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Gridiron Grief

The last three Octobers have been painful ones for Justin Maass. The momentary highs that he has experienced on various Saturdays during those months were all too quickly erased by soul-scarring lows.

You see, in addition to making a decent living as a tie-down roper, this resident of Giddings, Texas is also a long-suffering University of Texas football fan. Now, Maass, being the proud Longhorn he is, (he didn't attend the university, but has pulled for the Longhorns since he was a kid) he wouldn't accept that tag. But when it comes to the Red River Shootout, which pits UT against the University of Oklahoma, the last three years have been as exasperating as any gridiron matchup between national powerhouses could possibly be.

While Texas holds the edge (55-37-5) in the series that has been played in Dallas' Cotton Bowl since 1929, the Horns, under the direction of sixth-year head coach Mack Brown have dropped their last three meetings against fifth-year coach Bob Stoops and the Sooners in the "neutral site" held during the State Fair of Texas.

Just last year, OU trailed 17-11 before racking up 24 unanswered points for a 35-24 victory and their third-consecutive, double-digit win. "Man, that was a tough one to swallow," says Maass as he prepares for this weekend's Brazoria County Fair & Rodeo in Angleton, Texas.

One of the perceived conditions for a great rivalry is that it has to be a really competitive situation. Balance is key. Long streaks of dominance by one team over another can diminish the appeal. Surprisingly, with the recent one-sided prevalence of the Norman, Okla. team, the OU/Texas game appears to be immune.

Especially to fans like Maass.

Maass wouldn't consider himself a fanatic. You know, one of those who like to dress in a school's colors from head to toe 24/7, reprogram their car's horn to play the fight song or anoint themselves nicknames like "Horn Man" or "Orange Ya; Glad" so that they can talk smack on radio sports show, No, Maass is more of the passionate, but in control type who catches most Texas games when he has a chance.

"The other day while I was roping at a rodeo, a buddy of mine from Colorado pulled his trailer over to the roping box and filled us in on the Texas/Kansas State score," says Maass in reference to the Oct. 4 game in Austin that Texas eventually won 24-20 thanks to late-game heroics by redshirt freshman quarterback Vince Young. "When Texas was driving for the last touchdown, we jumped in and caught the end of it. It wasn't OU/Texas, but it was a great game."

Kansas State may have given Maass and the Longhorns a scare, but it's Oklahoma (and, depending on what Texas fan you ask, to a lesser degree Texas A&M) that warrants most of the attention in the fall.

Off Come the Gloves
Make no mistake about it, the OU/UT gridiron grudge match may be just a game to those without targeted allegiances to the two schools, but for those transfixed on the outcome, it's a contest that's all about pride and bragging rights.

Fans of both schools, especially on the rodeo circuit, may be beer-drinking, technique-swapping, girl-chasing partners for 51 weeks a year, but the Monday before the Oklahoma/Texas game a little more attitude and a little less civility becomes the norm

"There's nothing worse than an OU fan," laughs Maass, who claims he can root for any school, except for OU, that's not playing Texas. "You'd think those Sooner fans would have converted to Oklahoma State fans as many times as they Cowboys [OSU] have beaten them lately [four of the last six years]. The Sooner fans don't ever quit talking.

"They've been giving us grief for the last couple of years. This year we'll get them to be quiet. Guys like Blair [Burk] always think they're better than they are when it comes to that game."

And fellow tie-down roper and team roping header Burk agrees with almost all of Maass' opening-round barb.

"I know we're better," says the Duncan-Okla. native who used to sit behind the Sooner bench in Norman during his high school football playing days. "Let's put it this way, we don't' have any stupid signs with our fingers [Horn fans utilize a two fingers up (second and pinky) with two down and thumb to the side Hook 'em Horn gesture.]. All we raise is one finger for No. 1.

"And let me ask you, if Texas is so great why do so many of the Texas high school athletes venture up to Oklahoma to play college ball? That just shows you that everyone knows where the winners are." The Sooners' 2003 roster includes 46 Lone Star state natives.

"One of my best friends, [tie-down roper] Jeff Chapman is another Texas fan. We enjoy giving each other a good jawing during the week. Deep down he knows that the Sooners are pretty tough to beat no matter if it's in Norman, Dallas or the Orange Bowl. He just probably won't admit it."

Time is Always Made for the Game
While both Maass and Burk will be doing their own competing this weekend (Blair is sitting second at the Heart O' Texas State Fair & Rodeo held in Waco, Texas), the two plan to put rodeoing on the backburner from 2:30 (CST) to whenever the nationally televised game ends or the blowout begins.

"No matter where you're at, you never miss OU/Texas," says Burk, who has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo every year since 1995. "Me and my buddies will get our OU attire on, find a television and start talking some trash to Texas fans for sure."

Like Burk, Maass won't be able to get to Dallas this weekend. He and a friend will stow their gear after the rodeo and head to West Columbia, Texas to catch the showdown. "I've never made an OU/UT game, but I make a point to stop everything when it comes on," Maass says.

And what if an OU fan wanted to tag along to the watch party?

"We'd let him come a long so we could rag on him if we're beating the Sooners," Maass says. "If we got behind, we'd have to run him out because that mouth would start running. We can't stand that."

Being a betting man, Maass is also willing to put his money where his mouth is.

"I've got a little something riding on the game with a couple of people," Maass says. "I think we've got a chance if Texas plays Vince Young. The offensive line is going to have to play better, but I've got a good feeling.

"I know that we haven't beaten OU in three years, but I still think we're going to win. You've got to act like you've beaten them the last 15 years in a row. It doesn't even matter that we got beat by Arkansas this year [38-28]; we've still got to give it to the Sooners and their fans. It keeps everything more interesting that way."