It’s OU-Texas Week, always a special time on the state sports calendar, and in honor of the 2013 game, our video team has produced a five-part series on the rivalry. We talked to a variety of Sooners, ranging from the 1960s into the 2000s. Posted today is the video that focuses on the rivalry itself. OU-Texas, more than a game.
The series gave me reason to meditate on the rivalry and where it stands on the list of college football’s best series. I’ve typically ranked OU-Texas No. 2. Here is my top five:
3. Ohio State-Michigan
5. Notre Dame-Southern Cal
I pick Army-Navy No. 1 because, despite the title of our OU-Texas video, Army-Navy really is more than a game. It’s about country and honor and competition and all the things that make sport great.
I’m admittedly biased in favor of OU-Texas. A guy from Columbus or Birmingham will have a different view. But here are my arguments:
* The neutral site. The Sooners and Longhorns have played on the grounds of the Texas State Fair since 1929, at the Cotton Bowl stadium since its opening in 1930. Only Georgia-Florida in Jacksonville comes close to matching the 50/50 split of the fans. This is not a bowl setting. There are no neutrals in the Cotton Bowl.
* The setting. The game is played during the fair, hard by the midway, which means unmatched revelry. Tailgating and campus traditions are splendid fabrics of college football. But the 100,000 extra fans, not counting the 92,000 lucky enough with tickets, makes for a scene like no other in the sport.
* The history. Auburn and Alabama didn’t play between 1907 and 1948. And then Bama and Auburn played at a neutral site in Birmingham, but that tradition died off when Auburn campaigned to go home-and-home. The game first went to Auburn in 1989 and left Birmingham for good in 1998. So it survived 41 straight years as a neutral-site game. OU-Texas is at 84 years and counting. And the schools played 23 times before 1929. It has survived coaching feuds and conference realignment and repeated threats to go home-and-home.
* The conference dynamics. OU-Texas spent much of its life as an interconference rivalry. In fact, that’s where the series grew its chest hair. But since 1996, the Sooners and Longhorns have been fellow Big 12 members, and the series took on a different tone. Even more important, if that’s possible. So OU-Texas has thrived as a USC-Notre Dame type non-conference showdown AND a Michigan-Ohio State type conference showdown.
* The sociology. The small state/large state aspect of the rivalry is key. Michigan-Ohio State is a battle of football equals but also state equals. OU-Texas is different. There’s clearly a little brother element to this rivalry, in terms of the states. It’s hard for any program with the pedigree of Oklahoma — seven national titles since 1950 — to be thought of as the little guy, but that’s exactly what has transpired. Barry Switzer famously called UT the nation’s best football coaching job, and that’s a theory that’s been picked up by multitudes in recent years, despite the fact that OU leads the series 33-31-3 since World War II’s end.
* The recruiting. Texas has been a bedrock of OU recruiting for 70 years. And once a year, the Sooners go to Dallas and remind Texans of how important football is in Oklahoma. And to remind the geographically-challenged that Dallas-Fort Worth is as close to Norman as DFW is to Austin. And just to show that the highways lead both directions, Texas’ greatest coach, Darrell Royal, was an OU star. His name now resides on the UT stadium.
* The politics. OU and Texas have become virtual partners in recent years. Their athletic directors (DeLoss Dodds and Donnie Duncan) put together the Big 12 almost two decades ago. And OU and Texas were determined to be bedfellows in the conference realignment craze that gripped college football in 2010 and 2011. They talked of going to the Pac-12 together, then when it became clear that Texas wanted to stay put, it became equally clear that the Sooners had no desire to go to any other league without the ‘Horns.
You can make a long list of attributes for Army-Navy, Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn and Notre Dame-Southern Cal. But history, success of the programs, traditions and most of all settings set OU-Texas apart. Only patriotism is missing, which is why I put Army-Navy No. 1 and OU-Texas No. 2.