Commerce Street is one of the great casualties of OU-Texas tradition. Sort of like 2 p.m. kickoffs and ABC’s Keith Jackson.
Jim Craig once owned the Big Ed’s Hamburgers in Norman, back when I wrote for the Norman Transcript. I loved Big Ed’s and would go in frequently. Jim sent me an email Friday night, looking back at the legacy of Commerce Street and a certain Saturday at the Cotton Bowl. I thought I would share, to sort of kick off your OU-Texas morning.
“October 10, 1969. We were on our way to Dallas with OU-Texas tickets in our pocket. We had gotten married earlier in the day and, after a rowdy reception, had headed south. In Dallas, we picked up my cousin and headed for Commerce Street. The barricades were up – no vehicle traffic, and pedestrian traffic was one-way, counter-clockwise, along three or four blocks centered around the grand, ornate, exclusive Adolphus Hotel. This was the official fan hotel for the well-to-do oilies, ranchers and politicians from Oklahoma.
“There were cops everywhere. Dallas PD, county sheriffs, state troopers, even some Texas Rangers. There were cops on horses, on motorcycles, in cars, trucks, paddy wagons and a swat team or two. The fans had migrated into clusters of their own people, six to eight deep on both sides of the street from end to end. The OU fans were yelling witty, suave, semi-intellectual comments so the Texas fans could understand them. The Texas fans were hurling ugly, juvenile insults back at us. It was all great fun.
“At 11:45, the loudspeakers started blaring. ‘The rally is over. The streets will be cleared at midnight. Go home.’ Who were they to tell us the rally was over? This is OUR rally. We’ll tell YOU when the rally is over. I talked Carol into staying. This may have been the first time she got an inkling what life with me was going to be like. At 12:00, we heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights illuminate the entire east end of Commerce Street. They came around a corner with two huge street sweepers leading the way. Closer to the crowd, the water cannons turned on. Gushing streams of water covered everything from building to building across the entire street. Barricades were blown over, trash was washing down the street and people were running, screaming, laughing and having a great time. People were standing on balconies and hanging out windows, cheering the gladiators on. Carol and I ran down the block ‘til we found a nook between buildings. We hunkered down and waited for the waterfall. When the invading army passed, it was clear it had been a total rout. The streets were deserted and eerily quiet. We slinked through the shadows back to the car and went to bed that night feeling very satisfied with the start to our honeymoon.
“The next day, cheered by the news that some OU fans had thrown a Texas fan out of a third story window at the Adolphus Hotel, we headed to the Texas State Fair. The crowd, a mix of OU football aficionados and unenlightened, unwashed Texas fans, mingled, ate and drank, awaiting the 2:30 kickoff (actually 3:20), all believing they would be victorious today. Big Tex waved and welcomed us. Sweet aromas of gourmet corn dogs, Indian tacos, cotton candy and cinnamon buns as big as the right half of Bevo’s butt wafted deliciously in the crisp fall air. Bright blue skies and a brilliant Indian summer sun warmed our souls.
“KICK OFF. Back and forth, teams battling, bands battling, fans battling. Drunk Texas fan sitting in front of me, imagining his witty banter is impressing the coed next to him. His arm hangs over the seat into MY space. I bump his arm a few times with my knee. He doesn’t notice. I line his arm up and the next time there’s an exciting play, I jam my knee forward before jumping up to cheer. He doesn’t flinch. I do it several more times. He leaves at halftime, one arm hanging a little lower than the other. I imagine he awakes Sunday wondering about the Cotton Bowl seat stamp on his inside bicep and the OU knee print bruised onto the outside.
“Late in the game, Texas punts. Roy Bell, our speediest running back, waits for the ball. Tension mounts. Holding our breath. BELL DROPS THE BALL. Texas wins.
“Skies turn mid-winter gray. Texas half of the bowl celebrates in an unruly, ungracious, dastardly manner, gloating as we dejectedly file out. The smell of cheap, stale fair food hangs heavily in the dreary air. Texas band students laugh at us. Big Tex sneers and seems to mouth the words, ‘Go home, losers.’.
“Forty-four years later, Carol and I can almost forgive Roy Bell, but Texas fans – NEVER.”
Great story. Let me add a few historical insights.
Dallas police reported 450 arrests from Friday night revelry. That was down 150 from 1968, and a Dallas spokesman said Commerce Street seemed much tamer than usual. He credited the one-way traffic flow for pedestrians.
OU led 14-0 early, and Bruce Derr missed a 29-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game. Texas’ Happy Feller kicked two tie-breaking field goals in the third quarter.
OU indeed fumbled a punt in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t Roy Bell. It was Glenn King. Up man Bruce Stensrud backed up into King, just as Jim Bertelsen arrived. Texas recovered the fall at the Sooner 23-yard line and scored with 4:40 left to put away the game.
The Oklahoman headline the next morning: TEXANS ALL HAPPY FELLERS.