The Red River Rivalry has a special place in the heart of each Longhorn.
For some, it’s a game they’ve dreamed about playing in since they were kids. To others, it’s an opportunity to make a name for themselves on one of college football’s biggest stages.
Mike Davis has been waiting for his chance to face Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl for as long as he can remember.
The sophomore wide receiver grew up a short walk away from the State Fair grounds, close enough to hear the roar of the crowd. He’s been a spectator, though, for one too many years.
Davis missed the game a season ago with a knee injury. He couldn’t travel with the team and ended up watching from a Buffalo Wild Wings in nearby Mesquite. The only thing that eased the pain of not being on the field was the hundreds of Texas fans watching alongside, offering their encouragement.
“It was fun watching it but I was just wishing I was out there,” Davis said.
He admits the rivalry and its mystique was a deciding factor in changing his commitment from Louisiana State to Texas. Now, he’ll finally have his moment at the Cotton Bowl.
“I always wanted to play in this game,” Davis said. “I’ve always been a big fan of this game.”
This rivalry turns best friends into enemies. There’s no love lost between the Longhorns and Sooners. Davis and Oklahoma defensive back Joe Powell played together at Skyline High School, grew up in the same neighborhood and call each other brothers. It’s the only week of the year they aren’t friendly.
“He called and talked all this trash,” Davis said. “I wasn’t trying to listen to all that. I was just trying to see how he was doing. I was like, ‘We just going to see on Saturday. I don’t want to hug with you, talk to you.’
Oscar Giles embraces that mentality. The defensive ends coach is one of the few who have played and coached in this game.
“It’s a heavyweight fight,” said Giles, who made his Cotton Bowl debut in 1987. “The guy at the end who stands up is a champion. But it’s a fight all the way through.”
Davis, though, isn’t the only wide receiver with a passion for the Cotton Bowl.
Marquise Goodwin became a household name across the state after a breakout performance against OU as a freshman in 2009, when he caught a 14-yard touchdown to break open a tie game in the third quarter.
“It was an eye-opening experience for me,” Goodwin said. “It was a great opportunity for me to show that I could be a good football player. I love this game. I love everything about it.
Yes, there’s nothing quite like this one. What other game combines the pageantry of the State Fair with a rivalry as intense as it is iconic?
Tray Allen vividly remembers his first taste of the OU game.
“When we walked out of the tunnel and all the OU fans were screaming, my eyes got big,” Allen said. “Luckily, I had Tony Hills grab me and say it’s time to play ball.”
While fellow senior Fozzy Whittaker is no stranger to the Cotton Bowl’s one-of-a-kind atmosphere, the tailback still gets chills thinking about venue’s 50-yard line, where burnt orange and crimson meet to form an obvious divide in the crowd.
“You don’t really imagine the stadium half split,” Whittaker said. “When you actually see it and hear the chants going back and forth, it’s one of the coolest experiences that you ever have in college football.”
Whittaker, Allen and the rest of the veterans were tasked this week with preparing this young group of Longhorns for their first Cotton Bowl. But Jaxon Shipley may be the one freshman they don’t have to worry about.
“I’ve seen the atmosphere and seen what it’s going to be like,” Shipley said. “I haven’t played, but [Jordan] told me how it’s going to be. I think I’m ready for it.”
But the freshmen aren’t the only ones new to the rivalry. There are six coaches in their first year at Texas. It’s the game they’ve all been waiting for.
“Every coach watches this game on TV,” said head coach Mack Brown. “It’s a very unique game and because of that, these coaches came here. It means so much. Coaches embrace games like this.”
The first OU game for nearly half of the coaching staff will also be the last for linebacker Emmanuel Acho. Leave it to the outspoken senior to sum it up perfectly.
“It’s a big game and that’s what you have to thrive in,” he said.