Doug Smith, who worked as the chief assistant in the UT media relations office for more than a dozen years, used joke that the week of the Texas-Oklahoma game, folks in the athletics department didn't greet each other with "hello." Instead they would begin every conversation with "when ya goin' up?"
"Up," of course, translates to Dallas, and "when" would vary usually from Tuesday to early Saturday morning, depending on the duties of the people involved.
And one more time, the time has come for Texas and Oklahoma to gather in Dallas. Saturday, there will be almost 200,000 people on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas. Most of them, strangely enough, will be more interested in little Johnny's lamb or Aunt Millie's pickles and whether they will actually win a blue ribbon. They will ride the rides and see all of the fancy new exhibits, eat the corny dogs and drink the beer, and they will look in bewilderment at the orange and red clad fanatics who will trek to the old stadium in the middle of the Fair, some of them just waking up and others who have never gone to sleep.
But the 75,000 or so who cram into the portals of the arena, and the two teams who gather on the field, will have some business to do, and the college football world will be watching.
It is unfortunate that even those who follow the game pretty well have missed the significance of what Mack Brown at Texas and Bob Stoops at Oklahoma have done with their football teams. In short, they have restored the game to its rightful place in college football.
Only nine times in the 99-year history of this series have both of these teams entered this game ranked among the nation's top 5 teams. It happened in 1950, in 1963, in 1975, in 1977, in 1979, and in 1984. And it has happened three times in the last four years.
In 1996, when the Big 12 Conference was born, the game took on significantly different proportions. Prior to that, Texas and Oklahoma were like two warring nations, which met once a year at a designated place and fought for a day. Then OU went back to the land of the Big 8 and Texas returned to its Southwest Conference campaign. Both teams could win their conference, both could go to their preferred bowl games, and they would retain bragging rights and little else for a year.
Now, the stakes are higher. With Oklahoma and Texas both in the powerful South Division of the Big 12, the winner of the game gains an early advantage in the race to the title game. This Saturday, four of the nation's top five teams have challenging games. Besides Texas-OU, No. 1 Southern Cal plays No. 7 California, and No. 3 Georgia plays No. 17 Tennessee. It could be moving day among college football's elite.
Much has been made of the fact that the Sooners have won four straight in this series, and Brown Monday was not dodging responsibility for that.
"That's on me," Brown said. "Bob has done a better job coaching his team than I have ours. This game isn't about pressure, it is about pride. And I sure haven't been very proud walking out of that stadium the last four years, and a team is a reflection of its coach."
What Brown and his team want most is a conference championship, with the caveat that it might be a stepping stone to a national championship. And the fact is, Oklahoma has been the biggest stumbling block for that goal. For the last four years, Texas has been playing from behind in that quest from this weekend on.
In the six years Brown has been at Texas, the Longhorns have not won a Big 12 championship. Yet in that same period, Texas has, four times during the regular season, beaten the team that won the Big 12. It happened with Texas A&M in 1998, Nebraska in 1999, Colorado in 2001 and Kansas State last year.
One of the most intriguing things about this series has been the much-publicized "streaks."
In the 1940s, Texas won eight straight. Beginning in the late 1940s and extending through 1957, Oklahoma won 9-of-10, and six in a row.
Darrell Royal turned the tide with a victory in 1958, and his Longhorns went on to dominate the series for more than a decade. Texas won 12 of 13, and at one point eight in a row, until the Sooners won in 1971. That was the first of five straight wins for Oklahoma.
Then Texas was unbeaten (including two ties) in 7-of-9 games through 1984, before Oklahoma won four straight through 1988. Texas took over the next decade-plus, going 8-2-1 through the 1999 season.
Now, it is the Sooners who hold the streak.
It has been 20 years since both programs were this good at the same time. In 1984, when Mack Brown was Oklahoma's offensive coordinator, Texas was No. 1 and Oklahoma No. 2 entering the game, which ended in a 15-15 tie.
History celebrates the return to glory of the teams, and the series. What we know is, Texas and Oklahoma have restored the balance of power in college football. Both are really good again.
And the game in Dallas is once again a "classic" for a lot of different reasons.
What hasn't changed, however, is the pilgrimage to Dallas. The game has been sold out every year for more than half a century. The folks will ride the Ferris wheel, and the game will be more like the roller coaster, with its breathtaking ups and downs. On the mid-way, folks will try to win prizes in all sorts of games of skill and chance.
And in the old stadium in the center of the Fair, two teams and their coaching staffs will play for their dreams.
And perhaps, most of all, for their pride.