There are a handful of questions that I never say no to.
Would you like bacon on that?
Do you want to join Kimberly and I for Texas versus Oklahoma, we have 2nd row tickets on the 50 yard line?
The last query was posed by my friend Jared a few weeks ago, and a quick glance at my schedule revealed I had originally scheduled a game at Northwestern. As exciting as a trip to Evanston sounded, getting another chance to witness one of the greatest rivalries in College Football sounded far more enticing. Chicago dogs and deep dish pizza would have to wait, and by the end of the weekend I would answer “yes” to all three of the questions posed above.
A few clicks of the mouse later, and onto a Southwest 737 I stepped for a cramped Friday night flight into the Big D. Jared greeted me at the clustered terminal outside Love Field, an unspoiled tribute to vintage 1980’s décor. Fighting our way out of airport traffic we headed 40 minutes north to Frisco, a northern suburb of Dallas well beyond the bright shiny lights of downtown. Land of minivans and mini malls, we contemplated a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond before agreeing beer sounded like a more palatable choice.
Held annually at the Texas State Fairgrounds, the Red River Rivalry; rebranded from the former “Red River Shootout” in a knee jerk PC response to gun violence, is easily one of the biggest rivalries in College Football. The dazzling spectacle of “Big Tex” is the perfect backdrop for the contest, as the unbridled frenzy in the stands is matched only by the indulgence and gluttony of the fair itself, considered the largest fair in the United States. In addition to the usual games, rides and exhibition halls, in true Texan fashion, deep fried foods are a staple of the fair experience. Vendors proffer their battered creations in every corner, ranging from usual favorites like onion rings and dough, to exotic deep fried specialties like Twinkies, smores, peanut butter and jelly, bacon, butter (yes deep fried butter), coca cola and even beer.
The Red River Rivalry is one of the few occasions where a neutral site actually works for the better. While I am a staunch traditionalist, maintaining that virtually all college football games be hosted on campuses, Texas vs. OU weekend may as well be a national holiday in Dallas. Located equidistantly three hours from each respective campus, fans from both schools are able to meet in the middle and partake in the revelry each season. The entire city of Dallas draws sides, as the streets flood with fans from each squad, crowding into every bar and restaurant in town draped in affiliated team colors. A few squabbles break out here and there as they are likely to do, but as a whole, the city is one giant party for the entire weekend.
Fighting some early Saturday morning traffic, we navigated our way into the fairgrounds, jostling amongst the mixed crowd of burnt orange and crimson. Along the sidewalk a few cleverly sarcastic Texas fans taunted Oklahoma visitors with a Toby Keith CD attached to a string, dragging the case along the ground like trolled fishing bait. Not sure how many bites they got, but it drew plenty of chuckles. We had time for only a few early morning beers, as the contest kicks off promptly at 11AM, presumably to prevent the two fan bases from getting completely saturated. Braving the mob stacked outside the entrance, as older stadiums are apt to have, we slowly shuffled our way into the ancient Cotton Bowl with 96,000 others. Descending down another thirty rows or so, we assumed our seats in the 3rd row, right on the Maginot line delineating the Texas/OU divide, rubbing shoulders against a few visored Crimson admirers.
Despite its magnitude, one of the big misconceptions about the game is crowd noise, which is considerably quieter than a typical home environment for either of these two schools. The ticket distribution is split 50/50 between the two, with a perfect line of demarcation separating the burnt orange fans from the crimson at the 50 yard line. This split creates a unique dynamic within the stadium, for at any given time only half the stadium is cheering, while the other half stands hushed (or heckling) in frustration.
Texas proved the quieter side on this day, as the Sooners put up the most lopsided score since 2003. They dominated the Longhorns on both sides of the ball, Texas compounding their mistakes by shuffling quarterbacks and coughing up five turnovers en route to a 55-17 drubbing. Midway through the third quarter, the North side of the stadium began heading for the exits. Jared and Kimberly, both ardent Texas supporters had soon seen enough as well, and they pried me from the ringside seats for some cold refreshment as the clock skipped into the 4th quarter.
Navigating our way through the various food vendors I bypassed the iconic corn dogs and funnel cake, bee lining for a post game snack fit for a Viking. For 18 State Fair coupons, or nine bucks according to the latest FOREX exchange rates, I walked away with a smoked turkey leg the size of a forearm. Salty, smoky and certainly hefty, it was soon paired with a Firemans #4 Blonde Ale from Real Ale Brewing Company. Meat and beer, the timeless combination and perfect post game snack before our retreat back north among the reckless Central Expressway traffic. Now we just have to swing into Bed Bath and Beyond for a quick stop…
Special thanks as always to my friends Jared and Kimberly, always great to catch a Texas game with you guys, and perhaps the Horns’ will fare better next year. Can’t wait until our next Burnt Orange adventure…
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