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Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Red River Rivalry rooted in revenge

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

The first rule to remember about revenge is that it is the mother's milk of college football rivalries. In a sport in which rivals play only once a season, it takes a year to get even -- a very long year.

Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns
Revenge is the pregame meal for both Texas and Oklahoma this season in Dallas.

The second rule to remember is that the bigger the rivalry, the greater the revenge. Ask Alabama fans how it felt to end Auburn's six-year winning streak last year. Ask Notre Dame fans how it felt to beat USC (you should live so long).

The third rule is that revenge, by definition, nurtures only one team. Winners don't live off revenge. They're too busy feeding on the losers.

That is, except for this season. In one of the game's great rivalries, revenge is the pregame meal for both teams. And more than likely, as is the case with everything on the Midway at the State Fair of Texas, deep-fried.

The prevailing memory regarding Texas and Oklahoma from the 2008 season is that the Sooners played for the BCS championship at the Longhorns' expense. When the final BCS standings came out in December, Oklahoma got the chance to play for No. 1. Texas watched the Sooners from home. Therefore, the Sooners got the best of their biggest rival.

The truth is a little more complicated. In Oklahoma, the Sooners and their fans look back farther than December. They go all the way back to October, when Oklahoma took a big lead early (14-3 in the second quarter), a smaller lead late (35-30 in the fourth) and lost 45-35. That memory resonates with the same power as the third consecutive Big 12 South championship and all the bitterness of the BCS National Championship Game loss to Florida.

To the three R's most important in Texas and Oklahoma -- Red River Rivalry -- add a fourth. Both teams are looking for revenge.

"That happens with that game," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "Everybody needs to be mad before they get there."

The Sooners have lost to the Longhorns three of the past four years and are beginning to get questions about it. The Longhorns have lost three straight Big 12 South races to the Sooners. As the BCS National Championship Game returns to the Rose Bowl, it's a reminder that Texas hasn't played for the Big 12 Championship, much less the crystal football, since Vince Young stepped inside that front right pylon with 19 seconds to play against USC in Pasadena nearly four years ago.

In one of the last neutral-site, split-stadium rivalries in the game, there is always something to play for. When Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford describes how cool it is for the players when the team bus comes through the gates of the State Fair -- "Texas fans banging on your bus, giving you the finger, yelling at you. You got OU fans yelling Boomer Sooner. There's nothing like it." -- you get a sense of the emotion.

But this season, with both sides spoiling to right a wrong, there is something more, no?

No, say the coaches. Brown and Bob Stoops of the Sooners have faced each other 10 times. Stoops has won six.

"How do you get more motivated?" Stoops asked about this season. "Everyone understands what's at stake. I would imagine both sides feel they got something to prove. In the end, we haven't forgotten."

Colt McCoy
Longhorns QB Colt McCoy understands the magnitude of the Oklahoma-Texas series.

Brown has a perspective shared by few. He served as Oklahoma offensive coordinator for Barry Switzer in 1984. The Sooners came in as No. 3 and they weren't the highest-ranked team in the game. Texas came in at No. 1. On the silver anniversary of that game, the buildup remains immense. A certain Oklahoma All-America linebacker had something to do with that.

"Brian Bosworth said, 'I don't like Austin. I don't like burnt orange. I don't like Fred Akers and I hate the state of Texas,'" Brown recalled. "Coach Akers said, 'Well, the state of Texas is pretty good. Burnt orange is a nice color. Austin is a great town. There's a lot of people who don't like me.'

"And it rained so hard that day that you couldn't see. You couldn't stand up. It was a 15-15 tie. And not one person left that stadium."

Brown and Stoops gave mouth-to-mouth to the stature of programs that dropped off the national map in the 1990s. The Red River Rivalry lost luster. Quarterback Peter Gardere may be a hero to Orangebloods everywhere for leading the Longhorns to four consecutive victories over the Sooners. But only once in those four years did both teams finish in the Top 25.

Now it is different. The game is again a fixture on television. They will kick off shortly after 11 a.m., Dallas time, on Oct. 17, the latest calendar date since 1931, the rivalry's second season in Dallas.

"Every year, whether we're ranked dead last, which that will never happen, that game will be a big game for both of us," Texas quarterback Colt McCoy said.

Brown made one more attempt at bringing rationality to the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry.

"We don't blame OU for us not getting to the conference championship," Brown said of last season. "That was a Big 12 rule. It had nothing to do with the BCS. It had nothing to do with Oklahoma. It wasn't their fault. And they had a great team. We weren't even saying they didn't deserve it. We said we didn't like the way the rule worked. It didn't work out for us. We could have been as mad at Missouri as we were OU."

Brown has the facts on his side. The Longhorns fans and their righteous indignation have emotion and history on their side.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. His book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated and Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, & Traditions," is on sale now.