Oklahoma didn't just lose a football game Saturday. It lost an age-old tradition as well. Next year, OU will relinquish control of the Cotton Bowl's south end zone. For nearly three decades, Sooner fans have stood over the locker room tunnel on the field's south side and hurled insults — among other things — at Texas players and coaches. But a new agreement between the universities will give the home team a choice of which end zone to reserve for its fans each year. Texas is home in 2007, and that will likely mean a change of scenery for OU's faithful roustabouts. "I think it sucks because we've been doing it for years," said Mike McElroy, a Healdton resident who's attended 12 of the last 15 Red River Shootouts. "I've been doing this for years, my mom and dad have been doing it for 30 years. It's just tradition. Don't mess with it." But in many ways, the tradition of the tunnel had already faded. A couple of years ago, a tarp was added to the tunnel, covering most of the formerly open space into which OU fans would hurl their taunts. Then, a chain link fence was installed to keep projectiles — and people — from going over the edge. Finally, officials raised black curtains to hide the teams as they congregate at the mouth of the tunnel before exiting onto the field. No longer can the Sooner Nation relentlessly heckle Longhorns they way they used to back in the Barry Switzer years. The shouts and curses of the Crimson and Cream are now muffled by the barrier between the rabid fans and their rivals. "The traditions aren't what they once were," said OU athletic director Joe Castiglione. Cotton Bowl renovation plans call for further modification of the tunnel. Eventually, it will be more of an enclosed chute, which will further alter the essence of the tunnel experience for the fans and teams alike. "It kind of takes away from it," said Phillip White, an OU fan from the Woodlands, Texas. "I mean, sure it's tradition for the Texas players to get yelled at. And that might bother some people. But that's just the way it is. That's the Red River game."
Oklahoma fan Andy Slania, of Houston, sits among Texas fans, including Dee Dahlstrom, of San Antonio, front, as they both cheer at the start of the Red River Shootout at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Saturday. by BILL WAUGH, THE OKLAHOMAN