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Texas–OU Was a Perfect Rendition of a Classic Rivalry

Jalen Hurts and CeeDee Lamb put the Sooners ahead in a rivalry where the football and the trolling go hand in hand

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Texas Photo by Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

Before today’s Texas–Oklahoma game, the two teams met at midfield. They chirped a little. They taunted each other in a goofy way. Then the referee threw a flag—a pregame flag—and called a personal foul on every player on both teams.

That actually happened. And it was perfect. Nobody is going to remember Oklahoma 34, Texas 27 as a classic football game. But it will be remembered as an absolutely fine specimen of Texas–OU, where the football and the trolling go hand in hand.

Texas–OU is the best football game in the whole world. I say that after my team played some truly awful stretches today and was a couple of Jalen Hurts turnovers away from a massive butt-kicking. So you know I’m serious.

The first reason Texas–OU is great is that it’s my home game. I went to school in Austin, Texas, back in the era when standing in line for hours to eat barbecue sounded like the dumbest thing in the world. The games in Austin were really fun. But I’m from Fort Worth. So one weekend in early October, I would drive up I-35 and bivouac at my mom’s house.

Texas–OU is a morning football game. It feels like a London NFL game that somehow got transplanted to this continent. One year (I think it was 1999), I arrived at my buddy’s house early to take him to the game. I pounded on the door. Nothing. I pounded some more. Finally my buddy answered, looking like someone who had done a lot of pregame preparation the night before.

A couple of us had to wait in the car for a long time while my buddy got ready. Finally, we started driving to Dallas. We got stuck in traffic. My buddy started screaming in the back seat. He had to go to the bathroom. We told him to wait. He screamed some more. I mean, frantically screamed, in a dude-this-is-real kind of way. Finally, somebody handed him a McDonald’s cup. The rest of the trip passed in silence. Did I mention this is my favorite football game in the world?

Texas–OU was the site of some of mine and my friends’ dumbest behavior. In 2005, after Vince Young threw a touchdown pass, one of my buddies called me on his cell phone from the other side of the Cotton Bowl.

“Who scored?” he yelled into the phone.

I named a Texas wide receiver.

“No,” my buddy yelled. “What team?”

I was usually sober, but the downside was that I was often too locked in. After Texas won the 1998 game, an older woman who rooted for OU and I got into a spirited discussion on the ramp leading out of the Cotton Bowl. I was using the hoarse-voiced, head-bobbing rhetorical style that Stone Cold Steve Austin made popular at the time. I’m really embarrassed to remember that now. But I’m pretty sure she started it.

This is the second reason Texas–OU is so great. It’s played at a neutral site halfway between Austin and Norman, Oklahoma, with one fan base on each side of the stadium, right in the middle of a raging state fair.

This morning, I drove to Dallas and found a parking spot in weedy lot behind a quick-stop called the Peak Mart. “If you could come in at a slant, sir,” a woman said, directing my car with an orange flag. Even weedy lots have their standards.

To get to the Texas-OU game, you must first pass through the State Fair of Texas. The fair is a cashless society that vaguely resembles the stories you heard before glasnost. You have to stand in a huge line to buy “coupons,” which entitle you to stand in a huge line to buy a corn dog.

What gets attention is the fair’s annual list of look-at-me foods: the chicken-fried lobster tail, the chicken cordon bleu-stuffed waffles, the champagne jello shots (each studded with a jalapeño).

But a great deal of the fair is just a big advertising expo for products you would never buy. Today, I walked into an exhibition hall. It was filled with salesmen for goofy stuff, almost all of them using microphones to hassle the passers-by. The effect was like the people from late-night infomercials being able to see you through the TV. “See how it works real quick?” a hawker from Tiger Jaw pruners asked. I looked at the ground and hurried out of the building.

I’ve been coming to Texas-OU for 20 years. In that time, I have identified exactly two major types of fans. The first type is college age or close to it. They wear identical uniforms: neat, pressed tops; jeans for the men, jean skirts for the women; and cowboy boots. The second group of fans is in their 50s or thereabouts. They have very basic, floppy haircuts they seem to have paid a lot of money for. They wear sleeveless zip-ups that look like the kind of thing you wear around the fireplace in Aspen or wherever your winter vacation may take you. They also wear cowboy boots.

This was the first year I looked in the mirror and felt I had more in common—sartorially, anyway—with the second group of Texas-OU fans. Reader, that was one of the most depressing things that has ever happened to me.

The pregame flag on every player was just the beginning of this year’s goofiness. When referee Mike Defee got the captains at midfield for the coin toss, he opened up his mic and gave the whole stadium a speech on sportsmanship.

“This is the greatest rivalry in college football,” said Defee. “I expect this game to hard-fought and well played. We’re going to play this game with sportsmanship, are we clear?” I’ve heard of an ump show, but I’ve never seen an ump freestyle.

A Texas–OU game unfolds in a few basic acts. First, both teams run out of the tunnel, which is on OU’s side of the field. Sooners players regard the tunnel like any other tunnel. The Longhorns act like they are leaving our celestial plane and entering the Matrix. “When you walk onto that field there is a force field of electricity,” the old Texas coach David McWilliams once said. “You actually visualize streams of electrical current coming off the field.”

The Sooners, who were favored today by 10.5 points, almost always look locked in at the start of the game. The Longhorns look like they are contemplating or even enacting the possibilities of failure. (Former Longhorn Gary Shaw: “After the kickoff, my first ten steps were consumed by one thought: Don’t screw up!”) Today, the Sooners won the toss, and Jalen Hurts drove them down the field. Touchdown. 7-0, OU.

The third quarter was the part of the game that really dignified Texas–OU, which is often determined by big, wacky swings of fate. Oklahoma was leading 10-3. Texas, which had all of 83 yards of offense in the first half, looked like dog meat. Then, Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger converted on third-and-8 by completing a pass right at the line of scrimmage. On the next play, Texas running back Roschon Johnson ran for 57 yards. A play later, the game was tied.

On the next series, Oklahoma ran a flea flicker, and Jalen Hurts hit CeeDee Lamb (what an awesome name). Lamb was surrounded by five Texas defenders at around the 30-yard line. He somehow escaped all of them and ran all the way to the end zone.

In the fourth quarter, Lamb pulled the same trick. He caught the ball at the 9-yard line and was surrounded by three Texas defenders. He broke one tackle, survived a shove toward the sidelines, and ran into the end zone.

I’ve seen Young, Adrian Peterson, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, and a bunch of other players dominate the Texas–OU game. Lamb’s performance (10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns) will be in the pantheon. Lamb also honored a rite of OU players who do well in Dallas, which is Texas people saying they rightfully should have played for the Longhorns.

The rest of the game was trolling. Most people will fasten on OU coach Lincoln Riley calling three consecutive timeouts before Texas tried a field goal at the end of the first half. (Cameron Dicker made it despite the repeat icing.) I’ll think of Texas’s holder, on the OU side of the Cotton Bowl, using an extended middle finger to signal a silent count. Whose great idea was that?

The final wonder of Texas–OU is the postgame. After most college football games you just go home, or maybe hang around in the parking lot. At Texas–OU, the winning fans get to experience a kind of grease-fueled afterglow at the State Fair. I remember the 2008 game, when me and a buddy sat on a concrete ledge and ate giant turkey legs with the biggest, shit-eatingest grins you could imagine. I’m about to go to the fair to use my remaining coupons. I think I’ll take my chicken-fried lobster tail to go.