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Memories of Texas/OU, 1976

4 posts in this topic

If memory serves, I was about three beers into the evening in Ft. Worth when I realized I'd left the Texas/OU tickets back in Austin.

It was October 1, 1976, and I was a long-haired, slack-jawed hippie who didn't give two shits about Texas football. But for my father-in-law, attending a Texas/OU game was a life-long dream. I was two months shy of graduation, and this was probably his last shot.

It took three miracles to save the day. First, I was able to conjure the last name of a married student housing neighbor, a music major who looked like Tommy Chong. Then it happened that he actually had a telephone. And, miracle of miracles, he was home on Friday night.

I told him where the spare key was, where the tickets were, and where he would find an empty cigar box to put them in. He was kind enough to put the package on a Greyhound, so we could pick it up the next morning on the way to Dallas and the Cotton Bowl.

The suspense of that side trip only stoked my father-in-law's excitement. (Let's call him Bill, since that's his name.) He'd grown up in Farmersville, a mound of dirt east of Dallas, where the only thing bigger than Texas/OU weekend was the Lord God Himself. He'd made a zillion trips to the Texas State Fair, of which Texas/OU is always the grand culmination. But fate had never put him in the big stadium for college football's game of games.

We could hear the UT marching band, roughly the size of our military contingent in Korea, before we even saw the stadium. As the band's long orange columns passed before us in the parking lot, Bill noticed I wasn't roaring, leaping and flashing the hook-'em sign with both hands. He asked if I was feeling alright.

I was, and I wasn't. The Woodstock revolution by then was suffocating under the weight of disco fever, but I was still entrenched on the far left side of the cultural divide. So was most of the Austin campus, where the legendary Darrell Royal rarely filled Memorial Stadium anymore. I think I attended three games in my five autumns there.

Rah-rah football was so Fifties, man, so boozsh-wah. Especially at Texas, where the grinding Wishbone offense was about as stylish as Kate Smith. One season The Daily Texan's sports editor boycotted all the Longhorn football games to protest the offense, the bloated football budget, and the fact that Darrell hadn't smoked dope with Willie Nelson yet. Only the frat kids (in those days a tiny fringe group) and the bidness majors could name anyone on the team besides Earl Campbell.

Yet here I was, surrounded by them now, these Izod-sporting, bra-wearing counter-revolutionaries. It was clear my smug contempt was starting to bring Bill down.

"We're gonna have fun," I said, and I wasn't lying. It was already sweaty-hot, but Bill and I were carrying heavy coats loaded with beer. Hey, things can be a lot worse than Bud on the rocks on a bright, sunny day.

President Gerald Ford, then only a month from defeat at the hands of a peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter, presided over the coin toss. His shiny bald head looked enormous in my binoculars. Darrell and OU Coach Barry Switzer were nursing a bitter feud in those days, and they refused to look at one another.

The Ford/Dole campaign had passed out green cardboard visors at the turnstiles, hoping the national TV audience would get the impression there were 70,000 Republicans in the stands. The visors were invaluable on the sun-dappled side of the stadium where we sat, but about half the fans wore them white-side up. Back on campus, the white-green ratio would have been 90-10.

The game was even more tedious than I had feared. (A modern-day Google search confirms my recollection. There were 21 punts. UT aired things out with eight forward passes. Oklahoma attempted six. These teams made pee-wee league offenses look like the '99 St. Louis Rams.)

UT took a commanding 3-0 lead to the locker room, and the bands began doing their halftime things. I watched a blue-blazered George Plimpton saunter along sidelines. Tall, erect, hands clasped behind him, he and his enormous tussock of gray hair seemed charmed, absolutely charmed, by the raucous simplicity of the proceedings.

By the third quarter, Bill and I were getting pretty raucous ourselves. The Budweiser had loosened my tongue to the point that I was now heckling Darrell's conservative play calls. After registering my disgust with his decision to punt in Oklahoma territory, I plopped down and started digging in my coat for more ammo.

"Give him some more of that," Bill suggested. "The sumbitch deserves it."

After refilling my cup, I took Bill's advice and resumed my critique. "Attaboy, Darrell. Punt the damn thing. That's a gutsy move! No need to run up the score, baby!"

A few rows down, an Izod dude turned and looked up at me. "Hey you," he shouted. "There was a penalty on the punt, and UT has the ball back. We've run two more plays while you've been talking that shit."

Bill and I looked at each other, stunned, then burst out laughing. We had reached our moment of Zen.

The game plodded along until the fourth quarter, when UT padded its lead with a second field goal. Then, attempting to kill the clock, a Longhorn running back suddenly fumbled near his end zone, and OU scored a quick, cheap touchdown.

During the decisive extra point attempt, something impelled me to focus my binoculars on the center's hands. The kid was clutching the ball so tightly I thought it might burst. Sure enough, he snapped it over the kicker's head, and the game ended in a bitter tie.

Less than two months later, a burned-out Darrell Royal retired at 52, an age that is now ominously close to my own. Today Bill is in a nursing home, his memory of that day eroded by Parkinson's disease. And tomorrow is Texas/OU day in Dallas.

The revolution came and went. So did George Plimpton. But Texas/OU is forever. This year I intend to let myself enjoy it completely. These days, I guess that's how a middle-aged hippie goes with the flow...

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Gary and I went to the Shootout together just a few weeks after starting law school in the fall of 1984. A cold drizzle fell the whole day. I had never been to a college football game, and the No. 1 v. No. 2 Cotton Bowl pandemonium was unlike anything I had ever seen. That game was an 11:00 a.m. start also, as I recall, and I very wisely skipped breakfast. "Wisely," I say, because we began glugging down large bolts of whisky from our flasks before we even got to our seats.

I don't remember most of the game, but history proves that it was a titanic struggle. When Akers decided to kick the field goal with no time left on the clock for the 15 to 15 tie, I lurched down the stairs toward the field, drunkenly bellowing for both teams to be reassembled in order to force a more manly determination of the issue.

I passed out completely shortly thereafter. Gary hoisted me onto his shoulder and negotiated his way through the milling crowd toward the far distant parking lot (actually, someone's yard) where we had parked those momentous hours before. But out of the tens of thousands of people rushing around, and out of the thousands of indistinguishable yards with cars parked ad hoc all over them for miles around, Gary couldn't find the car.

Like a squad leader finally worn out from carrying his wounded buddy, Gary eventually put me down in an effort to make better time in searching for the car. After a few minutes more of fruitless (but much lighter) searching, his mental alarm began to ring and he backtracked to where he had left my still-unconscious bulk. To his horror, he saw medical technicians loading me into an ambulance.

Gary ran to the med techs and hurriedly explained, "My buddy's not dead; he's just passed out!" But the med techs have their procedures, and they refused to hand me back over to Gary. They did, however, allow him to pile into the ambulance next to the gurney on which they had poured my lifeless form.

As the ambulance slowly forced its way through the still raucous crowd, Gary looked out the windows at the back of the ambulance and, of all things, finally spotted the right yard, and thus the car. He pounded on the interior ambulance wall near the cab, and yelled for the driver to stop. He somehow finally convinced the techs to release me to his custody, flung me back over his shoulder, and finally hauled and dumped me, still as lifeless as a mob hit victim, onto the back floorboard of the car.

Is that hilarious, or what?

I'm not a sentimentalist at all, by nature, but I think I know what is in every heart in this room. As we prepare to will our Longhorns to victory against the forces of evil each year, let us remember Gary's loyalty, bravery, and steadfastness in the face of hostile fire and his buddy's drunken incapacitation all those twenty-four years ago. May his devotion to duty, honor, and country be instilled in the Horns, so that they may smite our enemies and bring the burnt-orange light of righteousness to the skies which look down upon us.

Amen.

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Still the Biggest and the Best. From the Houston Chronicle, 10/12/12:

It’s the rivalry when push comes to shove

UT-A&M was special, but nothing matches the annual duel in Dallas pitting the Horns against the Sooners

RANDY HARVEY Commentary

DALLAS — Visiting the Baltimore Ravens’ locker room this week for a future story, I ran into rookie kicker Justin Tucker, who was preparing at this time last year for the University of Texas’ annual game at the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma.

What’s the difference as a Longhorn, I asked him, playing against Oklahoma and Texas A&M?

“Playing against Texas A&M is like playing against your little brother,” he said. “Playing against Oklahoma is like playing against your mortal enemy.”

So if you could play against only one, I asked, which would you choose? “They’re both special,” Tucker said. “You want to play them both.”

You wouldn’t expect Tucker to say anything to diminish the importance of the rivalry — former rivalry? — between UT and A&M. He became a legendary figure in the 117-year series by kicking the winning field goal last season in the final game scheduled between the schools.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he did answer the question. If you’re going to buy a video game based on intensity, would you choose one called “Mortal Enemy’’ or “Playing Against Your Little Brother?’’

Many Aggies no doubt will take offense. They want to be most hated by the Longhorns and most loved by everyone else. But this really isn’t about hating. There’s plenty of that to go around. It’s about which of the two extraordinary rivalries is more extraordinary. When the Dallas Morning News surveyed 119 college football coaches in 2009, Texas-OU was selected as the sport’s No. 1 rivalry, followed by Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn and Army-Navy.

Many years before, I talked to the late Woody Hayes about rivalries. Even the iconic Ohio State coach who wouldn’t allow his players to wear blue ties because that was a University of Michigan color, said Texas and Oklahoma fans were more serious. Dislike needs no reason

“Ohio State and Michigan don’t like each other because we’re playing for the same thing almost every year: the conference championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl,” Hayes said. “Texas and Oklahoma don’t like each other for any other reason than they don’t like each other.”

That conversation occurred before Texas and OU became members of the same conference, where they now play for something more tangible. But the fact is they already had been playing for something else: national respect and occasionally national titles. Scheduling has played a role in that. With their reputations as traditional powers among pollsters, both teams often start the season in the Top 25. By the second Saturday in October, they haven’t played enough formidable opponents to move far down or out.

Since 1945, when the first poll emerged, either Texas or Oklahoma, often both, has been ranked in 62 of 67 seasons. That includes this season, when, even with Big 12 losses for each team, Oklahoma and Texas enter Saturday’s game ranked 13th and 15th, respectively. The winner will remain in contention for a BCS game.

In five of the last nine seasons, the winner has gone on to play in the BCS Championship Game.

The potential to become recognized as one of the season’s elite teams is a dynamic that often didn’t exist when the Aggies and Longhorns played. It had virtually always been determined by the time they met in late November that they were whatever they were going to be, for better or worse.

Darrell Royal, the person most identified with the series because he played for Oklahoma and coached at Texas, said it was the kind of game where players were expected to “screw their navels to the ground and scratch, bite and spit.”

Barry Switzer, Royal’s “mortal enemy” as the Sooners’ head coach, more eloquently said, “No game can match the atmosphere, the intensity, the energy level that the Texas-Oklahoma game does. When you hit the floor of the Cotton Bowl, there’s electricity. And if you don’t feel it, you might have to have your saliva checked.”

Always a moneymaker

There are, of course, other reasons the Texas-OU game is different from the Texas-Texas A&M game, starting, for the athletic directors, with the history but moving quickly to the bottom line.

The universities make more money splitting the tickets and ticket sales evenly at a neutral site, and they get subsidies from the city of Dallas to stay at the Cotton Bowl instead of moving to Jerry Jones’ palace in Arlington.

UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said “the rivalry game has always been Oklahoma. The A&M game has been great and all that, and we may play ’em. But it’s not something that we have to do. I think the Oklahoma game is something we have to do.” Then there is the bizarre but unique element of playing the game amid the carny atmosphere of the State Fair, with Big Tex and the world’s largest Ferris wheel and the midway.

My tasters say the big hits this year are the fried butter and fried jambalaya.

randy.harvey@chron.com   twitter.com/randyharvey  

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