthy, 30-24 Auburn win
Reality: Big day from Tajh Boyd, Auburn didn’t have enough muscles, ACC trustworthy, 26-19 Clemson win

Turns out Boyd’s big day was enough for Clemson and the defense shredded in the Orange Bowl limited all the new faces on the Auburn offense to win a field goal game (seven of them total) with a fourth quarter touchdown. This year the was no Dabo Sweeney awesomeness.

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 2 Alabama

Why it was included: Top 10 match up right out of the gate.
Prediction: Too much Bama talent, SEC dislike, Shoelace’s playmaking limited but there, 28-17 Tide win.
Reality: Too much Bama talent, SEC dislike, Shoelace’s playmaking absent, 41-14 Tide win.

It was 24-0 before Michigan realized they had been given a swirly and stuffed in a locker by Alabama. New faces on the Tide looked the same as they completely dominated the Maize. Michigan’s tailback suspension wouldn’t have made a difference.

Savannah State at No. 19 Oklahoma State

Why it was included: OSU needs to remind everyone they are relevant, and Savannah State is Savannah State.
Prediction: Worst game of the week, OSU will flex on I-AA team, will the check be worth the beat down?
Reality: Worst game of the week, OSU flexed on I-AA team, the check was not worth the 84-0 beat down.

Totally uncalled for, but predictable. With Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon no longer there, Mike Gundy needed to make sure Oklahoma State was not forgotten. He accomplished that by scoring 12 touchdowns on a bad I-AA team.

  • Owner Tessie Watson Crow
    Photo by: Aimee Wenske
  • Burnt orange accessories
  • Inside the Trendy Trailer
  • Game day look from the Longhorn Fashions Blog

Travelin' fashion: Longhorn Fashions expands with new Trendy Trailer fortailgating season

Game Day

I didn't know how formal an occasion a college football game was until I became a student at the University of Texas at Austin.

When I showed to the first football game of the 2007 season decked out in faded blue jeans, burnt orange sneakers and a Longhorn t-shirt that I had just purchased at the University Co-op, I quickly realized that I would need to revamp and revise my entire game-day attire if I wanted to blend in with the rest of the ladies.

“I felt like it would be great to create a company that carried clothing that girls could wear to games, but then turn around and go to work in the next day or wear downtown.” - Tessie Watson Crow

Much to my surprise, I discovered that women seized football games as an opportunity to make bold, never-before-seen fashion statements. Creative fashion entrepreneurs like Tessie Watson Crow, owner of Longhorn Fashions, are the people who are helping women venture away from blue jeans, athletic shorts and simple tees and into chic tops, flowy burnt orange dresses, chunky statement necklaces and feminine leather boots.

Throughout her years as a student at the University of Texas, Crow had the concept for Longhorn Fashions at the forefront of her imagination. She wanted to create a boutique that would sell fashionable, affordable Longhorn-inspired apparel.
“I thought it was frustrating how difficult it was to put together a cute burnt orange outfit on the fly,” Crow says. “I felt like it would be great to create a company that carried clothing that girls could wear to games, but then turn around and go to work in the next day or wear downtown.”

A year after graduating college, Crow took a leap of faith and launched her store in August 2010, sourcing from four local fashion designers and spreading the word about her brand through word of mouth and social media. Though she was young and uncertain her concept would flourish, Crow understood that success only comes to those who have the courage to go chase it — so that’s exactly what she did.
Longhorn Fashions launched as an online boutique that sold a small selection of burnt orange dresses, skirts, tops and accessories. “Sure, I was overwhelmed when I started out, but I knew I’d put in 110 percent and make the necessary sacrifices,” she says. “I took the plunge, and the truth is I’ve never not been smiling when I’m working on the store, whether it’s updating the blog, working with a customer or talking to a new designer. I love what I do.”

The growth of Longhorn Fashions was slow and steady for most of 2010 and 2011, but in 2012, Crow decided it was time to expand her fashion startup. She realized the only way she’d be able to cultivate a recognizable brand and a strong customer following would be to get out and interact with all the fashion-savvy Longhorns throughout the state of Texas. That’s when the idea for Longhorn Fashions’ Trendy Trailer came about.

“A lot of my customers aren't just in Austin; they’re in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and all over. I wanted to be able to get out on the road and finally meet them,” Crow says. “I started looking for a small Airstream trailer I could use as a traveling store, and in June, I was finally able to find one that was a good fit for me.”

After purchasing the 19-foot trailer and parking it in her small driveway, Crow spent weeks painting the dirty walls a beautiful shade of turquoise, hanging jewelry accessories hooks she bought from Etsy, installing two steel clothing racks and decorating the whole of her chic boutique on wheels.
The trailer features 24 designers and over 90 percent of the store's online merchandise. In the end, purchasing the trailer turned out to best business decision thus far for Longhorn Fashions: In August 2012, Longhorn Fashions’ sales surpassed all of 2011’s sales combined.

Now that football season has started up, Crow plans on featuring the trailer at all the home games as well as Longhorn events throughout the state. As to whether or not we’ll see a brick-and-mortar storefront in the future, Crow says that decision is still up in the air.
“I feel like brick-and-mortar would be nice someday, but I’m focusing on the trailer for now. I’d like to get a permanent location on South Congress or team up with one of the food trailer lots in the future and see where I can park the trailer permanently. I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

You can find Longhorn Fashions’ website here, or you can catch the Trendy Trailer at Bevo Boulevard during all the home games.

UT Fashion Group heads to New York Fashion Week to assist on Project Runwayfinale, Lela Rose show

Fall for Fashion

The University of Texas Fashion Group is headed to the Big Apple to get the fashion experience of a lifetime. 24 fashion-minded students will be taking on some big responsibilities while inside the tents at Lincoln Center for the showing of the Spring/Summer 2013 Collections.

The group will be dressing models for the Lela Rose and Timo Weiland shows on Sunday, Sept. 9 and participating in the front of house duties for the Project Runway finale show to be filmed on Friday.

While all that comes with attending Fashion Week may sound “glam," the group will be hard at work making sure all the models are buttoned and zipped and that shoes are strapped on to head down the catwalk.

The front of house duties for the Project Runway show include putting out any gift bags and information on each seat prior to the show, guiding guests to their seats and cleaning up after the show. And there won’t be much time for beauty rest — one call time for the group is to arrive at the venue at 5 a.m. for an 11 a.m. show!

The students will return to Austin on Monday and with some great fashion stories and some new industry experience.

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Originally published on FashionablyAustin.com.

  • Tony Romo will continue to perform.
    Dallas Cowboys/Facebook
  • Sean Lee will emerge as a team leader.
    Dallas Cowboys/Facebook
  • Dez Bryant will be a source of enthusiasm.
    Dallas Cowboys/Facebook
  • DeMarco Murray and Miles Austin.

Dallas Cowboys top 10: Clairvoyant predictions for the 2012 season

How 'Bout Them Cowboys?

Thank goodness football season is back. If you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan – if you support America – then you’re ready to sign on for the journey as the Cowboys make their historic Super Bowl run yet again. That or they’ll choke in spectacular fashion come December.

Recent history suggests the latter, but it’s hard to deny that the Cowboys have a much better squad heading into 2012 than they did in 2011. Pundits like to argue that Jerry Jones has a death grip on all staff decisions, but it’s clear that Jason Garrett has put his stamp on personnel in the past two off-seasons.

Since taking over, Garrett has cut or chosen not to resign eight starters from the 2010 season (Marc Colombo, Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis, Marion Barber, Roy Williams, Terence Newman, Bradie James and Keith Brooking) in addition to getting rid of other dead weight, including Martellus Bennett (thank), Tashard Choice (you) and Allan Ball (Jesus).

Garrett envisions the Cowboys as a hard-nosed, disciplined team (hence the visits with a Navy SEAL and a U.S. Army general this preseason), and his cuts have been a perfect example of addition by subtraction. But Garrett has tried desperately to add back a few necessary pieces to improve on last year's disappointing .500 season.

If the Giants have taught us anything (both in 2007 and 2011), it’s that football is all about putting yourself in a position to make a run when it counts. The Cowboys have what they need to succeed in 2012, and a Super Bowl run is not out of the question. But will they be able to turn their ability into success? We have the next 17 weeks to find out.

With the preseason now behind us, here are the top 10 predictions for the Dallas Cowboys in 2012.

1. DeMarco Murray will run over the NFL

Admit it: you got chills when Murray broke that 91-yard run against the Rams last year. It's not that he was particularly spectacular on that play (the whole was gigantic), but he looked so impressively big as he sprinted down the field, like a man among boys. After half a season watching Felix Jones trying to tiptoe his way downfield, Murray was a force of nature, combining size, speed and finesse to great success. If you have anything but the highest expectations for Murray this season, obviously you weren't watching last season.

Sure, injury concerns are legitimate, but this is football. Assuming he stays healthy, look for Murray to set the tone for the entire offense. Garrett is a big proponent of controlling the game with the run. With Murray as the no. 1 threat, Dez Bryant can play as the X factor he is rather than the short-yardage route runner he clearly is not.

Where the Cowboys need Murray most is in the end zone, and, for all of his success in 2011, Murray only found the promise land twice. Expect a pro bowl nod for the sophomore if he can get a few touchdowns under his belt as well.

2. Miles Austin will be a nice bench warmer

Austin is an amazing receiver. His ability to separate from defensive backs at the moment after a catch is next to none in the NFL. But the sad fact is that his hammies just aren't up to a 17-week season. His tight hamstrings have been an issue since 2007, and things are clearly getting worse rather than better.

There are no two ways about it: The Cowboys need Miles Austin. They need him desperately. As much fun as it is to get excited about players such as Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley and Andre Holmes in the preseason, there's a reason they call it the preseason. No one really want to see Andre Holmes on the field and Miles Austin on the bench when the Eagles come to town.

Can someone please buy the man some new hamstrings? If not, the Cowboys could be one Kevin Ogletree drop away from making the playoffs.

3. Sean Lee will be the leader the Cowboys have been missing

Everyone likes to pick on Tony Romo for his lack of leadership, and they do have a point. After a big loss to a major rival to determine who makes the playoffs and who plays golf, you never want to hear your starting quarterback say anything even close to, "If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me, well, then, I will have had a pretty good life." Romo is known for shrugging and talking around issues. Sean Lee, on the other hand?

"Sean, what's your definition of leadership?"

"I say there are two phases of leadership: You first have to lead by example; that's by working hard every day, trying to do the right thing every time, whether it's on the field or off the field. Second, once you have experience and once you've been able to have some success, it's stepping up vocally and being able to stand up for your convictions when you don't feel something's right."

Thank you, Sean.

If Sean Lee were not playing football, he likely would be jumping out of helicopters in Pakistan. He plays with exact precision, making him the kind of player that you can always count on. Remind you of anyone? If you're thinking Jason Witten, then please knock on wood, because Lee could be just as good.

4. As will Dez Bryant

If you don’t feel sorry for Dez Bryant, you obviously don’t know his story. This guy's had it rough. I'm not making excuses for his alleged actions this summer, but all the comments calling Bryant a thug are off the mark.

If you watched Wednesday's preseason game against the Dolphins, who was the first guy swarming third-string linebacker Orie Lemon after his pick six? Dez Bryant. He was up in the air, in his face, beaming with excitement for Lemon (even though Lemon might not make the 53-man roster). Can you see Jason Witten doing a back bump with a scrub in a preseason game?

As any good team knows, you need fire and ice. The Cowboys have plenty of ice: Jason Garrett, Jason Witten, Sean Lee, DeMarcus Ware. They’re in desperate need of some fire. Rob Ryan was a great addition last season, but Dez Bryant will be a source of enthusiasm for the Cowboys this year.

The kid loves playing football. His immaturity may get him in trouble for sagging pants at NorthPark, but it also imbues him with a sense of pure, childlike joy for the game. As his skills improve on the field (and, by all accounts, he took a big step this off-season), Dez will bring a much-needed swagger to the playing field that will rub off on the rest of the team.

5. Tony Romo will continue to put up unbelievable numbers

If you write about the NFL, here is a simple formula to increase your pageviews by at least 50 percent: mention Tony Romo. If you follow any sort of sports news in the off-season, you know that Romo is mentioned in tons of articles and stuck on many silly lists. Why? Because Dallas is America’s Team and has more fans than any other team in the NFL. QED, Tony Romo gets talked about a lot.

What’s lost in all the chatter is that this guy can play. Thirty-one touchdowns to 10 interceptions last year, with 4,000-plus yards? Yes, please. And the chances that he will do it again are just as good. Sure, Romo may singlehandedly lose a game or two with his Brett Favre-like recklessness. But Romo is a great quarterback. Would the Cowboys rather have Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady? Sure. Would they trade Romo for anyone else? Absolutely not.

For all the Romo haters out there in the faceless Interwebs, please take a much-needed dose of Joni Mitchell and calm down. For everyone else, who’s ready to see another impressive season from no. 9?

6. But the Cowboys will still find new ways to choke when it matters most

At some point you have to face reality. The Cowboys are choke artists par excellence. Let’s look back at, oh, the past five years of Cowboys late-season failures:

2007: After posting an amazing 13-3 record behind the arm of a hot new quarterback, the Cowboys skip the wild-card weekend only to get beat unexpectedly by the Giants. The Giants go on to win the Super Bowl. T.O. cries.

2008: After a hard-fought season, the Cowboys simply need to beat the Eagles to make it to the playoffs. Instead, they lose 44-6 in what was easily one of the most pathetic showings in NFL history.

2009: Cowboys make it to the playoffs, cream the Eagles in the wild-card round and get trounced 34-3 by the Vikings. Also one of the most pathetic showings in NFL history.

2010: Is it even worth mentioning? Cowboys make all former choke artists look like mere gag artists.

2011: See 2007 (more or less).

It’s not that the Cowboys lost these games; it’s how they lost the games – in unbelievable, oh-my-god-is-this-really-happening fashion. Everyone agreed they had the tools to win, but they just couldn't pull it together. Will this be the year the Cowboys overcome the curse? Probably not, and you’ll just have to deal with it. At this point, it’s part of being a Cowboys fan.

7. Felix Jones will thrive as a backup/special teamer

Felix Jones is a fine running back. Has he lived up to his expectations as a first-rounder? Absolutely not. Will he be back with the Cowboys next year when his rookie contract expires? Probably so, because who else would want him?

Jones is a role player, and it’s so nice that he has his role back. While serviceable as a starter, Jones is a scat back, a burner, a finesse player. He’s not the guy you want running up the gut 25 times a game. But 10 touches on draw plays? Absolutely.

The real place the Cowboys need Jones is on kickoffs. In football, there’s a fine line between putting your best players on the field and risking injury. With Miles Austin’s crummy hamstrings and no receiver depth, it’s in the the team’s best interest to keep Dez Bryant off punt returns. But if Felix Jones goes down on a kick return? Who cares?

Okay. Jones would be a loss, but the sentiment is correct. With DeMarco Murray solidifying the spot as top dog, Felix the cat can return to doing what he does best.

8. The Cowboys will remain winless against the Eagles

Sometimes a team’s just got your number. During the mid-2000s, no matter how bad they were, the Redskins always seemed to have the Cowboys’ number. In the early 2010s, the Eagles definitely have the Cowboys’ number. Sure, a four-game sample size isn’t very large (the Eagles have won all four); more significant is the way in which the Eagles have beaten the Cowboys since Michael Vick took the helm.

Vick is a boom or bust player, and he has been boom against the Cowboys. Aside from their 2011 record, the Eagles are a quality team. But when the bright lights come on, and the Cowboys ride into town, the Eagles know how to kick it into gear. How else do you explain a 2-4 team trouncing the Cowboys 34-7 last year?

The biggest challenge facing the Cowboys in the 2012 season is the same one they face every year: being a member of the NFC East. Combined, the NFC East has claimed 12 Super Bowl titles. (The next best division? The AFC North, with seven, six of which belong to the Steelers.) If the Cowboys are going to make the playoffs this year, they have to start winning against the Giants and the Eagles. That’s no easy task.

9. The offensive line will once again get Romo hurt

When Romo went down in 2010, the blame fell squarely on one player: fullback Chris Gronkowski (the underperforming brother of Rob Gronkowski). C. Gronk, a rookie at the time, went out for a pass when he should have stayed back in pass protection, giving Michael Boley a shot at Romo.

When you put unproven rookies on the O-line, your quarterback gets hurt. It’s as simple as that.

Fast forward to 2011, when Garrett cut the meat of his line in favor of a major youth movement. Two games in, the 49ers stack the right side of the line, the Cowboys O-line doesn’t recognize the scheme and Romo goes down with a broken rib (and a punctured lung).

In 2012, the picture looks only slightly better. The woefully inadequate Phil Costa is still at center, and two unspectacular guards have been plugged in as stop gaps on each side of him. How they play remains to be seen, but their missing most of the preseason is not a good sign.

Want to keep Romo upright in 2013? Get him a real offensive line.

10. The defense will improve. Right?

The jury is still out on the new-and-improved Cowboys defense. Many familiar faces are back, but the real change is in the secondary. Brandon Carr has had a good preseason, highlighted by two interceptions against Philip Rivers, but the real test will come in less than a week when he has to stop Victor Cruz from salsa dancing in the end zone.

As dramatic as that mini-rivalry is trying to be, soon all eyes will be on a 22-year-old rookie from Shreveport: Morris Claiborne. Claiborne represents the last great hope for the Cowboys defense, a player to lean on and build around. He doesn’t have to be Deion in his first year in the league, but he damn well better be Deion in his second year in the league.

A successful defense hinges on making big plays. Take the Cowboys offense, for example. In 2008 and 2009, the Cowboys were experts at long, methodical marches down the field. Aided by Marion Barber’s plodding running style, the Cowboys would go 70 yards — before turning over the ball and negating the effect of the entire drive.

The 2012 Cowboys defense needs game-changing plays from Claiborne, and, if his highlight reel can be trusted, it's often hard to tell who is the receiver and who is the cornerback when Claiborne is on the field. If he can come through like the Cowboys hope, this defense is posed for, well, not great things, but at least slightly above-average things. If you're a Cowboys fan, that should excite you.

The other improvement comes with the inside linebackers, where an uninjured Bruce Carter should get his first opportunity to shine. If he can contribute three-quarters of what Sean Lean has, this could be an inside linebacking duo to tell your children about as you tuck them into bed. Add DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff to the mix, and you may want to consider adding the Cowboys D to your fantasy team (second half of the second to last round, of course).

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H-E-B unveils merch for super fans, plus more hot Austin headlines

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. H-E-B unveils merchandise for brand super fans, available exclusively at one store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise in celebration of its 117th anniversary.

2. Austin bar transforms into a magical winter wonderland this holiday season. Don your favorite elf socks and meet the lovely citizens of “Tinseltown.”

3. Draft 'Vision Plan' for Zilker Park unveils land bridge and more possibilities. Austinites are invited to comment on a vision plan that will inform the future of Zilker Park.

4. Austin ranks among world’s 100 best cities in prestigious new report. Austin is the No. 43 best city in the world, according to a new study. (And yes, we beat Dallas.)

5. Austin airport launches new SkySquad travel assistants in time for the holiday rush. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is keeping lines moving during a period of heavy travel with a new team of airport assistants.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.

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The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans

Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta acquires award-winning California resort

tilman goes laguna

Fans of Tilman Fertitta's nationwide hospitality brands are in for a treat. The Billion Dollar Buyer has just secured an award-winning, 30-acre resort in sunny Southern California.

Fertitta has purchased the acclaimed Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel, a premier beachfront property in the sunny SoCal getaway destination. Notably, the Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel is one of only six hotels in the U.S. to score the Forbes Triple Five-Star hotel status. The Montage has also been included among Travel + Leisure’s Top Hotels in the World.

Image courtesy of Montage Laguna Beach

Fertitta's newest purchase overlooks the ocean in Laguna Beach.

“I am truly thrilled to acquire this world-renowned property and add one of America’s most iconic trophy resorts to our luxury hotel portfolio,” Fertitta noted in a statement. “I have been traveling to Laguna Beach for over 30 years. It is one of my favorite places to visit and one of the most beautiful areas in the world. The Montage is a stunning oceanfront property and one of the premier hotel brands in the world.”

Press materials didn't list the property purchase price, but Law360 reports that the deal is in excess of $660 million.

The Craftsman-style resort sits on a coastal bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Impressive amenities are highlighted by the 20,000-square-foot Spa Montage, which offers eucalyptus steam rooms, dry redwood saunas, ocean air whirlpools, fireplace lounges, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a movement studio, and a lap pool.

More outdoor fun includes two pools and direct beach access, a museum-quality fine art collection, and more than 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, per press materials.

Every resident space — the 260 guestrooms, including 60 suites, beach bungalow-style rooms, and multi-bedroom villas — boast stunning views of the Pacific.

Dining destinations offer chef-driven interpretations of coastal California flavors inspired by region. The property is designated and included in the distinctive Legend Collection of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

“We are thrilled that Tilman is the new owner of this one-of-a-kind property and welcome him into the Montage family,” said Alan Fuerstman, founder, CEO, and chairman of Montage International. Mary Rogers, the Montage's GM added, “The staff is thrilled to be working with Tilman. Everyone here at the property is tremendously excited about his purchase and look forward to continuing to provide a world-class experience to all of our guests."

Aside from his palatial Post Oak Hotel in Houston, Fertitta also owns 14 other hotel properties around the country, including the award-winning San Luis Resort in Galveston, plus five popular Golden Nugget casino and hotel locations.

Another feather in Fertitta’s luxury portfolio cap is the iconic Huntting Inn, one of the most charming and historic locales in East Hampton, New York.

No stranger to California, Fertitta's presence there includes Catch Seafood and Catch Steak, Mastro’s Ocean Club and Mastro’s Steakhouse, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, The Palm, and more — all part of his 60 brands and more than 600 concepts nationwide.