(Note: Originally published Oct. 1, 2010)
by Rob Loeber
College football is full of rivalries, and there are some great ones…
Michigan/Ohio State has tradition, but hasn’t been worth much the last few years. The Iron Bowl between ‘Bama and Auburn is the best of what the South has to offer, but it still misses the mark. Oregon and Oregon State call their battle the Civil War, but something about Ducks fighting Beavers just doesn’t inspire me all that much. Bedlam is up there for sure, but you get the feeling it means just a little more to the side in orange.
OU/Texas is the gold standard in rivalries and here are the reasons why.
The Cotton Bowl is the perfect setting. It’s almost exactly halfway in between Norman and Austin. The stadium is split at the 50 yard line. Sooners on one side, Longhorns on the other. Show me another event like this in all of sports. Go ahead show me. You can’t do it. The atmosphere alone makes this game what it is because you can feel the tension in the stadium and all around the fairgrounds. Nothing but burnt orange and crimson as far as the eye can see. The Texas State Fair is part of the experience. Ride the ferris wheel, win a teddy bear, eat something fried, eat something else fried, almost get sick, drink beer, feel better, watch football. If I’m not mistaken that might just be the meaning of life right there.
The neutral setting means both teams and both fan bases are subject to abuse. There are no friendly confines at the fairgrounds, no protection, no relief from those on the other side. The team buses are the perfect example. There is no ramp to a parking garage under the stadium. There is no closed lot where the team bus can discreetly pull in without being noticed. The only way to the stadium is right through the fair, and that means going right through the fans. This means both teams are subjected to the most hateful heckling ever imagined. I’ve seen grown men beaming with pride as their child flips someone off for the first time. Its usually alcohol induced, it can be hilarious, and it can be vile, but the whole scene screams rivalry.
The symbols of the rivalry are everywhere and not only on game day. The upside down Longhorn is ever-present on the back window of the cars of OU fans. The upside down Longhorn is also a hand gesture used by Sooner fans every chance they get. How many rivalries have their own hand gesture, and in how many rivalries does one school use the other school’s logo as an insult?
The coaches in this game have styles all their own. Mack Brown is a talker. He’s more chatty with the media and the fans, but that drawl and those faces are so easy for Sooners to poke fun at. Brown is lovable to the Longhorn faithful, impossibly dopey to those in crimson. On the other sideline, Stoops is stoic, guarded, and often times looks like he was just served an undercooked Bevo burger. Brown will come right out and tell you how important this game is to his program, Stoops will only go as far to say its just another game. Love ’em or hate ’em, these men are part of the college football elite. Both have conference championships, national titles, and have seen countless players go on to the NFL. They may not come out and say it publicly, but Stoops and Brown like nothing more than taking titles from each other.
What’s the best part of this rivalry? The implications of the game itself. For the better part of a decade, the result of the Red River Rivalry has had a huge impact on the landscape of college football. The winner almost always advances to the Big 12 championship game, and usually keeps its national title hopes intact. Lose the game, and most of the goals for the season are lost right along with it. Winning definitely means bragging rights, but lately winning means a small sigh of relief. Simply put, this is the biggest hurdle for both teams every season. At Texas and OU, championships are expected. Undefeated seasons are expected. There’s nothing sweeter taking it all away from your rival and seeing that abject disappointment start to sink in.
If you aren’t from Texas or Oklahoma, you probably don’t understand. The rivalry is more than one Saturday in October. Its 365 days a year. It’s a way of life. Kids in Oklahoma learn to hate Texas before they learn to love the Sooners. Half of the OU roster is made up of kids from Texas. It’s about recruiting, it’s about state superiority, it’s about whose women are more attractive, it’s about history, love, hate, a big gold cowboy hat, and who gets to plant their flag at midfield when it’s all said and done. Sure, in the end, it’s about football. But when OU and Texas meet this Saturday, it’s about so much more.