Bill Little commentary: Run it again
Oct. 12, 2012
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
For some reason, likely because of the formation of the new Big 12 Conference, the Texas-Oklahoma game - AKA the AT&T Red River Rivalry - seems to be rushing upon us.
While in other years the game seemed to be anticipated for weeks, this one, it seems, is suddenly here. And while students were scurrying to hustle to Dallas for the weekend, the Longhorn football team was practicing in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Beginning on Monday, even as folks talked about the exciting game with West Virginia on Saturday, annual ritual had gotten underway. Doug Smith, who for years worked as an assistant sports information director here at Texas, always said the second best game of the week (second only, of course, to the football game itself), was predicting who would be the first to ask the question, “When ya goin’ up?” That was not, however, the most uttered statement at the team’s final practice Thursday.
“Run it again,” was the repetitive phrase from co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. If practice makes perfect, then Harsin and his offense seemed striving toward that goal.
What the years have told us about the game is that on the first or second weekend in October, a “happening” in college football will occur on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas in Dallas. And as qualifying material, understand that this unique meeting between the universities of Texas and Oklahoma has a way of taking on a life of its own.
Heroes emerge and legends are made in the space of three and a half hours on the floor of the Cotton Bowl Stadium. I have often said the day is like a kaleidoscope of the senses. Sights, sounds, smells. Texas Longhorn head coach Mack Brown’s memories - as a guy who grew up in the farm country in the foothills of the Tennessee mountains - include the team’s ride into the Fairgrounds, past the livestock shows and into the sea of red and orange that engulfs the people waiting for the team buses.
It is Brown’s 15th trip down the tunnel as a head coach, and that is the fourth longest tenure of any head coach in the series. Darrell Royal was the head coach at Texas in this game for 20 years, Bud Wilkinson served as OU’s head coach for 17 years and Barry Switzer for 16.
The configuration of the seats changed dramatically several years ago when the stadium capacity was increased to over 90,000 with the addition of upper deck seats in the end zones, but the seating breakdown - burnt orange in the north half and crimson in the south - hasn’t changed. The fabled “tunnel” from whence the players and coaches enter remains the same, as if waiting for the entrance of the gladiators into the coliseum.
Interestingly, the game’s many unique qualities include the fact that each year the game changes, with new players and sometimes even different conference arrangements, and yet there are qualities that never change.
Ninety-thousand will fill the stadium for the early 11 a. m. kick, and the rest are weekend Fair attendees who are more worried about how little Johnny’s calf does in the livestock show or how Aunt Suzy’s pickles rate against the best in the state.
Heisman trophy winners and all-Americans have had their shining moments in this game, and teams have been vaulted toward national championship contention more times than not. This season brings a different dynamic, with the new Big 12 in full swing. For so many years this game was like a mid-season meeting of two warring nations, which came together at this neutral site and fought fiercely for a day, and then went their separate ways. Oklahoma could return to the Big 8 and compete for the right to go to the Orange Bowl as the league’s representative, and Texas would go back to play for the right to go to the Cotton Bowl game as the Southwest Conference official representative.
That all changed, of course, when the two teams were aligned in the South Division of the Big 12 in 1996. With rare exception, the winner of this game had the inside track to represent the division in the league championship game, thereby advancing to a BCS game - and many times the BCS National Championship game.
That’s why defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and his defense, and Harsin and co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite’s offense worked intensely Thursday. That is why, over and over again, they ran plays. Applewhite has played in this game, and Harsin grew up around car racing. Both have a great understanding of the engine it takes to win in this arena, and the fact that to do it, it needs to be fine-tuned.
That is why, over and over again, a drill would be followed by another.
“Run it again,” may have been the command for the Texas offense Thursday.
But for the thousands who will come to the stadium and the millions more who will watch on TV, it is also a request. Many are looking for the next big thing - the now and future star. Others, however, treat this game as they always have - the border battle for bragging rights. They will celebrate their trip with beverages and fried things and a corny dog. They may challenge their skills at pitch and toss on the midway, or take a whirl on one of the carnival rides.
The players, however, will remember the tunnel, the arena, and the unequalled atmosphere. They know that in practice you can “run it again.” But in this game, you do not get “do-overs.” It is an extended moment in time, where the re-runs come on television, and the memories stay for a life time.