McWilliams remembers what makes Texas-OU more than just a game
Even as an elementary school student in Cleburne, Texas, David McWilliams understood the significance of the second Saturday in October.
"I kept up with it and knew the score each year," said McWilliams. "And I really didn't even have a dog in the hunt, since no one from my family had gone to college. There was no affiliation, but I knew it was a big game. I knew it was something special."
It becomes even more special this year with the 100th meeting in the history of the rivalry, which McWilliams still considers the best in college football.
"Locally, I am sure Michigan-Ohio State, UCLA-USC, Auburn-Alabama are big," he began, "but Texas-Oklahoma always had the attention nationally. Even in years when neither Texas nor Oklahoma was dominant, the game was still on TV. The game remained a national attraction."
Since those grammar school and high school days in Cleburne, McWilliams acquired a dog in the hunt. He's experienced Texas-OU as a player (1961-63), assistant coach (1970-85) and head coach (1987-91) at Texas.
But McWilliams was only a couple of factors removed from having experienced the rivalry wearing crimson instead of burnt orange. He considered no other schools, in part, because he wanted to play in the game.
"I really liked Coach (Bud) Wilkinson," McWilliams said of the legendary Sooners' head man. "But I also really liked Coach (Darrell) Royal and Coach (Mike) Campbell. I was 90 percent for Texas because I knew my parents wouldn't have been able to afford to go to Norman to see me play."
Ultimately, McWilliams' desire to live in Texas after college, along with his concern that Wilkinson would retire before his eligibility was completed at Oklahoma, helped make the decision.
McWilliams, who is an associate athletics director for development and currently heads the "T" Association, was not in the Cotton Bowl during his freshman year, since freshmen were ineligible at that time.
"They didn't have tickets for you then, either," he said, with a laugh.
He was there for his sophomore year. And to look at McWilliams' face as he talked of his first walk down the tunnel of the Cotton Bowl, it seemed there was a part of him still there 40-plus years later.
"Everybody told me about the walk down the tunnel," he said. "And everybody said you couldn't explain it, that you had to experience it. They were right. You almost get to where you are going to hyperventilate…and it was that way every year."
McWilliams never lost to OU, capping off his career by participating in the 1963 encounter that was dubbed by the pundits as the Game of the Century when No. 2 Texas upset No. 1 Oklahoma, 28-7, en route to UT's first national championship.
Following his success as head coach at Abilene High School, McWilliams returned to UT as an assistant when Royal beckoned in 1970.
The walk down the tunnel as an assistant coach, and later as head coach, just wasn't the same, McWilliams admitted.
"It still was exciting," he said. "But as a player, you're nervous before the game. Once you get that first hit, that goes away. As a coach, you're nervous for the next three hours. That never goes away."
As head coach, McWilliams was 3-2 against OU (winning three straight from 1989-91), claiming a 14-13 thriller in 1990 as his Longhorns were on their "Shock The Nation" Tour, going 10-1 in the regular season and rising to No. 5 in the country.
McWilliams, who says he is not speaking as an UT official when he says he hopes the game stays in Dallas, claims that there is 10 times the pressure in that game now since the schools are conference foes.
"Texas-OU used to be for state pride," he said. "Now it's for the BCS."