DALLAS — A year ago in the OU-Texas football game, the Longhorns went up in flames, 63-21 losers in the old series played on the Texas state fairgrounds.
Six days later, Big Tex did the same. The iconic cowboy statue that towers over Fair Park caught fire and was destroyed. Only his hands, belt buckle and skeletal structure survived.
A year later, Big Tex is back. New and improved. Bigger and better.
The Longhorns are back, too, but sans the makeover of Big Tex.
Twelfth-ranked OU is a heavy favorite over a Longhorn team led by the embattled Mack Brown, who could be coaching his final game against the Sooners. OU, 5-0, is a 12 1/2-point favorite over Texas, 3-2, in the game that kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Cotton Bowl. The game will be nationally televised by ABC.
Brigham Young and Ole Miss soundly beat Texas. In the Longhorns' most recent game, Oct. 3, they rallied to win 31-30 at Iowa State. Texas optimism appears to be at an all-time low in this series.
“It definitely has become more sour,” said UT senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, “just because I'm from Dallas, and to go home and not play the way we know we can play is very disappointing.”
The Sooners have won this game by blowout two straight years, taking a 36-2 halftime lead last season and a 27-3 lead in 2011, en route to a 55-17 victory. OU has jumped on Texas early and kept on jumping, quickly emptying the north section of the Cotton Bowl stands, where the Longhorn faithful sits.
“We've just gotta play well,” said OU senior center Gabe Ikard. “Start off the game like we have the last couple of years. Make sure our fans stay in it.
“It's one of those things, where you have a big play, you really can feel the momentum, the energy from the crowd. That's one of the biggest parts of it. The support we get, the noise we get, the noise in that stadium can make it difficult for Texas' offense to operate the way they want to.”
The noise outside the stadium for this state fair has centered around Big Tex. The original, constructed in 1952, stood 52 feet tall and became the symbol of the Texas State Fair. The fair's website is bigtex.com. The statue became a common meeting ground for fairgoers.
But an electrical fire last October destroyed Big Tex. The replacement stands 55 feet tall and was unveiled Sept. 26, with a slightly different wardrobe – white shirt, with red and blue pockets; at the time of the fire, Big Tex wore a red and blue shirt – but the same “Howdy, Folks, welcome to the State Fair of Texas” message delivered electronically.
The original Big Tex was donated to the fair. This Big Tex cost $500,000. The original Big Tex weighed 6,000 pounds; the new Big Tex weighs 25,000 pounds, though the Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted that that's not because Big Tex has been gorging on Fried Thanksgiving Dinner, the newest delicacy available at fair food booths.
For those who miss the old Big Tex, his hands and belt buckle are on display in an exhibit called “The Life and Times of Big Tex,” in the fair's Hall of State.
“I think people will be very pleased,” State Fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding said. “I visited him several times when he was being built. My response has been that they have successfully brought back the Big Tex that we lost last year.”
But can Mack Brown do the same?