It’s hard to deny that the rivalry between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns is one of the best in college football. Even a poll taken in 2005, which surveyed 119 Division I college football coaches, determined that the third best rivalry game in all of college football was the Oklahoma/Texas match-up, only being beat by the Army/Navy and Ohio State - Michigan rivalries. I’m sure if you ask an Alabama or an Auburn fan, they will disagree with all of those. Out of all of those rivals, the OU/Texas game is the only one that could go either way on any given year. Don’t believe me? Ask any Sooner or Longhorn fan, and I’d bet they would tell you the same thing.
The game started taking place in 1900. Way before the Longhorns were actually even called the Longhorns and were just known as “Varsity”. Oklahoma wasn’t even a state yet and the school was still in the Oklahoma Territory. “Varsity” had the advantage being that they had an established football team when they scheduled the first game. It wasn’t even considered a game by most, it officially was called a practice in the history books. The game didn’t reach rivalry status until 1929, when it moved to Dallas to be played at the Cotton Bowl. This is right in the middle of Norman and Austin.
Both schools have signed a contract to stay at the Cotton Bowl until 2015, guaranteed that the city of Dallas will continue renovations on the stadium. The Cotton Bowl opened the same year the Sooners and the Longhorns started playing there. It later was known as the “House that Doak Built” referring to SMU‘s Doak Walker when the Mustangs called the stadium home. It was also the original home to the Dallas Cowboys.
When you talk to most fans, they aren’t big on having a neutral field game – something that doesn’t ring true with Sooner and Longhorn fans. I don’t think either fan base would want it any other way. Having it played at the Cotton Bowl, during the State Fair of Texas, with the stadium split 50/50 is the only atmosphere that would work for these two teams. If you disagree, go to a Red River match-up and witness it for yourself. This is more than a football game to a lot of people. The rival between the two states goes back before the Longhorns or the Sooners were even on the map. You can be in either state during OU/Texas week and hear people who don’t care about either school shouting, “Texas or Oklahoma sucks”! It has a lot to do with state pride.
It started off being called the Red River Shootout, and you still hear a lot of people calling it that. It was changed to the Red River Rivalry in 2005, when sponsors changed and some people claim, they didn’t want to promote “gun violence”. They battle it out for the Golden Hat, which is presented to the winning school by their state’s Governor.
Since 1945, the game has featured either one or both teams being ranked in the Top 25. It always has National or conference significance going in. Not many rival games can boast that. The list of players who have participated in the game, from both teams are impressive. A majority of ex-players will let you know that the OU/Texas games are some of their favorite game memories, and this is coming from players who played in National Championship games. The number of ex-players and alumni that show up this game from all over the country from both sides is staggering.
The State Fair of Texas atmosphere adds to the charm of this 107-year old game. You can hear and see the crowds outside of the stadium that are upwards to a million on game day The smell of any fried food imaginable, cold beer, roasted corn and turkey legs are all swirling around in the perfect circle of the sounds of carnival rides, games and the 50/50 crowd all there to soak it in. It is a sight to behold and experience at least once in your lifetime, even if you aren’t a fan of either school.
To say that the Red River Shootout is more than just a football game is an understatement. It is way more than that. It is part of our culture. It means bragging rights, a Golden hat and getting to claim stake of the Red River that separates the states for a year. It’s tradition, whether you bleed crimson or burnt orange.