Groans and complaints and even outrage among fans accompanied the announcements that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would both be bowling in Dallas.
Within the two programs, however, for a significant portion of both rosters, the Dallas destination meant something altogether different:
Home for the Holidays.
The Cowboys face Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Jan. 1. Three days later, the Sooners clash with old Big 12 foe Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
“Anytime you can play in a bowl game is special,” said Cowboys quarterback J.W. Walsh, a product of Denton, “and the fact that you get to play so close to home, where a lot of family and friends get to come watch you is really special.”
The Cowboys and Sooners missed out on the exotic locales – no beach, no desert, no French Quarter – and each emerged from bowl selection Sunday with a bowl bid below anticipation. Still, a Dallas trip offers certain advantages and appeals, especially for the combined 53 players on the two teams who call the area home.
“You get to go back home and there are family and friends and that's special,” said Dusty Dvoracek, the former Sooner and a Lake Dallas native. “You have more pride. There are a lot of people who are going to be watching because it's after the new year and it's in your hometown.
“It's almost like, ‘How is the local kid gonna make good?' Obviously it's a great bowl experience, too.”
Dvoracek, a defensive tackle during his OU days who now does local sports talk radio, played in the 2002 Cotton Bowl, a 10-3 Sooners win over Arkansas, after the team had appeared headed for the Rose Bowl before a loss to OSU in the regular season finale.
Looking back, the Cotton Bowl was no letdown for Dvoracek.
“I had two sacks as a freshman,” Dvoracek said. “It was one of the better defensive games in OU's history and it was right down to the wire. I loved it. It's really cool.”
For the teams, the advantage of playing games in the midst of a favored recruiting hotbed have long been documented.
OSU's roster consists of 31 players who hail from the Metroplex or close by. And of the Cowboys' current recruiting targets, 14 prospects hail from the area.
It's similar at OU, where the Sooners claim 22 Dallas-area products, with six more 2013 recruits.
Walsh remembers closely keeping tabs on the Cowboys' 2010 Cotton Bowl, a 20-10 loss to Ole Miss, with the Denton Guyer quarterback already a focus of OSU coaches.
“That was a couple months before they offered me,” Walsh said. “I was definitely watching it, and definitely into Oklahoma State football.
“It's crazy to look back now. At that time when I was watching them, I never thought I'd be back where they were at, playing for them now.”
Potential prospects will drop by practices to check out the teams at work. Some will attend the games, too, offering more opportunity to develop relationships or even gain interest in one or both of the programs.
“They get to come watch us play,” said OSU wide receiver Josh Stewart, another Denton Guyer product, “and if we perform well, it might make them want to come. It's good to go play at a place like that, where a lot of good athletes are, and they get to see our team live, first-hand.”
Mostly, it's those Dallas-area players already on campus – and their families – who benefit the most from games in their own backyard.
Once players are dismissed for a break in Stillwater and Norman, and return home, it'll be the rest of the teams eventually coming to them, reporting to bowl practices in their hometown. For parents and siblings, the biggest challenge becomes securing enough tickets for family and friends, not making travel arrangements, or debating whether they can even afford to travel.
“It's really cool,” said Cowboys senior center Evan Epstein. “I have a lot of people who wouldn't normally get to come see a game who can come and watch, and it means a lot, being my last game in college. It's a cool opportunity.
“And after the game, I get to jump in the car and drive 30 minutes and be home. You can't beat that.”
OSU cornerback Justin Gilbert said at least 15 family members are planning to see him play in Dallas.
“Gonna be pretty exciting,” Gilbert said. “Some people that have never seen me play college football before.”
And for those Cowboys and Sooners who aren't so familiar with Dallas, there are plenty of tour guides. OSU gets a game in a classic old stadium, the Cotton Bowl. OU enters the grand palace that is Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
“We have players from all over – California, Florida – who think Dallas is a cool city,” Dvoracek said. “Yeah we go there for OU-Texas and it's the State Fair, but then you're in and out. At the Cotton Bowl, you really get to see Dallas.
“I think we had a ‘Beef Eat Off' at a local place. They did a great job. They give out great bowl gifts, which is great for the players.”
Being home for the holidays isn't completely stress-free. There are a lot of people to see. And a lot of people checking in, looking for tickets.
“Yeah, a lot of my mentors and high school coaches. Friends of our family,” Epstein said. “I just hope I can get enough tickets for them.”
So the Sooners and Cowboys aren't in Miami or Phoenix or San Diego or New Orleans or even on the Riverwalk in San Antonio. And, yeah, they were aiming higher, with good reason.
Still, there's much to embrace.
And, it seems, something to prove.
“We're excited about playing,” Stewart said. “We want to go to bigger bowls, but we've got to work with what we've got.
“We definitely want to go to this bowl and prove a point that we deserved better.”
Stephanie Kuzydym contributed to this story