By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
At the State Fair of Texas this year they're selling—I kid you not—deep-fried beer and margaritas.
Inside the Cotton Bowl on Saturday they're giving away—in all likelihood—not a stuffed Snooki game prize but rather a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.
There's nothing quite like Fair Park in October, with all its pig races and 52-foot talking mannequins and people of all shapes and sizes—well, mostly XXL—meandering down The Midway. And in college football for the last decade there hasn't been a rivalry quite as good as Texas-OU.
The Sooners and Longhorns are at it again this year, with OU putting an undefeated record and Top 10 ranking on the line Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
The game will have far-reaching implications and a magnetic allure. ESPN's College GameDay—with Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit—will set up shop outside the Cotton Bowl and its sellout crowd of 92,000. ABC will import "Big Game" Brent Musburger for its play-by-play. The matchup could very well add a classic chapter to the storied rivalry that has long been one of the best in college football, and all of sports.
Since 2000 the winner of this game has annually won the Big 12 Conference's South division and played for the national championship. OU won its title in '00 and Texas in '05. In a show of dominance lined with frustration, the Sooners and Longhorns also combined to lose the BCS' ultimate game in '03 (OU), '04 (OU), '08 (OU) and '09 (UT).
Bottom line: Since 2000, the winner of this game has played for the national championship six times.
Though highly touted Nebraska may have something to say about it in the Big 12 Championship Game in December, this season may be no different as OU enters with an unblemished season.
After an embarrassing 22-point home loss to UCLA, Texas is 3-1. Though the 'Horns lost Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley, Sergio Kindle and Earl Thomas off last year's team that lost to Alabama in the title game, they are again loaded. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert has plenty of weapons in running backs Tre Newton and Fozzy Whittaker and receiver Mike Davis. Texas' defense, among the nation's stingiest—at least until the UCLA loss—is led by pass-rusher Jackson Jeffcoat, son of former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Jim.
The Sooners arrive 4-0 despite home scares by Utah State (seven points) and Air Force (three points) and last week's two-point escape at Cincinnati. Quarterback Landry Jones does his handing off to DeMarco Murray and the bulk of his throwing to talented receiver Ryan Broyles.
Last year's event—centered around an ugly 16-13 Texas win—was marred by ridiculously long delays on DART's Green Line to Fair Park. Fans from both Texas and OU grumbled, and don't think a certain billionaire down the street didn't notice.
Texas-OU is married to Dallas and the Cotton Bowl through 2015. After that, however, look for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to incite a divorce.
With the Cotton Bowl's namesake game already played in Arlington's Cowboys Stadium, Texas-OU is undoubtedly Dallas' biggest sporting event. What else this side of the NBA All-Star Game and the Super Bowl could attract the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Peyton Manning, Mark Cuban, Big Tex, LeeAnn Rimes, Roger Clemens, Fletcher and his corny dogs, fried everything and, of course, 104 years of Red River Rivalry history?
Actually, those two events were/are already in Tarrant County.
Sure enough, lurking in the periphery—like an art collector discreetly eyeing his next piece—is the looming shadow of Jones.
"Well, that would be great," the Cowboys owner said last year of hosting Texas-OU at $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium in Arlington beginning in 2016. "We know the great tradition of that football game, and certainly we would want to have that game be an away game for both teams and a home game for both teams, and you can do that by having it at our stadium."
Though he wasn't referring directly to his wooing of Texas-OU, Jones recently described his baseline business strategy.
"Anything I've ever bought that was really successful," he said, "I overpaid for."
The Fair is a unique backdrop, the Cotton Bowl is certainly more manageable after its $57 million upgrade and Texas-OU is currently profitable, but we all know Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione would be fools not to at least entertain Jones' outlandish overtures.
While the football games have escalated in importance via Heisman Trophy winners, national championship teams and compelling games, the revelry of the rivalry has become diluted since the riotous days of the '70s and '80s. Back then Commerce Street was an up-and-down orgy of orange, red and open cans of beer. It was fights. Arrests. It was mattresses tossed out of hotel windows. It was—at 2 a.m.—human debris literally cleaned from the street by fire hoses and horseback police.
These days it's more private parties, hotel ballroom events and some orderly meandering through the West End. But a sure sign the game still has some recuperative powers: Friday night Texas-OU will even have the ghost town formerly known as Victory Park buzzing. Texas cheerleaders. The OU band. Dale Hansen and his WFAA/Channel 8 pre-game special.
Boomer Sooner vs. Texas Fight.
Crimson and Cream vs. Burnt Orange.
Barry Switzer vs. Darrell Royal.
Billy Sims vs. Earl Campbell.
Bevo vs. The Boomer Schooner.
The rivalry, the quality and the implications may remain.
But sooner or later, the setting will change.