Why does Rice play Texas?

Over at Dr. Saturday Holly Anderson examines Games that shouldn’t be happening in 2010.

One of those games is Texas at Rice. According to the post, “The series has taken on a remarkable consistency: The other three losses came by scores of 51-10 in 2005, 58-14 in 2007, and 52-10 in 2008. The last time the Owls beat Texas was a 19-17 Southwest Conference win in 1994.”

Rice can’t beat Texas.

We know that.

It really hasn’t beaten Texas much since World War II.

But that isn’t the point. Rice plays Texas because to play Texas is to play the best. The game is of cultural importance too.

John F. Kennedy referenced the game in a call to undertake tasks that seem beyond us. On the campus of Rice the president said, “But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?”

Wayne Hale over at his NASA blog examined why this reference was important and what this type of rivalry said about the people who participate in it. He writes, “Logically, mathematically, analytically, there is no point for Rice to play Texas. But about once a decade, the illogical happens: the underdog triumphs. Facing the challenge makes a fundamental change in the people who face that challenge. … The Universe neither knows nor cares if we boldly explore or silently fade from the scene. But we know. The point is what the challenge does to us. There is nothing “virtual” about being on the mountain peak, or on the lunar surface. The challenge changes us and that may very well be the most important thing of all.”

The great moments in sport are most often when the unthinkable happens—the Miracle on Ice. These become defining moments not only in sport but also in our culture. Without these types of games Kennedy never could ask, “Why does Rice play Texas?” Without challenges, life would be dull. Without great challenges there wouldn’t be great memories.