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The Greatest Rivalry
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An Inside Look at some of the elements that make the Oklahoma vs. Texas so very special
Oklahoma vs. Texas is, quite simply, college football's greatest rivalry.
The combatants are both all-time blue-bloods (one is quite a bit bluer), they represent bordering states separated by nature's great divider (a river, and a red one, at that), they meet every October as the centerpiece of the nation's largest state fair (equidistant from the campuses, but still in hostile territory for Sooner Nation), and they share perspective on the game, but only from the 50-yard line.
Oil, money, cattle, state pride, frontier spirit and, of course, football. Oklahoma and Texas share those wholly American traits, and it's all on the line when their teams clash at the Cotton Bowl.
Since the end of World War II -- the modern era of college football and, not coincidentally, the era when OU became a major player in the nation's favorite amateur pastime -- the series is tied 35-35-3. It's that good.
Here is Sooner Spectator's look at the top 10 things that separate OU-Texas from the rest:
1. The Cotton Bowl
Time erodes all great beauties, and the City of Dallas has packed more layers of makeup onto its venerable old lady than all the great Hollywood starlets combined.
A decade ago, just as Jerry Jones was finishing his playground in Arlington, the Cotton Bowl toilets backed up. But Jones still couldn't wrest the Red River Rivalry away from southside downtown.
The game first moved to Dallas in 1912 and has been played at Fair Park every year since 1929 (five days before the great stock market crash), and it's not leaving any time soon. The teams are contracted to meet there through 2025.
Some $57 million in upgrades in 2008 fixed the bathrooms and added more, and expanded the seating capacity from 76,000 to 92,000. A $25 million project in 2012 added a massive video replay board, club level seats and an upper deck in the south end zone.
It may not be JerryWorld but every October, it's home to one of the greatest sports rivalries in all of sports.
2. The Heisman
Lots of statuettes between OU-Texas.
In fact, the two rivals have produced eight Heisman Trophy winners: Billy Vessels, Steve Owens, Billy Sims, Jason White, Sam Bradford and Baker Mayfield for Oklahoma, and Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams for Texas.
Among college football's great rivalries, only Notre Dame-USC (13, plus Reggie Bush's vacated trophy) and Ohio State-Michigan (10) have more.
But since 1970, no rivalry has delivered more Heisman seasons than OU-Texas (six).
3. Original Spygate
As interesting as Lincoln Riley and Tom Herman have made things, they will probably never comprehend the animosity between Darrell Royal and Barry Switzer.
It was the wild west in recruiting, and literally anything was on the table. Bud Wilkinson, Chuck Fairbanks and then Switzer had pulled many a Texas schoolboy out of the Lone Star State.
Texas fought back, all of which made for some sore feelings among the coaching staffs. But in 1976, when Royal called Switzer and his staff "sorry bastards" in the press and accused them of sending a spy to Austin to pick up on UT's secrets, hard feelings boiled over.
The spying actually happened in 1972, when Switzer was Fairbanks' offensive coordinator. OU defensive coordinator Larry Lacewell, allegedly worked with an oilman named Lonnie Williams to infiltrate UT disguised as a painter. He came back with information, and when Royal called for a quick-kick punt on third down, OU's Derland Moore slid into position and blocked it for a Sooner touchdown.
Williams' barroom bragging eventually got back to Royal, and four years later, with Switzer at the helm, Royal cut loose.
The height of hostilities came during the pregame coin toss ahead of the '76 game, when President Gerald Ford, smiling and blissfully unaware, tried to engage both men in conversation. Neither gave more than a grunt. A ringside Sooner fan shouted, "Who are those two a**holes with Switzer?" and Royal's humiliation was complete.
The game ended 6-6, and Royal retired at the end of the year.
4. Elite Coaches
Mack Brown went into the College Football Hall of Fame last year. Bob Stoops will join him soon enough. Their contemporaries read like a who's who list of legendary coaches -- including Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer and Bennie Owen in Norman and Darrell Royal and Dana Bible in Austin.
Between the seven of them, that's 1,273 career coaching victories, a .744 winning percentage and 11 national championships.
No other collegiate rivalry in the country can boast that level of success.
5. The Characters
Sooner fans cheered when The Boz uttered his famous phrase: "Burnt orange makes me puke."
Sports media doesn't get material like that anymore, because Brian Bosworth broke the mold. He's the quintessential figure in the Red River melodrama, a Texan spurned by Texas who signed with the Sooners and tormented the Longhorns with his mouth and his punishing hits.
Little Joe Washington's silver shoes, Thomas Lott's bandana and The Boz's rainbow-flattop-mullet underscore the Sooners' Red River dominance in the realms of style and fashion. Add Joe Don Looney's social disconnect, Billy Sims' sky-high afro and Marcus Dupree's eyeglasses and Jeri curl and Texas couldn't keep up.
UT counters with Bobby Layne, a hard-partying free spirit who could challenge Looney for attitude and ability.
But Oklahoma in the '70s had a dozen Bobby Laynes -- maybe more.
6. The Blowouts
Barry Switzer once said, "Hell, Oklahoma invented winning." But when it comes to OU-Texas, Bob Stoops invented the blowout. OK, maybe he didn't invent it, but his teams certainly perfected it.
There was 63-14 in 2000, the height of OU's Red October run to the national championship. There was 65-13 in 2003, a six-TD game from Quentin Griffin. There was 55-17 in 2011, highlighted by three defensive touchdowns. And there was 63-21 in 2012, keyed by Damien Williams record-breaking 95-yard TD run and Blake Bell's four scores.
Switzer also once said, "Beating Texas is hard."
But for Stoops, at times, it was embarrassingly easy.
7. The Fans
Stoops tells the story of his first bus ride into Fair Park, when a 70-something granny flipped him the bird.
Fans used to fight and break windows on Commerce Street and the West End on Friday night before the game, but Dallas PD put a stop to (most of) that. After an epic officiating blunder to hand Texas a taut victory in 1947, OU fans threw bottles and chairs onto the field and tried to drag referee Jack Sisco out of the police cruiser that escorted him away from midfield.
The north half of the stadium houses 'Horns fans, and the south half holds Sooner fans. The lucky ones with seats at the 50 sit shoulder to shoulder and, yes, frequently get into it. When one fan base has been broken by the other, their rumble sometimes spills out onto the midway or into the parking lot.
8. The Big 12
As much fun as OU-Texas was when the Sooners ruled the Big Eight and UT roamed the Southwest Conference -- since the AP poll began in 1936, one or both of the Red River rivals has been in the rankings at kickoff -- their partnership as members of the Big 12 Conference has only enhanced things.
Truthfully, the arrival of Mack Brown in 1998 and Bob Stoops in 1999 did as much as anything to elevate the OU-Texas rivalry. But their tenures coincided with the Big 12 boon, and 12 times in a 13-year span did both teams enter Fair Park with a spot in the polls.
From 1998 to 2010, either OU or Texas won the South Division and played in the Big 12 Championship game, and from 2004 to 2010 either OU or Texas won the league crown. Moreover, in the 10 seasons from 2000 to 2009, the Sooners and Longhorns played in six of the 10 national championship games, with OU winning it all in 2000 and the 'Horns taking home the big trophy in 2005.
And all that hardware was forged in the October fires of the Red River Rivalry.
9. The State Fair of Texas
Florida-Georgia play host to the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, Fla., every year, but it pales in comparison to the wonder of the Great State Fair of Texas.
Just outside the stadium stands Big Tex, an animatronic statue that welcomes fairgoers. This Big Tex is actually a newcomer, the original somehow caught fire and burned to the ground a few years back.
Brave (or drunk) fans take on the fair's endless rides or midway games, but the fair’s top attraction -- other than gameday, of course -- is the food. It's the breeding ground for such southern delicacies as fried Oreos, chocolate-dipped cheesecake and maple syrup brisket. Fletcher's Corny Dogs, just inside the midway gates, are the best in creation.
No place on earth gives culinary license to indulge quite like the State Fair of Texas.
10. The Ties
Nobody likes a tie. But the three OU-Texas ties since 1945 were painfully unforgettable.
The infamously contentious '76 game ended 6-6 as OU tied it on a late fumble recovery and Horace Ivory TD, but Kevin Craig sailed his deep snap over holder Bud Hebert's head on the extra point.
Royal almost threw up afterward (maybe it was the burnt orange) and later said he was never more sick after a loss.
The '84 game, played in a driving rainstorm (Switzer kept his noggin dry with his infamous "Beat Texas" ballcap provided by a fan), was another Sooner letdown after Keith Stanberry intercepted a pass in the end zone but was ridiculously ruled out of bounds, giving Fred Akers impetus to kick a game-tying field goal as time expired. Texas was ranked No. 1, OU No. 3.
In '95, Howard Schnellenberger's only season, OU fell behind 21-0 on a fumble for a TD, a blocked punt for a TD and a long TD run, but outscored the 'Horns 24-3 the rest of the way. The Sooners again had a shot at the end, but Jeremy Alexander's 42-yard field goal went wide.
The 1996 game would have ended in a tie, too. Instead, John Blake's first career victory was also OU's first ever overtime game, a 30-27 win that ended the Sooners’ seven-game losing streak.
(Editor's Note: This story appears in the 2018 OU-Texas Preview issue of Sooner Spectator. To read more or subscribe, call 405-364-4515)