Commentary

Tradition and emotion play big roles in OU-Texas lore

Originally Published: October 10, 2008
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

The current economic woes notwithstanding, the rich do get richer.

Oklahoma and Texas don't need top-five rankings to grab the nation's attention by the shirt collar. The rivalry between the Sooners and the Longhorns has too much else going for it.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns
AP Photo/Ron HeflinThe Cotton Bowl has been the home of one of college football's premier rivalries.

There's the setting, smack in the middle of the Texas State Fair in Dallas. If you're looking for the Cotton Bowl, it's at the foot of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, past the Bovine Beauty Parlor and the Swine Arena. Kickoff is at 11 a.m. central time, one hour after kickoff of the National Meat Goat Evaluation Show.

Kid you not.

Playing in the shadow of Big Tex, the 52-foot cowboy, the fact that the Sooners and Longhorns are No. 1 and No. 5 is just so much icing on the fried Twinkie (another State Fair specialty).

There is the tradition. Texas began playing a game at the State Fair, 200 miles north of its Austin campus, in the early 1920s. However, the Longhorns didn't play the Sooners in Fair Park until 1929. You haven't heard much about the earlier games, because there's only so much heat in a rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma.

Nearly eight decades after their first meeting on that site, UT and OU will play in the newly renovated Cotton Bowl, which has increased by 16,000 seats or so to a capacity of more than 92,000. They are divvied up equally between the schools. Pick the appropriate aisle, and you can walk with all burnt orange on one side and crimson on the other.

"It's probably the best atmosphere, I would say, in college football," Oklahoma linebacker Ryan Reynolds said.

There is the emotion on the field. "I think the guys love going into the stadium," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said, "the atmosphere, the crowd, the excitement, as much as anything the challenge of playing an excellent Texas team. Hey, this is big. Hey, you want the opportunity to win the [Big 12] South? This is a big step."

The appeal of the game, Texas coach Mack Brown said, is rooted deep in the homegrown players on both sidelines.

"One of the main reasons they come here is to play in the Oklahoma game," Brown said. "I think we have five kids now who are not from the state of Texas on this team. The rest of the kids grew up going to this game, watching this game. That's who they are. Everybody across the country thinks this is such a big game. This is something the players grew up with. They look forward to it. They want to play."

[+] EnlargeManuel Johnson
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesManuel Johnson knows Oklahoma fans aren't easy to find in his home state.

Oklahoma wide receiver Manuel Johnson grew up in Gilmer, Texas, birthplace of rocker Don Henley, crooner Johnny Mathis and not a whole lot of Sooner fans. Johnson is one of three Sooner players from Gilmer.

"Everybody from my hometown loves Texas," Johnson said. "… A couple of them have jumped ship. But it is the state of Texas, so they're going to love Texas."

The game this year features two offenses playing as if they buy their touchdowns at Costco. Quarterbacks Colt McCoy of Texas and Sam Bradford of Oklahoma are near the top of the passing efficiency ratings, and near the top of most Heisman lists. The defenses also have played very well, so the game could be the rare Big 12 affair in which neither team scores 30, 40, 50 points.

Whether it's a shootout or a defensive battle, both teams will play as if their pads are on fire. That, too, is part of the atmosphere.

Brown told a story at his news conference this week about 1984, his year as Oklahoma's offensive coordinator. Linebacker Brian Bosworth had shot his mouth off, and Brown worried about the effect it would have on the game.

"It will not make any difference in this game," then-OU head coach Barry Switzer said. "Both teams will run into each other like two Mack trucks are going to hit each other right in the face. It never matters what they say before the game, so don't worry about it."

That's the beauty of any of the great college football rivalries. "We play Texas every year," Johnson said. "It's not like we play them every 10 years. We know what to expect."

So do the rest of us. That's why we're so excited.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. His new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com