Texas-OU: More Than A Football Game

People talk about their first experience of the Texas-Oklahoma game the same way others talk about remembering where they were when Kennedy was shot, or when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, or when a man first set foot on the moon. For some of us, it's just that epic.

It is not just a game; it is more than a rivalry. It is a cultural phenomenon where the way you feel not just about the football program but also about yourself will be determined by young college students, many of whom will be playing on Sundays in coming years. It is an event where heroes are made, hearts are broken, and legacies are forged. It is the State Fair, Big Tex, Commerce Street, Fletchers Corny Dogs, the Golden Hat, the Ramp, Bevo, the Sooner Schooner, the Showband of the Southwest and the Prrrrr-ide of Oklahoma. It is the only time all year that no player or coach on either side is bigger than the game itself.

The missus will show you wallet-size pictures of the children but, here, let me show you my ticket stub from my first Oklahoma game exactly 25 years ago. It was October 8, 1977, and I had just turned 16. I wore Burnt Orange, sat in the middle of Sooner end zone and lived to tell about it. Both teams were undefeated going into the showdown, but the Sooners were more undefeated than Texas, having previously knocked off highly-ranked Ohio State.

Texas was No. 5, Oklahoma was No. 3, and the Horns had not won in the series since 1970. But this year they had Earl Campbell at running back, Brad Shearer and Johnny Johnson on defense and the best kicker I have ever seen in Russell Erxleben, who kicked field goals from 64- and 58-yards on the day.

But disaster struck in the first half. Starting quarterbacks Mark McBath and John Aune suffered season-ending injuries. First year coach Fred Akers had no choice but to turn to junior Randy McEachern whom, the week before, allowed his father to talk him out of quitting the team. And so, the unknown quarterback who was not even listed in the Texas media guide to start the season, engineered an 80-yard touchdown drive just before intermission. When Campbell carried it in from 24-yards out, I stood on top of my stadium seat and yelled while Sooner fans pelted me with ice. Texas led 10-6 at halftime. Erxleben's second field goal represented all the scoring in the second half but, with little more than four minutes remaining, OU faced a fourth-and-1 at the Texas four yard line. UT's top ranked defense stopped OU quarterback Thomas Lott for no gain. But Texas would still have to punt from its own end zone four plays later. I can still remember the collective gasps from the Sooner section after Erxleben launched that 69-yard punt to, in essence, end the game and to give the Sooner end zone to myself.

At halftime, someone outside of the Cotton Bowl offered me $150 for my ticket stub, and I wouldn't take it.

I still wouldn't.

This Saturday, in the 98th renewal of the ancient street fight, both Texas and Oklahoma enter the contest ranked either second or third in both of the major wire service polls (AP and ESPN/USA TODAY). Rankings this lofty have only happened seven other times in the series, with the teams knotted at 3-3-1 when both squads are in the Top Five.

"They're really good again," head coach Mack Brown said of the Sooners. "We'll have to play our best to win. We can't make the four bad plays (turnovers) that we made last year. They forced us into turnovers."

The game will be televised on ABC Sports, with kick-off slated for 2:30 p.m.

It is the second Saturday in October. Let the game begin.

[Editor's note: Key Matchups are next up in IT's Texas-OU week coverage.]

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