Oct. 12, 2008
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
They say the more things change, the more they remain the same.
And there they were Saturday, Texas and Oklahoma, playing football in Dallas.
The Cotton Bowl Stadium, site of the game since the 1930s, had received a massive face lift - new seats, new decks at either end, great new facilities and concessions. More than 92,000 people had come - more than ever in the history of the series.
The dawn had brought a perfect mid-October day in the Metroplex, and as the teams made their way to the stadium just past 8 a.m., the city was just beginning to awaken. Or, at least it was for those who bothered to go to sleep.
In a few hours, the college football world was about to tune in.
As the Texas busses whisked down the big highway with a police escort and turned into the Fairgrounds, the day was also beginning for the State Fair of Texas. A couple was holding their prize steer, waiting to cross the road to the show barn. Vendors were preparing their wares, as crowds clad in burnt orange and crimson red waited at the gates.
The $57 million had bought some impressive new quarters for the two teams at the stadium, with remodeled and expanded dressing rooms and a new media area at the south end. High atop the south end, a huge electronic video board was counting down the minutes to kickoff.
The national implications were obvious. Oklahoma was ranked No. 1, Texas No. 5 - two good football teams in a season where college football is searching for greatness.
As the midway of the Fair awakened, and the aroma of country-fried anythings began to fill the air, Oklahoma and Texas headed down the tunnel to prepare for the game.
More than anything, this day in Dallas is a kaleidoscope of sounds, sights and smells.
And when it was time for the game to begin, it appeared to be following a script. The Sooners had used a quick snap offense to score on the first possession of every game they had played, and this one would be no exception. The Sooners took two minutes and forty-three seconds and were ahead, 7-0.
But there was no script that would define this afternoon, unless it was that of a great prizefight where two boxers just kept swinging at each other. Texas answered with a field goal, and its defense stood and stopped the high-octane Sooners on back-to-back three-and-outs. It was 7-3, and when Oklahoma drove 74 yards in eight plays and took only a minute and 48 seconds to do it, the Sooners had the largest lead of the day at eleven points, 14-3.
The Texas-Oklahoma game has always been one of momentum, of classic swings of energy that often defy explanation. Maybe that was the answer, but what happened next will be remembered forever as part of the legend of this legendary series.
As the ball floated down into the arms of Jordan Shipley at the Texas four yard line, he caught it and headed up field to his right.
There is no play in football that matches the excitement of a long kickoff return. Never in the history of this series has anyone returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
But on this crystal clear Saturday, Jordan Shipley did...and his day was only beginning.
Now, the hunt was on. It was 14-10. And Texas just wouldn't go away.
Oklahoma scored again. It was 21-10. But so did Texas. Make that 21-17. And as the half ended, the Longhorns cut the margin to 21-20.
Sam Bradford, the Sooners' stellar quarterback who would throw five touchdown passes in the game, struck again, and it was 28-20. But one more time, Texas answered, and it was 28-27. And finally, with 1:04 left in the third quarter, Hunter Lawrence kicked a 28 yard field goal. For the first time in the game, Texas led, 30-28.
The Longhorn defense had taken charge and forced a punt on the next series. But a running into the kicker penalty extended the drive, and the Sooners took the lead at 35-30 with almost 12 minutes remaining in the game.
We often talked about the "power of the pendulum" in this game - how, like a clock pendulum, inertia swings back and forth. Bradford had performed his magic, and the No. 1-ranked Sooners were in position to put away Texas with a fourth-quarter knockout.
And just then, Colt McCoy stepped right into the showdown and drilled the Sooners.
Mixing running plays and with four consecutive completions, including one for 37 yards to Shipley, he led the Horns 76 yards to a go-ahead score. Then he connected with Quan Cosby for the two-point conversion - on a play where the ball bounced high off of Cosby and he still managed to make the play when the ball came down.
Now, it was 38-35. Texas's defense, with Roddrick Muckelroy, Brian Orakpo and Roy Miller relentlessly dogging Bradford, held Oklahoma to a three-and-out. Now, the game hung in the balance as Texas took possession of a punt at its own 20.
Six minutes and thirty-two seconds remained.
On a crucial third down at the Texas 26, McCoy and running back Chris Ogbonnaya connected for a 10-yard gain. At his own 36 now, on first down, McCoy came to the line of scrimmage, and appeared to be checking off with his receivers, Shipley and Cosby. Then, he handed the ball to Ogbonnaya, who followed a huge hole on the right side and ran 62 yards, into a sea of Longhorn burnt orange fans, and all the way to the 1-yard line. Two plays later, with 4:02 on the clock, Cody Johnson scored his third touchdown of the day and Texas led, 45-35.
When the final seconds ticked away, Texas had won its third game of the last four over the Sooners. The pendulum which had swung northward in the early years of the decade was now dominatingly waving over the Lone Star State.
As has been the case with this team all year, you could pick a player and he made a play. McCoy thrust himself into a race for national individual honors with a 28-for-35 passing performance good for 277 yards and a touchdown. But he would be the first to give credit to his teammates. The Walter Camp Football Foundation would name Shipley the national offensive player of the week. Ogbonnaya rushed for 127 yards and caught four passes for 27. And Cosby had nine catches for 122 yards.
The defense took the best punch Bradford had offer - he completed 28-of-39 passes for 387 yards and five touchdowns - and stopped the Sooner ground game with only a net of 48 yards on 26 carries.
In the end, the quick snap, no huddle offense that had been highly effective in early season blowouts for Oklahoma may have sapped energy as their first team had to play the entire game. Texas dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for just over 37 minutes and running 70 plays. The Sooners crammed 67 plays into their almost 23 minutes of possession.
The game statistics were remarkably equal. Texas gained 438 yards, Oklahoma 435. Texas averaged 6.3 yards per play, Oklahoma 6.5.
Years ago, when asked what would determine one of these games, Darrell Royal readily responded, "turnovers and the kicking game."
Hunter Lawrence kicked three field goals and was perfect in extra points, John Gold averaged 46.5 yards per punt, and, of course, Shipley's kickoff return turned the momentum of the game at the time.
Bradford was intercepted twice. Texas did not have a turnover.
At the end of the day, as the Longhorns' busses began to wind their way out of the fairgrounds, the fans in red had gone, save for a few stragglers who lingered as they headed toward the gates. The fans in orange controlled the State Fair of Texas now, and the shouting and the tumult that had filled the spruced-up stadium was gone.
It was, after all, a day to remember. It was a classic, even valiant effort, by both sides.
And as the sun was setting, you realize that this is why they play this game. It should be about the two teams, a game played by young people whose hopes and dreams are both bolstered and dashed in this place. It is part of the lessons of life; that sometimes, despite everything you do, things don't work out. On this Saturday, both teams fought until they could fight no more, and both left everything they had on that field.
And you wonder, "What was it that made the difference?"
What we have learned about this Texas team is that it is just that - a team. It came into this season off the radar among the nation's very elite football teams. Now, at the halfway point of the season, it is living in rarified air. For the first time since 1984, Texas is ranked No. 1 in the nation during the regular season.
One of the on-going mottos of this Longhorn program had been that you have to "Earn The Right."
The team, the coaches, and certainly Mack Brown all understand that this squad is at the half-way point of perhaps the toughest schedule in modern UT history. There is much work to be done, and some outstanding teams remain in the way of a dream.
All of that, at some level, is imperative to understand, and by Monday, the game in Dallas must be only a memory - a video tucked away in the chambers of the mind to celebrate on another day.