I’ve always enjoyed walking through the State Fair of Texas with someone experiencing it in mid-October for the first time. There’s the smell; part fried anything, part mystery carnival odor, part bloodlust and there’s the underlying feeling among those sharing your color of choice that no matter the alma mater’s record, vengeance is nigh.
When the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners meet on Saturday in the 107th rendition of the Red River Shootout, no one sulks because the West Virginia Mountaineers and Kansas State Wildcats ruined an undefeated clash. No one worries about next week’s opponent or the next quarterback recruit or the next defensive coordinator.
The singular focus of Bob Stoops and Mack Brown exists because each of their legacies is written with a paragraph dedicated to this rivalry. The players come and go, largely forgotten in bulk numbers but what they do wearing crimson or burnt orange in October in Fair Park decides whether they buy drinks in Norman or Austin for the rest of their lives.
For those involved on the field, it’s not just another Big 12 game. Coach speak might relay that message but in the locker room and the lone stadium tunnel prior to introductions, the atmosphere belies something more.
Upon entering the field to a chorus of half-insane booing and half-drunken cheering, it cuts a swath across the sport that leaves BCS bowls praying for a similar transplendency.
This series is ripe with cycles of prolonged dominance on either end where winning four years in a row is commonplace. It makes the interactions among the old and young, male and female, rich and poor that much more heated with a backdrop of a talking robotic giant dressed in cowboy attire.
Big Tex is there to guide and act as a meeting spot for 20,000 people screaming on their cell phones, wearing the same color and waving frantically.
And no trip to the State Fair is complete without a foray into a menu that fries Twinkies, tres leches, cinnamon rolls, jambalaya and mac-n-cheese sliders. Purchase your tickets, buy a beer and forget the diet for an afternoon. Indulge in the kinds of foods that make terrorists despise America.
When you’ve finished and the mass of humanity starts moving toward the stadium, many find one last opposing fan to lob an insulting barb at and a drink for the road.
The flagship institutions of two states, ingrained with a passion in the womb to hate the Longhorns or Sooners, set aside working relationships for a day and gather in Dallas for an amateur game.
It is grandiose. It is feverish. It is college football.