Column: My First Red River Shootout

Once, when Marvel Comics dynamo Stan Lee was asked about Spiderman, arguably his crown jewel, Lee talked about what made the book different from others of its time.

Other comic books at the time featured heavy fights and large-scale battles with an interspersing of plot, of soap opera tossed in. But Spiderman was the exact opposite, a book filled with character development, ripe with soap opera, and with a bit of action thrown in.

Strangely enough, Spiderman could serve as a metaphor for my first ever trip to the Red River Shootout. At most football games, you have the game, while the atmosphere, the tailgating and the spectacle remain firmly in the background. But at the Red River Shootout, the spectacle is the foreground, with the game almost secondary to everything around it.

I should mention that I've always wanted to cover this game. Whenever I decided that I wanted, no, needed to cover college football for my day job, I began to daydream about what that would mean. Surely, it meant traveling to big stadiums, writing about big-time teams and the biggest games that those teams played in. One of the first games to capture my imagination was the Red River Shootout.

And so when I became the publisher of LonghornDigest.com, one of the first things I did was look up the schedule to find when the two titanic programs of the Big 12 were slated to meet. Once the season began, I counted down the days until last Saturday. And even then, I had no idea what I was in for.

After traversing traffic to get to the fairgrounds — it took more than two hours to travel the final five or so miles — the first thing that hits you is the smell. You can smell the corny dogs and fried food for miles around.

After entering the Texas State Fair, I hit another wave of traffic. Fans decked out in either OU crimson or UT burnt orange swarmed the grounds, making a move anywhere a true labor. Any movement stopped a minute later, when the Sooner band, weaving its way through the fair, stopped everyone in my lane.

The walk to the press box was fascinating. Every once and a while, a police-driven golf cart would squeeze through, carrying someone battered by opposing fan.

Humor and chants abounded. When the cart shimmied through a gap in fans carrying a bloodied Longhorn fan, a middle-aged Sooner yelled out "It's going to be like that ALL DAY!"

Meanwhile, the Texas fans doled out their abuse in groups, with one person yelling out "OU" and an orange-clad mob screaming the requisite response "SUCKS!"

The crowd paced me through the various food vendors, most selling typical items like burgers, corny dogs, sandwiches and turkey legs. But all also pedaled something strangely fried, be it fried beer, fried margaritas, fried Twinkles or fried butter.

I swore that I would try something not normally ingested, but had to push those thoughts aside. It was close enough to game time that I made my way up to the press box to take in the annual showdown.

The game wasn't perfect. It was downright sloppy at times. But the energy was typically fantastic. Big plays were like switching the sound on your stereo from one speaker to the other.

And of course, both teams' bands came to play as well. Having seen every Big 12 team in action, I feel that I can safely say that Texas and Oklahoma boast two of the league's most aggressive bands in terms of overall playing time and time spent playing the school's fight song.

The reporters traveled down to the media room, situated behind the bowl where the OU fans sat with a few minutes left, but the closeness of the game caused us to come out and watch the last few plays. That was really where I was able to get a sense of the atmosphere. I saw the back-and-forth between Texas and Oklahoma fans on Landry Jones's fumble — the roar from the Texas crowd and groan from the Oklahoma side when the ball came out, the nearly tangible nervousness as the ball bounced around and the sighs of relief from Sooner fans, along with the sighs of disappointment from Texas fans, as the ball rolled harmlessly out of bounds.

Two plays later, the stadium's noise all came from the Oklahoma side, when Aaron Williams muffed the punt and the Sooners recovered to seal the game. For this year, the Sooners owned the bragging rights.

In the interview room, you could tell that it just meant more than other rivalry games. Texas coach Mack Brown rubbed his red eyes, and patted the Longhorns' players on the back, as if trying to help them recover from a tragedy.

After typing up my stories, I found a totally different vibe at the fair. The Texas and Oklahoma fans, largely inebriated, were good-natured, and at some points, wrapped their arms around each other. One side talked about the game just past, while the other talked about the game to come next year.

I listened to as much as I could as I wolfed down a corny dog and a fried pop tart (my fried selection was a very good one), and found myself relating to both sides.

After all, I enjoyed the game past, my first in attendance at the Red River Shootout. But mostly, I was looking forward to next year, and taking in the entire experience again, this time as a Red River veteran.


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