Media mogul Ted Turner described sports as “a war without the killing.”
The cement-clad, oval-shaped building at 1300 Robert B. Cullum Blvd. in Dallas demonstrates this perfectly. The Cotton Bowl is home to one of college football’s fiercest rivalries, which, over 113 years, has consistently been significant in changing careers and changing legacies.
“OU week, Oklahoma game is one of the great games in college football for all the unique reasons; it’s at the State Fair, it’s at a neutral site,” Texas head coach Mack Brown said. “It’s such a traditional game and it’s still one of the more unique games with two bordering states. That’s really, really special.”
When Texas and Oklahoma first met in 1900, neither team had their current nickname. Texas was simply referred to as “Varsity” while Oklahoma was denoted as just Oklahoma.
Through the years, the Red River Rivalry — or Shootout as it was referred to as before 2005 — has grown to become a game where players make a name for themselves and a game where reality becomes legacy.
“When it gets down to it, all the playbooks go out the window and all the schemes go out the window and it’s man for man,” senior quarterback Case McCoy said.
Players look into a crowd filled with cramped, narrow seats split halfway between burnt orange and crimson and cream, creating intimidation as a game-changing factor. Former Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy was one of those players that looked beyond that crowd, leaving Texas with a 3-1 record against the Sooners.
McCoy led his team to a 45-35 upset victory against No. 1 Oklahoma in 2008, which helped cement his place as one of Texas’ greatest quarterbacks. His younger brother, Case, is now embracing a chance for fame himself.
“This could be the game I’m remembered for, for the rest of my life,” McCoy said. “I’d lie to you if I said this wasn’t a legacy game. I’m prepping and getting ready as if it is a game I will be remembered for, forever.”
However, sometimes people can be remembered for what they didn’t do at Fair Park in Dallas.
Darrell K Royal, arguably the best coach in Texas history, lost five of his last six meetings against the Sooners at the end of his career, tying his final contest against his northern rivals.
Comparisons can be made as Brown, currently the second-winningest head coach in Texas history behind Royal, has lost his last three meetings with Oklahoma. Just as Royal’s career came to an end during his losing streak, so too could Brown’s career come to an end, largely in part to his recent inability to stop a losing streak of his own against Oklahoma.
“It is a legacy game,” Brown said. “The team that wins this game gets celebrated and the guys that play well in this game become heroes.”
One of the biggest features of the Red River Rivalry is the aspect that many players and coaches have been on both sides of the 50-yard line separating the orange and maroon.
When Texas senior Mike Davis first attended the Red River Rivalry he was on the Oklahoma side, cheering for the Sooners.
Royal himself attended Oklahoma and played in a Sooner uniform from 1946-49. He was 2-2 against Texas during his college career as a quarterback and defensive back.
Mack Brown even spent time with his current enemy as an offensive coordinator for the Sooners. During his lone season in Oklahoma as its offensive coordinator in 1984, the Sooners played to a 15-15 tie with his future employers.
Brown remembers his first time experiencing the rivalry as one of the most unique memories he has.
“You used to drive the buses right down the middle of the fair grounds and fans would shake the buses coming in on both sides,” Brown said. “Coach [Barry] Switzer looked at me and said ‘Now you get it. Now you understand how important it is.’”
When both schools meet in the middle the 369-mile range between the two campuses, like Turner described, a college football game turns into more than just a college football game.
“It’s something a lot of people don’t get to experience,” junior Quandre Diggs said. “I knew how big the game was before I got here, but I never took part of it. I never had been to it. It was just something that amazes me each and every year when I go, to know that this is one of the biggest rivalries in college football, and at 18, 19, 20 years old and you get to experience something like that at a young age. It’s a blessing and I’m thankful for it.”