Tramel's ScissorTales: OU-Texas seems locked into the Cotton Bowl & State Fair
I spoke at an OU engineering dinner Wednesday night in Dallas. Lot of long-time OU fans and donors.
An old topic came to the surface. Moving the OU-Texas game to JerryWorld over in Arlington. Some in the crowd were in favor. Some were not.
Leaving the Cotton Bowl and the State Fair of Texas once was a hot topic. Moving to campuses. Or, when Jerry Jones built his fantabulous stadium, to Arlington.
But I haven’t heard much talk about moving in years. In fact, I hear the opposite. I hear more support than ever, from both schools, at keeping the tradition going.
The OU-Texas contract with the State Fair of Texas, to play at the Cotton Bowl, goes through 2025. But talks always are ongoing, particularly since the city of Dallas has become proactive in making the Cotton Bowl as good as it can be, considering the stadium is 90 years old.
An $80 million renovation added upper decks above both end zones, and capacity increased to about 96,000.
The stadium remains in many ways a relic. Uncomfortable seats, limited fan amenities, crowded concourses.
But the tradition and the fair override the antiquated stadiums.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione never says anything that makes you believe he would consider a move.
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte says all kinds of things that make you believe he would never consider a move.
“It’s like everyone changing uniform colors,” Del Conte said. “There’s no reason to do that with the University of Texas. We’re not going to change colors. Gotta honor your tradition. Part of our great tradition is playing the second week of October in the Cotton Bowl.”
Del Conte became UT athletic director in December 2017. His first OU-Texas game was in 2018.
“I was amazed, 200,000 people outside, smacking down on a corny dog and a turkey bone and a cocktail.
“It’s a game like no other, a tradition like no other. It is the most unique game in all of college athletics.”
We can lament the failure of the city of Dallas to reach a deal with Jones almost 15 years ago. He was interested in building the Dallas Cowboys’ futuristic stadium in Dallas proper, and Fair Park was considered a prime site.
That would have been primo for OU-Texas. The fair, the revelry, the tradition, except trading out the Cotton Bowl for the world’s greatest football stadium.
Alas, it didn’t happen.
Eventually, a new stadium in Fair Park will be necessary to keep OU-Texas, and that’s problematic. How do you build a ballpark for one game a year? It might be more cost efficient to move the State Fair of Texas to Arlington, on the south side of JerryWorld.
But for now, tradition rules, and the Cotton Bowl remains the home of OU-Texas.
Big 12 pregame: Texas strong finishes vs. OU
OU and Texas renew their ancient rivalry Saturday in the Cotton Bowl, and with coaching changes and quarterback changes and defensive changes, there has been one constant in the Red River Rumble.
The Longhorns finish strong.
In 2020, OU led 31-17, and Woodi Washington intercepted a Sam Ehlinger pass in the end zone with 5:02 left. Yet Texas somehow rallied to send the game into overtime, before OU won 53-45 in four extra sessions.
In 2019, OU led 34-20 on Jalen Hurts’ touchdown run with 4:19 left in the game, but the Longhorns stormed to another TD, and OU withstood a Texas onside kick try to secure victory.
In 2018, the Sooners had the major rally, from a 45-24 fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game with 2:38 left. But Ehlinger took the Longhorns down the field, and Texas won it 48-45 on Cameron Dicker’s 40-yard field goal with nine seconds left.
In 2016, OU led 45-34, but UT went 69 yards in five plays to score a touchdown with 1:45 left in the game, and the Sooners again faced a crucial onside kick attempt before winning 45-40.
In 2014, OU led 31-13 in the fourth quarter, but UT rallied for two touchdowns. The Sooners responded with a time-consuming drive that wiped out all but 18 seconds of the game.
So in the last seven State Fair showdowns, only twice did the Longhorns not own the fourth quarter. Baker Mayfield’s long touchdown pass to Mark Andrews gave OU a 29-24 victory in 2017, and Texas won 24-17 in 2015, when the Sooners’ last legitimate possession was thwarted by two sacks of Baker Mayfield.
OU has owned the series much of the last decade. But Texas has owned the fourth quarters. Keep an eye on it Saturday.
Coach on the hot seat: Gary Patterson
TCU always draws respect in preseason predictions. The reason is Gary Patterson.
Patterson has built a solid program in Fort Worth, where the Horned Frogs for decades were college football afterthoughts. From 1966-97, TCU averaged 3.4 wins per year.
Then Dennis Franchione arrived with Patterson as defensive coordinator, the Frogs improved and Patterson in 2001 took over and brought TCU to great heights: 11 double-digit win seasons and three major bowls (including a Rose Bowl victory).
As recently as 2017, the Frogs were 11-3. But since then, TCU is 20-19. The Frogs this season already have lost to old Southwest Conference foes Southern Methodist and Texas, and now comes a trip to Lubbock.
Texas Tech was routed 70-35 by Texas, but the Red Raiders have beaten Houston and West Virginia.
Patterson is in no danger of losing his job or even inciting grumbles. He’s a made man, with a statue outside Amon Carter Stadium and iconic status in the city of Fort Worth.
But a loss to Texas Tech would send up signals that TCU is doing more than struggling this season, that the Frogs instead have slipped as a program.
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Upset special: West Virginia over Baylor
The Mountaineers have lost two straight on midnight-hour field goals – 16-13 at OU, on Gabe Brkic’s last-play, 30-yard kick, then 23-20 at home to Tech, on Jonathan Garibay’s 32-yard field goal with 18 seconds left.
That’s rough duty. Two straight losses, despite giving up just 39 points total to two historically potent offenses.
WVU’s offense remains stagnant and that isn’t likely to change. But the Mountaineer defense is for real, and Baylor’s offense is nothing to get excited about.
The Bears are 2½-point favorites at home, but let’s go with West Virginia in the upset.
Ranking the Big 12 games
1. Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, 11 a.m. Saturday, ABC: This game has been decided by one possession or less in seven straight Cotton Bowl meetings, the longest stretch of such finishes ever.
2. Boise State at Brigham Young, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC: Boise State is reeling, at 2-3, but unbeaten BYU has quarterback uncertainty with starter Jaren Hall and backup Baylor Romney both questionable. Freshman Jacob Conover finished off a tough victory last week at Utah State.
3. Texas Christian at Texas Tech, 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN: Competitive series – TCU leads 5-4 during the Big 12 era, Tech led 20-12-3 when both were in the Southwest Conference and Tech leads 7-6 when they were not conference brothers.
4. West Virginia at Baylor, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox Sports1: The Mountaineers never saw the old Bears, who were mostly non-competitive the first 15 years of the Big 12. Since WVU joined the conference, Baylor is 46-38 in Big 12 play, the Mountaineers are 40-42.
5. Temple at Cincinnati, 6 p.m. Friday, ESPN: The Bearcats have a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff, but now they play under a microscope every week.
6. East Carolina at Central Florida, 5 p.m., ESPN Plus: Since firing Ruffin McNeill after the 2015 season, the Pirates have gone 3-9, 3-9, 3-9, 4-8 and 3-6. But now East Carolina is 3-2, with wins over Tulane and Marshall.
7. Houston vs. Tulane, played Thursday night: The Cougars rose to 5-1 with a 40-22 victory over Houston.
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Longhorn memories of the Cotton Bowl tunnel
Texas kicker Billy Schott played on Darrell Royal’s 1972-74 Longhorn teams. About a decade ago, he penned a tribute to the famed Cotton Bowl tunnel, where back in the day the Sooners and Longhorns would take the field at the same time.
That’s no longer the convention, but Schott captured the mood and excitement of such an experience. Every year, he posts his essay on orangebloods.com. We reprint it here with permission.
“I've experienced the walk down the Cotton Bowl ramp/tunnel first as a young ballboy for many years and then as a player in three Texas-OU games, followed by a couple of stints as a student coach and equipment manager. The emotions and excitement cannot be adequately described in simple words; I have multi-level goosebumps as I type this and it's been 40-something years since I last made that walk as a player.
“This is how it used to be back before trash talk in the tunnel was in vogue; I remember this as how my final trip down that ramp as a player felt…
“When you're given the final word by the TV guy to leave the locker room and head down the short flight of steps to the top of the tunnel, you step out into a surreal, confusing world of childish taunts and many an inverted ‘Hook Em’ hand sign being hurled from the walkway above ... stadium security personnel in cheap windbreakers and several members of the Dallas P.D. man the long tarp-covered gate behind you ... you recognize a couple of the motorcycle cops that led the police escort through the streets of Dallas a couple of hours ago; an officer smiles as he gives you a quick salute and a ‘Hook ‘Em.’ You return the salute and nod a quick acknowledgement to the officer.
“We're told by the TV guy to wait at the top of the ramp … there's no breeze ... it's hot…
“Someone steps out of a black limo just outside the gate and is quickly escorted by Texas DPS troopers through the gathering and hurried down the ramp. Must be the governor or a senator or Willie ... you can't really see over the glare of all the glistening white helmets shining in the October sunshine.
“The smell of diesel fumes, horse crap, and fried food wafts through the air, mingling with the sulfur smell of residue from the Ruf-Neks' shotguns and Smokey's pre-game cannon shots. You can always smell the State Fair.
“The ticketless, orange-clad well-wishers behind the chain-link gate, trying to get a quick look or a fingershake from a player or coach, are the only friendly voices you hear at that end of the Cotton Bowl.
“‘Get after 'em, Darrell!’
“‘Anybody got a ticket?!
“‘Can I have your chinstrap?’
“No ‘OU Sucks’ chants; these were the days before that sentiment became the norm.
“Strangely, above the yelling, the dull din of bus engines, police motorcycles, and the screaming siren from a ride over on the Midway, you can hear the clicking of the candy wrapping machines in the Salt-Water Taffy booth just across the walkway beyond the gate...
“You've been taught to keep your focus ... look toward the light at the bottom of the tunnel as you move slowly downhill ... you're wedged so tightly together that your feet are barely touching the ribbed, dirty concrete below. It's like you're slowly floating down the ramp suspended among your fellow team members. You're in the shade of the tunnel now, beneath the stomping, screaming Sooner fans in the south end of the stadium. It's cooler, but you're having trouble catching your breath.
“You can't help but steal a glance at your opponents as they assemble and begin to move down the ramp on the opposite side. You've seen them all through pre-game warmups, exchanged subdued good-luck wishes to a misguided former high school teammate that wandered across the Red River, but suddenly, this instant is etched forever in your mind. The crimson helmets with the white interlocked ‘OU’ really piss you off at this moment and the bile rises in the back of your throat ... you feel ... like ... you might ... lose your steak and scrambled eggs you ate four hours before in the quiet banquet room at the Hilton Inn. You don't want to puke on your facemask ... or on your teammate's back.
“Instead of letting the remnants of your pregame meal fly, you choke it back and begin to yell out an unintelligible guttural sound ... your teammates join in and the sound reverberates in your helmet … your mouth is dry ... your chest is pounding ... all of a sudden, your uniform is too tight ... you feel enormous ... you think of a cup of ice water ... a huge ground swell of noise begins to engulf you as you move closer to the light ... louder and louder ... you're glad you have your helmet on, not because you think that one of those overserved, jeering Okies will lob a half-eaten Fletcher's Corny Dog at you, but you feel secure and impervious when you manage to reach your hand up and snap your chin strap snugly as you move into the sunlight at the bottom of the ramp. You realize then how much you've been sweating as the swirling breeze on the floor of the stadium finally gets to the back of your neck and cools you ever so slightly.
“The roaring sound echoing in your helmet reaches what you think to be a crescendo as the TV guy tries to hold back your screaming, snarling teammates ... You look around and the sudden reality hits you: this is it. This is the last time you'll ever experience this feeling as a player in what you have grown up knowing as the greatest football contest in the universe. You may get a chance to walk the ramp again, but not wearing this uniform ... with these guys ... against those guys.
"Tears well in your eyes… not from fear, but from anger and anticipation. A huge lump rises in your throat as you begin to hear curses being hurled at the TV guy to let you go; just let us run out on that hallowed turf one more time. You hear TV Guy yell something about the baseball game being nearly over and to just hold on for one more minute and one of your larger teammates instructs TV Guy to perform a physically impossible task with a baseball.
"We surge forward, frenzied and frothing ... I look toward Coach Royal, who has appeared just to my left ... he looks to be alone in his thoughts. His jaw is set ... he has to hear the taunts of, ‘Traitor!’ and the like directed his way ... I feel more contempt for the red-clad fans leering over the tunnel walls as they wave red and white pompons at my coach's face. I wish the fat woman would fall over the wall as she screams, ‘Darrell, you ain't s***!’ He is perturbed at the delay ... he gives a simple nod to our captains…. the human dam breaks; TV Guy is left to fend for himself. He may have been trampled; we don't really care at this point. Smokey sounds out a huge cannon blast; a perfect white smoke circle materializes from the barrel of the cannon and rises above the sweltering field. You imagine a football sailing right through the center of the white circle as you see it emblazoned against the clear, blue North Texas sky. You hear the band playing ‘Texas Fight’ at what seems like an impossibly fast tempo and an ungodly loud volume in your helmet. You run. Your teammates are jumping all over you. You feel like you can carry them all day long.
"“You aren't alone.
"The swelling noise is louder than ever as you get to run out into that sunlight one last time.
"You'll never get to feel that way again.”
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Venue Ventures: The Cotton Bowl
Every year, tens of thousands of Oklahomans and Texans – and visitors from all over America – descend on the State Fair of Texas to experience OU-Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
And central to the experience is the 91-year-old stadium. Historic, antiquated, cool, dilapidated. People have a lot of descriptions for the stadium.
This section of ScissorTales is not about debating the value of the Cotton Bowl hosting OU-Texas. This is a primer on the stadium’s history.
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The stadium opened in 1930 with 46,000 seats and the name of Fair Park Stadium. The Sooners and Longhorns had played on the fairgrounds in 1929, in a stadium constructed of wood also known as Fair Park Stadium.
The first football event in the stadium was a high school game. OU and Texas first played there on Oct. 19, 1930.
The original cost of the stadium was $328,000 — $5 million in 2020 dollars. Quite an investment.
The name was changed in 1936 to the Cotton Bowl, in conjunction with the advent of a bowl game that was to become a college football landmark.
The stadium most fans recognize today arrived in 1948-49, when became the upper decks were added, increasing capacity to 75,504. The increased capacity was not necessarily a response to OU-Texas.
Southern Methodist played its games at the Cotton Bowl, and SMU halfback Doak Walker was a national star. The Cotton Bowl was known for awhile as “The House That Doak Built.”
Around that time, the distinctive facade, which still stands today, was added.
Chairbacks were added in 1968, reducing capacity to 72,032.
The end-zone upper decks were added in 2008, and capacity increased to 92,100, though as many as 96,009 have seen an OU-Texas game. Other added amenities included new media rooms, VIP facilities, a new scoreboard and video board, and updated restrooms and concession areas.
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OU-Texas has been played on the grounds since 1929 and in the current stadium since 1930.
SMU played its home games in the Cotton Bowl from 1932-78 and again 1995-99.
The National Football League’s Dallas Texans played at the Cotton Bowl in 1952. The Texans were a quasi-expansion franchise who in some ways developed from the New York Yanks, who previously were the New York Bulldogs, the Boston Yanks, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Dayton Triangles. The Texans folded after the 1952 season, and their remains were used to form the Baltimore Colts.
The Dallas Cowboys became an NFL franchise in 1960 and played in the Cotton Bowl into the 1971 season. The 1966 NFL Championship Game was played at the Cotton Bowl; the Green Bay Packers beat the Cowboys 34-27.
The American Football League’s Dallas Texans played in the Cotton Bowl from 1960-62, before moving to Kansas City and becoming the Chiefs.
The North American Soccer League’s Dallas Tornado played in the Cotton Bowl in 1967-68.
Major League Soccer’s Dallas Burn/FC Dallas played in the Cotton Bowl from 1996-02 and 2004-05.
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Other football events
The Cotton Bowl Classic was played in the stadium of the same name from 1937-2009. The event moved to Jerry Jones’ AT&T Stadium for the 2009 football season. OU played in the Cotton Bowl Classic in the 2001 season, beating Arkansas; OSU played in the Cotton Bowl Classic in the 2003 season, losing to Ole Miss.
The First Responder Bowl was played at the Cotton Bowl from 2011-18. OSU beat Purdue 58-14 on January 1, 2013.
The State Fair Classic has been played on the grounds most years since 1925. The State Fair Classic is an annual game matching historically black colleges or universities, usually Grambling State and Prairie View A&M.
A variety of major Texas high school games, including playoffs, have been held in the Cotton Bowl.
Other athletic events
The Cotton Bowl was one of nine venues used for soccer’s 1994 World Cup. The World Cup is what caused the artificial turf to be replaced by natural grass. God bless soccer.
The 1950 Texas League baseball opener was played in the Cotton Bowl. A crowd of 54,151 turned out, and the Dallas Eagles brought in former stars Ty Cobb, Mickey Cochrane, Home Run Baker, Tris Speaker, Charlie Gehringer and Dizzy Dean, among others, to be in the field as Tulsa’s leadoff hitter batted. Dean walked the batter, and the Eagles’ regular players replaced the old pros. That attendance remains the second-largest in minor-league baseball history.
The National Hockey League’s Winter Classic game was held on January 1, 2020, with the Dallas Stars playing the Nashville Predators.
The Cotton Bowl also hosted games in soccer’s 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup; a 2014 match between Real Madrid and A.S. Roma, as part of the International Champions Cup; and a variety of other international matches.
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A rather impressive list starts with Elvis Presley, who on October 11, 1956, played the Cotton Bowl, setting a then-Texas concert record with a crowd of 27,000.
From 1978-88, Texxas Jam was held at the Cotton Bowl, featuring acts such as Aerosmith, Heart, Deep Purple, Boston, Journey, Ted Nugent, Scorpions, Loverboy, Cheap Trick, Van Halen, Blue Öyster Cult, Sammy Hagar, Nazareth, Styx, Foghat, Santana and The Eagles.
Rush, U2 and Eric Clapton also played the Cotton Bowl.
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Scenes from the 1977 movie “Semi-Tough” were filmed in the Cotton Bowl.
On the runaway CBS television hit “Dallas,” a J.R. Ewing scene was shot in the stadium.
The rock band Journey recorded two videos at the Cotton Bowl.
The Cotton Bowl was used to portray Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in the 1984 made-for-TV movie “The Jesse Owens Story.”
A 2010 McDonald’s commercial, featuring the Packers’ Donald Driver, was filmed at the Cotton Bowl.
Professional wrestling’s WCCW Cotton Bowl Extravaganza was held in the Cotton Bowl from 1984-88.
The Cotton Bowl was the location of the state championship game in the series finale of TV’s “Friday Night Lights.”
All in all, quite a history for the home of OU-Texas.
Mailbag: Dan Ruster’s 1971 story
Dan Ruster was a Sooner safety from 1970-72 and a frequent contributor to ScissorTales. Here’s another classic.
Dan: Funny story. 1971, we were 3-0 going into the Texas game. I separated my shoulder at Pitt two weeks before returning a punt. The day before the game, I missed the bus to the airport because I was at the Pub drinking beer with sophomore Gary Gibbs, who was not on the travel team. So, he decided to hitch a ride to Dallas.
“The day of the game, I was in street clothes and in the middle of the field during warmups before kickoff. Emory Bellard (Royal’s assistant coach) and Darrell Royal were standing about 10 feet away from me watching us warm up. Bellard turned to Royal and, I quote, ‘they're going to kick our ass.’ And we did and birthed the OU wishbone.”
Tramel: 48-27, in a game that wasn’t that close. The Sooner wishbone had started the previous year in OU-Texas, a surprise switch in offenses not tied into shocking the Longhorns, but the off week before Texas allowed Barry Switzer and Jack Mildren time to implement the offense. The ‘bone was promising in 1970 and spectacular in 1971. I guess Emory Bellard, later the head coach at Texas A&M and Mississippi State, saw it coming.
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. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.