On the eve of what was to be my first Texas-Oklahoma clash, a friend, who also happens to be a Sooner son, regaled me with enchanting tales of games past. He described momentous match-ups and courageous athletes, lavish pre-game festivities and rabid supporters. He imparted the details, but said the rivalry transcends all that. He said I'd have to experience it to understand, that he couldn't convey the feeling.
"It's just crazy," he said excitedly over the phone. "It's everything it should be."
And so I envisioned a seamless indoctrination, a wonderful afternoon with fluffy clouds spotting a majestic, sun-soaked sky; school bands trumpeting fight songs; hot dogs and hamburgers and barbecue permeating the warm North Texas air; fans hoarse from too much rooting but content nonetheless. I envisioned a college atmosphere, a fawning column, an easy day.
Not quite. While 60,000-plus fans watched Oklahoma and Quentin Griffin (school-record six touchdowns) whup some Texas ass, I was resigned to the company of two guys named Buck, a dog, and a small, outdated radio. The following is the condensed version, every word true. Unfortunately.
8:30 a.m.: After waking early, eating breakfast and showering, I'm ready to hit the road in order to beat the traffic near Fair Park. Kickoff isn't until 11 a.m., but, since I've never before traveled to the Cotton Bowl, I figure it's a good idea to leave two-and-a-half hours early. A better idea would have been to stay home.
8:31 a.m.: Closing my apartment door behind me, I feel a chill as the rain falls steadily. It's colder than I expected, and, before locking my pad, I contemplate trading my thin, short-sleeve shirt for something warmer, perhaps even grabbing a jacket or an umbrella. Nah, I think, I've got premium parking just spitting distance from the stadium--no need. I'm from the East; I can handle the cold. What I neglect to tell myself is that I'm a moron.
9:15 a.m.: Every conceivable route into the Cotton Bowl/Smirnoff Music Centre/State Fair/Nexus of Hell is jammed with cars. Nobody moves, everybody honks.
9:45 a.m.: I haven't gotten far and I'm growing antsy after more than an hour confined to the car. But I'm sure I'll reach the media parking lot soon enough. The directions given to me by Scott from the UT sports info office will lead me there. I keep the faith.
9:55 a.m.: I have no faith, no patience. Scott's directions say to make a U-turn on Washington. As far as I can tell through fogged windows, there is no Washington.
10:04 a.m.: Using the map I procured from Scott, who is now Gonz Enemy No. 1, I make my own path to the media lot. Or so I think. Standing in the way of my ingenious shortcut is a surly, fat, poncho-wearing security guard. "Yes, excuse me, good sir," I say with typical Philly-native politeness, "May I pass through?"
"No," he grunts, "can't you read? Only DART buses through here."
"Well, what about them?" I ask incredulously, pointing to several cars he had just waved through the makeshift barrier.
"They all work here," he says. Then, reading my mind, he says, "Yeah, they all work here."
I consider running him over.
10:10 a.m.: Parked on a side street, I call my editor, relate what's happened, and ask for advice. He laughs. Heartily. For a long time. When I'm through with Scott and the fat security guard, my bastard editor is next.
10:45 a.m.: I finally find where I'm supposed to park. It's right back there, in that lot, behind the large iron gates with the padlock. I begin to cry.
I call my editor again. He laughs again, only louder this time. (In the process, he supplants Scott and the fat security guard as Gonz Enemy No. 1.) He tells me to park anywhere and run in. I tell him that would be fine, except that I have no money--I spent my only two bucks on coffee.
11:21 a.m.: Speaking of bucks, after stopping down a faraway side street where a few tailgaters have congregated, I run into an older fellow with that same name. Buck and his son, who is about 14 and who I'm oh-so-pleased to learn is also named Buck, and their dog are from some hick town in Texas--and they're Sooners fans. Buck and Buck are sitting on the gate of their preposterously large pickup, grilling what appear to be hotdogs--the mystery meat is soggy from the rain--and listening to the game on a radio that looks like WWII surplus. "Are you going in?" I ask with a shiver, checking my watch.
"Aw, nah," the older Buck says.
"Well, why come here then?"
"Why not?" Buck asks.
11:42 a.m.: I hang around Base Camp Bucks hoping to run into more OU-UT fans so I can fake a scene-piece. I don't want to leave my car because there are "no parking" signs everywhere. "I really need to take a walk and interview some people," I tell the Bucks.
"No problem, we'll watch your car," Buck the Elder says.
"Won't I get in trouble? I mean, look at the signs."
"Don't worry, it'll be fine."
Did I mention that I'm a moron?
12:10 p.m.: Thoroughly freezing my longhorns off, soaking wet, cursing the weather in this horrendous region (since when does it dip below triple digits here?), I come to realize I'm lost. That is, I don't know where the Bucks and I are parked. Convinced I'm going to die of hypothermic shock, I mutter to myself that this couldn't possibly get worse.
12:10:07 p.m.: I turn around and step in dog shit.
12:44 p.m.: By great luck, I happen upon my Honda, which, for some reason, has a tiny piece of white paper nestled under the windshield wiper on the driver's side. It's a ticket. "Yer missin' one hale of a game," Buck the Elder drawls with a crooked grin. "Sooners is winnin' big. It's almost halftime. Don't ya just luv it? Best damn day of the year, right, Buck?"
"What the hell happened to my car?"
"Oh, yeah, officer came by and said you were too close to the corner. Slapped a ticket."
"I thought you said I'd be fine."
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"Oh, yeah, whale, guess not."
I tell Buck, Buck, and the dog that I'm cutting my losses and leaving before I spontaneously combust.
"Whale, sure nice meetin' ya," Buck the Younger offers. "Maybe we'll see ya next year."