Anyone who is attending the OU-Texas football game for the first time, and especially if you’re also getting your first experience at the State Fair of Texas — I envy you.
You’ll remember it for the rest of your life.
I still have vivid memories of my first OU-Texas showdown: the 1981 game, which the Sooners led 14-3 at halftime but lost 34-14.
Kirk Bohls and Al Eschbach also were there in 1981 and for every game since.
Bohls is a University of Texas graduate and a universally respected Austin American-Statesman sports columnist. The 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox-televised clash of the sixth-ranked Sooners and 11th-ranked Longhorns will be Bohls’ 47th OU-Texas game.
Eschbach is a University of Oklahoma graduate and has done Oklahoma City sports-talk radio since 1976. On Saturday, he will attend OU-Texas for the 54th time.
For 24 seasons, Texas and OU have been Big 12 Conference brethren and, at some level, business partners.
Has that relationship knocked some of the edge off of the rivalry?
“Not at all,” Bohls replied. “I think it’s as robust and rowdy as ever and will remain so as long as the two sides keep playing out this rivalry in the Cotton Bowl amidst the pageantry of the State Fair. The hatred is still genuine.”
It was interesting that Bohls made it a point to mention the Cotton Bowl stadium, the OU-Texas venue since 1929.
With a 50-50 split on attendance and typically a significant television platform, and with the State Fair as scene-setting eye candy, the game itself remains phenomenal.
However, 10-year-old AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is 50 times better than the 89-year-old Cotton Bowl.
No first-time visitor ever leaves AT&T Stadium and says, “It’s OK, I guess.” The more common reaction: “Best stadium ever.”
Fan amenities are far superior in Arlington, unless the State Fair qualifies as the ultimate amenity.
Eschbach was asked this: If you were the king of college football and could make this decision, would OU-Texas stay at the Cotton Bowl or move to AT&T Stadium?
Texans and Oklahomans aren’t always on the same page, but on this topic, Bohls and Eschbach are in agreement.
“It’s got to stay at the Cotton Bowl,” Eschbach said. “If it went to Arlington, it would be a corporate game. You would lose the feel of the State Fair. It would be horrible.”
This week, the OU student newspaper — the OU Daily — asked how much longer the Cotton Bowl can remain viable for such a huge event, with game attendance exceeding 92,000.
On a contract that involves the University of Oklahoma, the University of Texas, the State Fair of Texas and the city of Dallas, there is an agreement for the Cotton Bowl to host OU-Texas through 2025.
The Cotton Bowl Classic game hasn’t been played at the Cotton Bowl stadium since 2009. That game is played in Arlington.
While AT&T Stadium is world-class, the Cotton Bowl stadium’s history includes both unforgettable OU-Texas games and plumbing issues.
“Somewhere down the road,” Sooners athletic director Joe Castiglione told the OU Daily, “someone is going to have to decide to discuss a new stadium. I don’t know when that is. Maybe not in my lifetime, but in your lifetime that’s going to have to be on the table.”
When Bohls reminisces, it helps to explain his preference for keeping OU-Texas at Fair Park.
“I covered the 1972 game as a junior journalism major at the University of Texas for The Daily Texan,” he said. “Before that, I went to the games in 1970 and 1971 as a student.
“I tried to sneak into a few games before as a teenager, with my brothers, when we were set loose on the State Fair by our parents, who had tickets to the game every year.”
In 1963, Eschbach witnessed his first Red River game. The No. 1-ranked Sooners were matched with No. 2-ranked Texas. The Longhorns were 28-7 winners over Bud Wilkinson’s final OU team.
A wide-eyed freshman at the time, Eschbach joined his OU friends for revelry on the streets of downtown Dallas.
Six weeks later, President John Kennedy was assassinated on a downtown Dallas street.
In Eschbach’s lifetime of OU-Texas experiences, when was the series at its best?
In 1973-88, he said. The Barry Switzer years.
“The Texas people all hated Switzer,” Eschbach said.
On the homepage of OU’s official athletics website (soonersports.com), there was this week a bold headline that designated OU-Texas as being “COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S GREATEST GAME.”
On the same website is a video narrated by Sooners radio voice Toby Rowland and titled “Thank God for OU-Texas.”
“The traffic. The quest for tickets. The fight through the fair. It’s all beautiful,” Rowland says. “Even the stadium isn’t anything special — right up until it is. And then it’s absolutely breathtaking.”
Rowland nailed the essence of OU-Texas. It really is a beautiful spectacle, and it happens in a Cotton Bowl that is steeped in tradition but otherwise isn’t anything special.