Pouring over the calendar in early October for our annual college football trip, my best friend Tyler had procrastinated once again. After last years showdown in Columbia for the South Carolina vs Florida game, he had his sights firmly set on another November matchup in the hard hitting SEC. But as the months went buy, hotels filled up and flights sold out, making any trip to the heart of Dixie prohibitively expensive. As such, we were forced to look elsewhere, and the allure of Norman, Oklahoma quickly beckoned as the storied Sooners were hosting the prolific Baylor Bears, a clash that would surely have implications on the college football playoff picture. With a few mouse clicks, flights were finally locked down for Tyler and his coworker Thibs, and a trip to Bricktown was settled.
As the calendar towards game day approached, however, a few things had shifted in the Big 12. The mighty Sooners no longer stood atop the standings, and upstarts like TCU and Kansas State had dared to leapfrog the perennial contending Crimson and Creme in the rankings. The good folks in the scheduling department at ABC Network had responded in kind, moving the #15 Oklahoma vs #12 Baylor matchup to a dreaded 11am start time, while they shifted the #6 TCU vs #7 Kansas State tilt to a 7pm kick down in Fort Worth. While I typically balk at the move to a morning kickoff, this presented us with an interesting option – catch an impromptu doubleheader! Faced with the prospect of seeing four top 15 teams in a single day (a feat I’d never accomplished in six years), Tyler and Thibs quickly agreed, and a full slate of big time college football was on the calendar.
After a night out in Oklahoma City the night before, morning starts early on Saturday. Between the 11am kickoff and a three hour drive between games, tailgating would be a futile effort in our little SUV rental. Making the short drive into Norman from Oklahoma City, we fuel up on a few breakfast tacos at Rudy’s, the long, serpentine line flooded with crimson shirts all looking to do the same. We find free parking in the quaint residential neighborhood surrounding the OU campus along Brooks street, hoofing it a mile over to the stadium on a perfect fall afternoon. I had already secured tickets the night before, answering an ad on craigslist that scored us three tickets for face value, in the 3rd row, on the 50 yard line – an intentional departure from my usual street haggling, as I hate trying to find blocks of tickets.
We tour the OU campus for only a few minutes, the early kick doesn’t leave much time for sightseeing, before heading into the bowels of Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium. Shortly after the Sooner Schooner completes its semicircle around the field, the crowd rises to it’s feet for kickoff exchanging chants of “boomer”….”sooner” back and forth across the gridiron. Seated only a few rows behind the Oklahoma bench, our view is incredible, and a great window into some of those sideline nuances that you’d never get in the grandstands. Things start out well for the Sooners, their up tempo offense moves the ball efficiently as quarterback Trevor Knight zips passes to standout freshman receiver Miciah Quick. They score a pair of touchdowns in the first frame, and jump out to a 14-3 lead after the first quarter while the Sooner faithful bellow confidently in the excitement of their home field advantage.
But that would be the last we’d hear from the crimson crowd all afternoon, and the Sooners would never score another point all day. Baylor explodes in the second quarter, erupting for three touchdowns as their gunslinger Bryce Petty tosses the ball all over the turf with impunity. Baylor head coach Art Briles spread offense is a marvel to watch, as they gnash apart the defense, reeling off chunks of yards at a time. Midway through the third quarter, the OU defense all but taps out, as Baylor piles on to lead 38-14. From our vantage point steps away from the OU squad, the players are visibly gassed, gulping for air while they slump on the bench, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops (brother of head coach Bob Stoops) berating them for yet another breakdown. Baylor would go on to a full 48-14 blowout, their first win over a ranked opponent in 37 tries, dating back to 1991. The roar of 85,048 people reduced to the silence of a Sunday church service, we hustle out towards the car. It’s a three hour ride down to Fort Worth, and football is only half done for the day….
Some would say there isn’t much to see on the stretch of I-35 South from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, but I for one enjoy the vastness of it all. At the crest of each hill the rolling plains stretch out to the horizon, a few oil derricks bob in the distance, and the sun lowers in the sky turning the grassy expanse into magnificent hues of gold and rust.
Tyler mans the wheel, careening through southern Oklahoma at a comfortable 75mph while I navigate and Thibs takes a snooze in the back seat. We stop only once, for a quick drive through mission at Whataburger, the venerable Texas burger chain. Grease soaks through the flimsy yellow wrapping paper as the hefty burgers are doled out, and Tyler deftly keeps the little SUV between the lines while gripping a fistful of cheeseburger. We listen intently as the radio bellows out the afternoon Notre Dame vs Arizona State contest, a sound thrashing for the flailing Irish.
After a few hours, traffic thickens as the skyscrapers of downtown Fort Worth appear in the distance, puncturing the faint orange sky of dusk. Approaching Amon G. Carter stadium, the streets grow thick with game day traffic and, with kickoff only twenty minutes away, parking options are severely limited. We’re forced to pull into a driveway in one of the residential neighborhoods surrounding TCU and fork over thirty bucks to park, which I negotiate down from forty on principle alone. Probably the first time this guy has been haggled for parking on his front lawn…
Hustling over to the beckoning tower lights, parking lots are already emptying into the stadium as fans guzzle a final beer before producing their tickets for scanning. With ticket options and time at a premium, locating three contiguous seats off the streets would be nearly impossible at this point. So we split, buying a pair of tickets for Tyler and Thibs, and then a single for myself – each for fifty bucks a a pop. We agree to meet up after the first quarter of the game, once a few seats become available. Hustling through the turnstiles, I make it onto the newly renovated concourse just in time to catch the final few minutes of pre game ceremonies. The Horned Frogs streak out of the tunnel sporting special black uniforms for the occasion, their iridescent purple helmets reflecting the brilliant showers of fireworks cascading overhead.
The Horned Frogs jump out to an early lead, mounting a pair of touchdown drives in the first frame that put the Wildcats on their heels. Dual threat quarterback Trevone Boykin slices through the KSU defense, running for 123 yards on the night while passing for another 216 on top of that. While Kansas State would keep the score close for most of three quarters, TCU exerts firm control for the entire contest. Finally, in the fourth quarter as the fickle Horned Frog crowd is ready to head for the exits, they finally break the game open and run away with a 41-20 signature victory. With only a single blemish on their record for the year, the big win keeps the four team playoff hopes alive for TCU, and the Big 12 newcomers have firmly established themselves as conference contenders.
After the game we retreat to the Fort Worth Stockyards for some liquid refreshment at the historic White Elephant Saloon. It’s not everyday you catch four top 15 teams in a single afternoon, in fact, it’s downright rare – and that calls for a few Shiners to celebrate…
Thanks for Thibs for making the journey down to Oklahoma and Texas and jumping at the opportunity to hit an intense doubleheader. Can’t wait to hit another one with you next year!
Thanks to Tyler for a lifelong habit of procrastination on key decisions, for once it actually worked out to our benefit. We fell into one hell of a weekend, and look forward to another one in 2015!
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