In a state where love of football is akin to love of country, at a school that might soon fire its head coach, on a team that has only recently begun to show that this season can be something other than utter disaster, everyone, it seems, still loves the guy who carries the flag.
The fans call him a "hero," except for the fans who call him a "patriot," except for the fans who call him a "real American," and, of course, the fans who call him a "real American patriot hero." Teammates call him "America" or "old man," depending on their mood, and at least one assistant coach refers to him as "Jason Bourne." Mack Brown, the beleaguered head coach who has never lost his ability to make you wish he was your grandfather, says of the guy with the flag, "He's even better than Rudy."
As for the flag bearer himself, his name is Nate Boyer. He is a 32-year-old, 190-pound long-snapper for the University of Texas Longhorns. He is a failed actor and a damn good soldier, a veteran of the Army Green Berets but a novice on the football field, someone who never even played in high school. He's not crazy about his nicknames — worst of all "hero" — and unlike the film version of Rudy Ruettiger, he is not here just to inspire or to prove his self-worth.
Instead, Boyer is here, in Austin, a starting football player for one of the most prestigious programs in the country, carrying the American flag out of the tunnel every Saturday, for a simple reason: "It seemed like it would be fun."
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