DALLAS — Mike Rawlings saw the flooded bathrooms, the sewage spilling even into the concourses, and was like everyone at the Cotton Bowl last October.
One big difference, though, between Rawlings and everyone else wading through a mess. Rawlings is the mayor of Dallas.
So Rawlings became PLO. Permanent Latrine Orderly. He vowed that the plumbing in the ancient stadium would be fixed.
“It was not good,” Rawlings said this week. “That's not acceptable. Was not happy about it. That's why we're moving heaven and earth. I've been assured that won't happen this year.”
Of course, fans from OU and Texas have heard it before. The bathrooms overflowed a few years back in the stadium that opened in 1932, with 1932 plumbing.
But now the mayor of the city that vows it will not lose this glorious college football rivalry has not only talked the talk about fixing the bathrooms, he's walked the walk. Stepping through sewage can have a profound effect on a man.
OU-Texas at the State Fair has survived many a thing since anchoring there in 1929. Economists on both sides clamoring to move the series to Norman and Austin. The lure of JerryWorld and all its opulence over in Arlington. The Barry Switzer/Darrell Royal feud. Formation of the Big 12. The Longhorn Network.
But it cannot survive bad plumbing. This is not 19th-century Bombay. Even rawhide football fans have their standards.
Which is why Dallas has committed another $30 million for Cotton Bowl upgrades, to go with a $57 million makeover already spent in the 2000s, and the No. 1 priority in the latest investment is plumbing.
That will make fans feel a little better.
“Wading through sewage and eating them corndogs; yummy!” said Sooner fan Craig Blankenship, who emailed me a variety of pictures of the mess during the 2011 OU-Texas game.
Blankenship said Cotton Bowl workers began locking or guarding bathroom doors early in the game, then spent into the second half mopping up the spill.
“I am not a plumbing engineer,” Blankenship said. “But this thing sounds like their wastewater pumps are not adequate or can't keep up or something. Because long after the doors were locked, water was running out into the main areas from the restroom toilets. Weird, but nasty.”
Plumbing has become about the only issue that gives Sooners or Longhorns pause about this game staying at the Cotton Bowl.
The Cotton Bowl is not a palace, but neither is it a crumbling relic, save for the bathrooms.
And now the OU/Texas/Dallas bond is as strong as it's ever been.
A contract with Dallas through 2020. Stadium expansion to 92,000 seats, which trumps even Arlington. Luxury suites as part of the newest $30 million upgrade. The DART public transportation tweaked to make it easy for fans to get to Fair Park without traffic hassle.
It's all a continued commitment from the city of Dallas to keep the old coliseum viable in a JerryWorld world.
“The situation now is absolutely great,” said OU athletic director Joe Castiglione. “We're always trying to find a way to think about improving the game and the fan amenities, the continuous investment in renovating the stadium. They've had the right set of priorities.
“It's still more of a historical stadium compared to today's world, but they're stepping forward trying to do as much as they can with this.”
Eight years ago, when Dallas didn't land the relocating Cowboys, the city got serious about keeping OU-Texas.
“I think it is annually the most impactful and emotional weekend that Dallas has,” Rawlings said.
And in Dallas it will stay. Just as long as the plumbing gets fixed.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.