Bill Little commentary: The oranges
Oct. 30, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
STILLWATER, Okla. -- In the years before Texas and Oklahoma State resumed competition in conference play when the Big 12 opened in 1996 (Oklahoma A&M was actually a member of the Southwest Conference for 10 years between 1915 and 1924), the Longhorns and the Cowboys shared a unique friendship of sorts for one reason: both of them had a rival in Oklahoma.
So it wasn't hard to find a neutral ground, even in the midst of a sporadic series that had found OSU winning only twice in the history of the series. Once Big 12 play began, however, all of that began to change. Where once the showpieces of Oklahoma State athletics were its basketball and its wrestling teams, the school - bolstered by a huge infusion of cash from oilman T. Boone Pickens - has upgraded everything about its football program, including its bright orange look.
What once was Lewis Field, a steel and wood structure that looked more like the creation of a huge erector set rather than a football stadium, is now a new facility named after its chief benefactor, Pickens.
The Cowboys have even begun to challenge Oklahoma for recruits in the state, and have established themselves as a player on the national top 25 landscape. And they have been a part of some of the more memorable Longhorns games since the Big 12 opened.
Stillwater was the only new constant destination the Longhorns inherited with the formation of the Big 12, and its respective North and South Divisions. Texas already played three of the other four teams in the South on a home and home basis, and the annual Red River battle was always in Dallas.
So when John Mackovic took his final Texas team to Stillwater in 1997 and the Cowboys won, it was new territory. Students tore down the goal posts after the 42-16 triumph, which was only the second ever by OSU in the series.
With the coming of the Mack Brown era in 1998, the series has been marked by close contests. And in Stillwater, it has been highlighted by one thing - and it is not necessarily the oft-noted Texas comebacks. Instead, this venue has probably produced more single memorable plays than any away campus since Mack came to Texas. There are moments in time you remember, and others are etched like a photograph in your mind.
In 1999, Mack's first visit to Stillwater, the `Horns opened the game with an 80 yard touchdown run by Hodges Mitchell. They would need what was then a quick start to fend off a late Cowboy comeback where the Longhorns held on to a 34-21 victory. After that, it seemed, Texas came sleepwalking into Stillwater and had to fight from behind to win.
In 2001, the Longhorns fell behind, 10-0, before Chris Simms and freshman Cedric Benson (in his first start as a Longhorn) rallied UT for a 45-17 triumph. The game came a week after a heartbreaking 14-3 loss to Oklahoma in Dallas, and it was a contest where Benson, after losing a fumble on his first carry, rallied for 137 yards rushing.
In 2003 the single most memorable play would be one where receiver Roy Williams carried what seemed like the whole OSU team for more than 10 yards as he helped lead a comeback from nine points down. Texas wound up winning that one, 55-16.
The National Championship year of 2005 produced one of the three signature plays of the career of quarterback Vince Young, and again, it would come on a long touchdown run. Trailing 28-12 at half, the Longhorns shocked the stadium and their opponents when they came out of the locker room loose and singing. Then, on a third down play after the kickoff, Young rolled to his right, and took off on a dead run down the sidelines. When he hit his own 20-yard line at the start of the jaunt, Young was going full speed, and it took him a remarkable 30 steps to go the 80 yards to jumpstart his team. Texas went on to win, 47-28.
Two plays would define the Longhorns' next comeback, which came in 2007. Trailing 35-14 early in the fourth quarter, Texas scored on an 18-yard run by Jamaal Charles to cut the score to 35-21. But it would be another long run - this one a 75-yarder by Charles - that would bring the Longhorns to within a touchdown, shocking the crowd and the Cowboys halfway through the final stanza. The final play of the game would be Ryan Bailey's 40-yard field goal that nailed the 38-35 victory.
The series actually began in 1916, but as far as fans today are concerned, it began when the Longhorns hammered the Cowboys, 71-14, in Austin to start Big 12 play in 1996.
The victories by Texas over Oklahoma State have been unique in their style, but common in their occurrence. Texas has the best road record in the country (neutral sites not included) since Brown arrived.
That is the setting that the Longhorns will be heading into as they take their every-other-year venture to the college town that lies 70 miles to the north of Oklahoma City and a little farther away from Tulsa to the east.
In seasons past, Mack has felt that the `Horns made this trip without showing proper respect to the prowess of the growing program of the Cowboys. This time, however, Oklahoma State has Texas' full attention. Over and over again, the coaches and the players have reminded each other of another trip a year ago, to an similar setting in Lubbock. They all know that they played hard, but not well, and that one second on the South Plains kept them from a chance to play for the National Championship.
Oklahoma State has earned the right of respect, and perhaps for one of the few times in the recent series, the Longhorns understand that. Texas will come into Stillwater with a swagger, and it should. I remember a conversation I had with the fortuneteller Mrs. Hipple, who first created the mystique of the Red Candles. She said you should have "healthy ego...not diseased conceit." Therein lies the difference in "cocky" and "sure."
Destiny does make a strange riding companion. Rarely do you get a "do-over" in life. Nothing can change what happened last year, but the memory of it can serve as a stark reminder that destiny is what you make it to be.