Bill Little commentary: The range
Oct. 16, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
DALLAS – When Mack and Sally Brown were considering buying some ranch land in the Texas Hill Country a few years ago, their great friend (and long-time Texas rancher) Louis Pearce told them, “The thing about owning a ranch is that you always have something to work on. You are never finished.”
What the venerable Mr. Pearce probably knew was that ranching is exactly like coaching a college football team – it doesn’t matter what you fix, there is always another fence to be repaired or a herd of horses and cows to be fed.
“But,” Mr. Pearce added, “as hard as it gets, you will never have more fun.”
That has been the message Mack has conveyed to his Longhorn football team as they approach Saturday’s annual Red River Rivalry game with Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl at the Texas State Fair: “Have fun. Few people get to do what you are about to get to do.”
Books have been written, movies have been made and tales have been told over and over again about what is about to happen Saturday morning at 11:00 as 92,000 fans fill the recently renovated stadium for the annual battle between two of the premier football powers in America. And Mack’s right. As the Colt McCoys and the Sam Bradfords of this world walk down that famous tunnel one more time, this game takes on proportions that are larger than life.
It is easy to wax eloquently about this one, dragging out the flowery language and the best of clichés. But this day, and this game, are not about words. They are about feelings. You don’t attend the Texas-Oklahoma game – you experience it.
More than anything, it is an experience of the senses. Sounds, sights, and smells. Far beyond the stadium, on the midway where the giant Ferris wheel turns or the barkers try to persuade you to try one more game of pitch and toss, or in the side buildings where Aunt Molly’s pickles and little Johnny’s lamb are competing for blue ribbons, the State Fair is a turn-back-the-clock retro jersey of Americana.
In the midst of that, you are left with the centerpiece reason that half of the 200,000 people who are on the Fairgrounds that day have showed up, and that is The Game. The other folks can live in bliss, and hurry to the corny dog stands and head home at sunset, not really caring which team won or lost. They are perhaps the blessed ones, for they will remember the day for what it was – a time for family and fun that is not predicated on who won or who lost.
Inside the stadium, and for those clad in crimson and orange, it is an entirely different matter.
When Texas athletics director L. Theo Bellmont was looking for a team to replace Vanderbilt as the Longhorns’ opponent in Dallas for a game played during the State Fair back in 1929, he looked at a number of institutions before finally decided to invite Oklahoma. And by the way, it wasn’t that the astute Bellmont was peering into the future to see what this match up could become.
Instead, he said years later, “I couldn’t get anybody else.” And thus began one of the longest running road shows in all of college football. Eighty years ago, the teams and the Fair and Dallas came together, and here they are today.
Recently, a video crew came through Austin in the process of making a TV special on the game. After they delved their way through the history and tradition, they asked what had made this game so special for all of these years. Here is a contest, played an equal 200 miles from each campus, that has stood the test of time like no other. In the good years and the bad years (and most of them have been good, by the way), this game has been a sellout since the late 1940s.
It flourished as a unique non-conference border war for much of its history, and in 1996 it became the benchmark contest that most often would decide the winner of the Big 12 South Division. With Mack Brown at Texas and Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, the game has returned to a national game of championship proportions.
All of that we know. There are two very different factors in this game. One, of course is the color and pageantry of college football at its finest. One part is made up of the fans who split the stadium down the middle, and then come together for three-and-a-half hours to scream at the teams and each other. And with all of their state and school pride, they claim ownership of the game and the moment. In its own way, the game and the day form a kaleidoscope of all of those colors, sounds, sights and smells.
But what touches us in the end is the history, both that which has been made, and that which is being made. This game, more than any other, is about the people who have played and coached on that field. Countless all-Americans have played here. Heisman Trophy winners have walked down that tunnel. Hall of Fame coaches have matched wits and dreams, all at the same time.
That is why Mack, in his final moments with his team, told them to have fun; to understand they have become part of the fiber of the game. History is, after all, what you have been told, or what you have lived and remembered.
And when it is over, it will not be the television and magazine stories that will matter, though they will provide history with an accounting of the events of the day. It may be, in part, about what you thought, or what you remembered. Most of all, however, it will be what you felt as you twirled in that kaleidoscope of magic dreams.