Bill Little commentary: The kaleidoscope
It is a popular ad which appears in telecasts primarily of football games. The cute little girl practically whispers a secret; the supposed reason why one television set technology is way better than any other.
"It's amazing," she says. "It's the mirrors."
A kaleidoscope is usually a tube-shaped device containing a series of colorful chips which, when rotated by the holder, display a beautiful, yet constantly different, mosaic picture.
And that is exactly what Saturday's Texas-Oklahoma game was all about.
It had been 70 years since the Texas-Oklahoma game first debuted in the historic old Cotton Bowl Stadium, and as the teams kicked off for the 71st time here, the contest's residency here for the foreseeable future has been affirmed by both schools and the Dallas officials who run the Fair.
And Saturday's version of the rivalry brought back the best qualities of the series. Where in the recent past there have been ups and downs for both teams, this 28-21 Oklahoma victory was reminiscent of some of the classic games of more than a century of match-ups between the two.
Throughout history, the game itself has been the setting for football showdowns which featured some of the best teams, best coaches and best players, in the history of college football. Legends have played here. And while Saturday's game didn't carry some of the marquee names which have been featured in the years before, it did showcase a number of players who will go on to play on Sundays in the NFL. Most of all, this game was about college guys playing the game as hard as they could at the highest level of their sport in an era where parity reigns.
The "kaleidoscope," however, is about more than just a game, and that is what makes the whole scenario of the day so special. It is an ever-changing immersing of the senses of smells, sights and sounds. It is the distant murmur of the whirring of the rides, the muffled screams of joy and excitement, the barkers on the carnival grounds who will offer you a chance to win a teddy bear in a challenge of skill and/or luck.
It is the corny dog stand, the cotton candy, the turkey legs and the cold beverages. Of the more than 150,000 people who braved the rain to be on the Fairgrounds Saturday, only 80,000 or so will be in the stadium and truly care about this game. The others will be more into the success of little Johnny's lamb or Susie's calf at the livestock show, the flashy new products and new cars on display, or the major question of the day, whether Aunt Sally's pickles won a blue ribbon for the 20th straight year as the best in all of the whole world.
The colors, as always, were primary: burnt orange and crimson.
As far as the game is concerned, it was extremely rare that both teams were coming in after a loss. It is not rare, however, that both of these nationally recognized powers understand that this game has never been about the records.
For years, until the two rejoined each other in the same conference with the creation of the Big 12 Conference, this game was strictly about bragging rights and pride. The winner got the bragging rights, both played with pride, and after the game between the Sooners of the Big 8 and the Longhorns of the Southwest Conference was over, each went their own way. More often than not it seemed, OU would win its league and head to the Orange Bowl, and Texas would dominate the SWC and claim its champion's trip to the Cotton Bowl.
Now, of course, the stakes are higher because of the implications of a conference championship.
While the past and the history and tradition of this game are important and maintain a revered place as unique in all of college football, it is the present that dominates this series.
Where once they came as two warring nations on a given day and then left the battlefield out of sight and out of mind until the next year. As the Big 12 has grown, Texas and Oklahoma have emerged as the powers of the South Division. Since 1999, either the Longhorns or the Sooners have won the division, and several times they have tied for it.
In the first seven seasons in this first decade of the 21st century, the Longhorns and the Sooners each have won a National Championship, and they have played in a combined total of seven BCS games in seven seasons.
Saturday marked only the eighth time in history that both schools came into the game after a loss. It was the first time since 1997 that both had suffered a conference loss. All of that put a different emphasis on the game. In today's world of parity in college football, when the smoke cleared a week ago after the Sooners' loss at Colorado and the Longhorns' loss to Kansas State, only two Big 12 South teams - Texas A&M and Oklahoma State - hadn't sustained a league loss. So while the loser of the game still will be in the hunt for the title, the winner will have a definite edge to jump back to the head of the chase.
All of that was on the line when the heavily favored Sooners met a Longhorn team that was embarrassed by its performance in the Kansas State loss. And to borrow a well-worn cliché, this was truly a game where time was going to run out on one team, and it turned out to be Texas.
In the end, both teams had played as hard, and as long as they could. And neither team quit believing. Even when Texas got the ball back with only 19 seconds left at their own 21, they believed. When Colt McCoy hit Nate Jones on a play that carried to the OU 44 with only four seconds left, they believed they could throw a "hail Mary" pass into the end zone, tie the game and force overtime. But that was not to be, as a holding penalty erased the gain, and the final four seconds ticked away after the penalty.
The two teams had done credit to the past, validated the present, and both offered promise for the future. It wasn't perfect, it was a disappointing loss for Texas, but it was a game where both sides could walk away knowing that they left everything they had on the field. Such contests are to be admired, even through the eyes of the vanquished, because this game on Saturday is what college football should be about. Imperfect, yes, but with brilliant plays and individual performances all around.
It is, as Mack Brown has said, a bowl game in the middle of the season. Because of its impact, Brown's approach has always been to close a chapter on the season on this weekend. Texas is 4-2, with the likelihood of seven games remaining - and maybe even an eighth. In this season of amazing unpredictability in the college game, who knows what will happen from here? In 1999, the Longhorns won the Big 12 South outright with a 6-2 record. As the storm clouds gathered and the rains came and the severe weather alert chased everyone from the stadium at the end of the game, the teams hustled up the famed tunnel, leaving the sounds, the sights and the smells from the game. And as the thunder and the lightning and the storm passed, a rainbow appeared.
Perhaps, just perhaps, that was the most fitting part of the day. Oklahoma had gotten its victory, and Texas, a team searching in the early season for an identity, had found one. Whatever else, we learned that they will not quit.
And so one more time, we leave the two warring football nations to go their separate ways. It is a ritual of the fall.
All of that we know to be true. We also know that college football today is an absolutely unpredictable labyrinth of possibilities. And in time, this game will be another footnote in a record book.
In a world where new and modern is celebrated, the Texas-Oklahoma game remains unique as a "classic." It's in a setting that makes it different. It is a game you feel as you see.
Perhaps, just perhaps, that is because we see it through the kaleidoscope. Because you see, a kaleidoscope's magic is created because of a series of tiny mirrors. Moments and memories are reflections, hanging like portraits in the hallways of the mind.
The sounds, the sights, the smells - they all are ever changing. And through the mirrors we remember the time, the plays, the day, and all that goes with it.
Most of all, only in the moment is it about who wins or loses. What we see is the reflection of who we are, and the way we were. And that is why this day, and this game, will always mean so much.