Print and Go Back ESPN.com: College Football [Print without images]

Thursday, October 6, 2011
Updated: October 7, 8:56 PM ET
Texas, Oklahoma better together

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

It is a dopey love story. Two crazy kids who fight all the time mature into life partners. Two fierce rivals who try to go it alone decide they can't live without each other. Two powerful programs try to leave for somewhere, anywhere, only to discover they are better off together.

So which line do we use from Jerry Maguire's triumphant soliloquy to Dorothy?

Darrell Royal
During the Darrell Royal era, the rivalry games were among the most heated in the series' history.

Texas could say to Oklahoma, "You complete me."

The Sooners could reply to the Longhorns, "You had me at 'Hut-hut.'"

As the closing credits roll, they stride down the Midway, shoulder pad to shoulder pad, one feeding the other a fried Twinkie.

Texas and Oklahoma will play for the 106th time on Saturday. The No. 3 Sooners and No. 11 Longhorns will meet three hours from their respective campuses at the State Fair of Texas, just as they have since Herbert Hoover was president.

The north end of the Cotton Bowl will be burnt orange; the south end, Crimson. The two sides will share a common aisle on either side of the 50-yard line. That has allowed the fan bases to hurl invective, accusations and the occasional Coke bottle at one another through the decades.

Yet the rivalry has endured. It has proved stronger than Oklahoma's rivalry with Nebraska, and just the other day, stronger than Texas' rivalry with Texas A&M. The Sooners and Longhorns have played each other when they competed in the same conference (Southwest, 1915-19), different conferences (1920-95), and the same again (Big 12, 1996- ).

They have feuded and they have fussed. But in the last 18 months, as each institution has pondered its athletic future, they have looked at life without each other and blinked.

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds told the Tulsa World this week, "The rivalry game for us has always been Oklahoma. The A&M game's been a great game and all of that. And we may play 'em. But it's not something that we have to do. I think the Oklahoma game is something we have to do."

It is a marriage, for richer or richer. Which is pretty amazing, if you know the enmity that this rivalry once spawned.

"Whether people want to like it or hate it, we have to work together," Dodds said Wednesday. "We're not going to like each other Saturday. Our programs are bigger than that."

Red River Rivalry trophy
The winner of the Red River Rivalry game has been rewarded with the Golden Hat since 1941.

They have despised each other, as in 1947, when the Sooners were so incensed at referee Jack Sisco's calls in the Longhorns' 34-14 victory that his last name became an Oklahoma synonym for "swindle."

Tired of having the Dallas hotels and restaurants jack up the rates for the weekend, Oklahoma fans called for the games to be played home-and-home. Cooler heads, especially the one atop the head of longtime Oklahoma president George L. Cross, prevailed.

Today, just try to move the game out of Dallas.

"From time to time," Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said, "we'll have a few fans that might say it should be played on campuses. Some people perceive bias because the game is played in Texas. A couple have tried to use the economic impact of playing in-state. Once people start speaking out about it, the cascade of opposition is just amazing."

The two sides had nothing but contempt for each other in the 1970s, when upstart Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer got under the skin of Texas' fading legend, coach Darrell Royal. Switzer thought Royal didn't work hard anymore. Royal thought Switzer broke the rules. Royal, a former Sooners quarterback, threw up outside of the locker room after his first win over his alma mater (1958) and on the way to the locker room after his last game against the Sooners (1976).

"There was not a lot of love lost there," Dodds said. "That sort of rivalry, there are things more important than a football game, but not a lot. That's what I ran into when I walked in the door in 1981."

Rivalries have a funny way of evening out. Switzer won his last four games against Texas before resigning after the 1988 season. In the next four years, Longhorn Peter Gardere became the only quarterback in the history of the rivalry to go 4-0 as a starter.

When Texas and Oklahoma reunited in the Big 12 Conference in 1996, the programs became partners as well as rivals. The Big 12 has had its flaws since birth -- just ask them in Lincoln, College Station, Boulder and Columbia -- but the foundation of the league now rests on the strength of the relationship between Austin and Norman.

Five times in the decade of the 2000s, the winner of the Red River Rivalry advanced to the BCS Championship Game.

That's what made the posturing between the schools in the last month so stunning. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who will coach against Mack Brown for the 13th time on Saturday (Stoops leads, 7-5; Brown, who arrived at Texas one year earlier, is 6-7 against Oklahoma), verbally shrugged at the thought of the Sooners leaving the rivalry behind.

"I don't think there was any time when I didn't think we would play," Dodds said. "The game is just one of the biggest things we're proud of."

Mack Brown and  Bob Stoops
Bob Stoops currently leads Mack Brown in Red River Rivalry wins.

They are under contract to play at the Cotton Bowl through 2015. The schools are working with the City of Dallas about more renovations to the old stadium. Dodds has made it a point this week to talk about how good the weather is this time of year. That could be just in case anyone had any ideas about moving to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

Jerry's World doesn't sell fried Twinkies or fried Oreos at concession stands right outside the stadium.

"The worst one is fried butter," Dodds said. "I tried it, just to be Texan."

He will have a Corny Dog on Saturday, just as he does every year. Castiglione said he has tried every fried food on the Midway, including the fried ice cream sundae. But he stopped short of the fried beer and the fried margarita. Castiglione wants to stay in Fair Park, too.

"There are still some things that are just meant to be," Castiglione said, "and should stay for as long as possible."

They renew their vows on Saturday. Crockery may be thrown. That's just how love is.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.