Bill Little commentary: The kaleidoscope
Oct. 7, 2011
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
So it is with the Texas-Oklahoma game. It is a montage of sights, sounds and smells.
At the south end is "The Tunnel." Much has been made through the years of the moment when the two teams, prepared for battle, walk together down the ramp, ready to burst into the arena.
The dynamic of the game, like the turning colors, changes regularly. For years, when the Longhorns were in the Southwest Conference and Oklahoma was in the Big 8, the game was unique in that nowhere in the country did such an intense rivalry exist which did not involve a battle for a conference championship, nor match two teams from the same state.
With the coming of the Big 12 Conference in 1996, that changed dramatically. Starting then, the game has regularly had a huge effect on the determination of the league champion. Now, it takes on different proportions. As the Big 12 has evolved into ten teams this season, the conference championship game matching two division champions has gone away. The league winner will be determined straight up, with all the teams playing each other. Where once you had to have the best conference record among six teams to win your division, now the league champion will be crowned based on the best conference record among the ten teams.
In other words, win or lose in this one, there will be a lot to play for the rest of the season.
The contrasting of the senses - those of sight, sound and smell - is a constant on the Fairgrounds, but all of those are idle if not for the people. And that is the real story of why this game, and this setting, mean so much.
Juxtapositioned with the thousands of burnt orange and red clad fans who pack 90,000 strong into the stadium are more than 100,000 more who come to the Fair because they are more interested in how little Johnny's lamb does in the livestock show and how Aunt Sally's pickles are judged in the food contest. And most of them absolutely do not care who wins this football game. Perhaps they are the blessed ones. Stress is, after all, what you choose it to be.
But in the arena, memories are carved and heroes are made. You cannot think of the Texas-Oklahoma game - now officially dubbed the AT&T Red River Rivalry - without it becoming personal. Players who have played in the game will tell you the same thing. National championships have been launched, Heisman trophies have been won, all in the space of less than four hours during an October afternoon.
On this field, legends have played. That is why it has been so important that Dallas businessman Pete Schenkel spearheaded stadium renovations that added 15,000 seats and provided upgrades to the old stadium in a successful effort to convince the two schools to stay at the Fairgrounds. It is history at its grandest scale.
But like a forest where the tall trees live, seedlings grow. And that brings us to the present.
The game, and the series, survives and thrives on momentum. Like no other game, this one is about the ebb and flow of emotion. David McWilliams, who played on the Longhorns' 1963 National Championship team and later served as UT's head coach, put it best.
"It is important not to get too high in the high times, or too low in the low times. Because it will change," he said.
There are many theories as to why the momentum swings so in the stadium. Perhaps it is the split of the crowd down the middle, with one end of the stadium pulling for one team and the other end for the other. Whatever the reason, it is a game where comebacks are common place.
The game will be televised for the 59th time, and has been a sellout since the 1940s.
The 2011 game marks the 31st time in 105 meetings that the two schools have both come into the weekend unbeaten.
Even though Mack Brown at Texas and Bob Stoops at Oklahoma are regulars in the game, it will be a "new look" Texas team which arrives in Dallas this weekend. Not only are the Longhorns a very young team, the change in offensive and defensive coordinators reflects a dramatic difference from what UT has been doing over the last several years.
That is what makes this one so intriguing. Where history tells us of the games, the plays and the stars that are to be remembered, the very best thing about this game is what happens next.
There are a lot of things in life that grow old, perhaps stale, and out of style - and that has never happened with this game.
The reason for that doesn't lie in the arena, or on the Fairgrounds, or even the tunnel. Coaches battle each other, locked in a game of wits. The bands play for the show, and for the pride. The fans come, some because they always have, and others because they are locked in on something new for them.
At the heart of it, however, are the players. Keith Moreland, who played both football and baseball at Texas and spent 13 years in the Major Leagues, once said of this game, "I have stood at home plate in the World Series, and it was a great moment. But nothing compares to that feeling you have when you run out of that tunnel into that stadium."
Perhaps that is because the ghosts of games past make that field a hallowed space. More likely however, it is the showcase of pride and togetherness that only the ultimate definition of the word "team" can produce.
You play games for fun. But there is no greater feeling than that of playing for and with each other, especially when it translates into accomplishment. And it is in that space where Texas-Oklahoma thrives, not only for the events of today, but for the memories of tomorrow.