For years, in Garland, just 25 miles from Cotton Bowl Stadium, a Longhorn football hopeful watched the emblematic Red River Rivalry matchup with elation.
For half the game each year, he was glued to the TV screen inside; for the other half, he spent his time outdoors in his backyard. Imagining himself as part of the game while simulating plays with his friends, a young John Harris fantasized about scoring a touchdown in this iconic game. And, now, the senior wide receiver hopes his dream will come true Saturday.
“This is a game that, as a kid, I’ve always waited to play for,” Harris said. “I used to go out in my backyard, imagining myself being out there on the field … so I’m going to take this real personally.”
Harris said his earliest memories from the Texas-OU game days date back to when Major Applewhite was the quarterback. Applewhite, who led Texas behind center from 1998-2001, has held coaching positions at Texas, Syracuse, Rice and Alabama in the 13 years since his eligibility expired. Harris has grown in those 13 years as well — from a ball of energy in his backyard to a powerhouse on the college football field. But even as he grows and improves in Austin, he still looks forward to returning home to Dallas this weekend.
“It’s going to be fun getting to go back home in front of that crowd, in front of the state and in front of my town,” Harris said. “I’m just excited to be out there on the field and be part of the game.”
Harris is far from the only Longhorn to hold that special connection with the Red River Rivalry. More than 30 Longhorns hail from the Dallas area, excited to play before friends and family this weekend and relive traditions from their childhoods. Sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes has his fair share of memories from the Texas State Fair and the Cotton Bowl, although his initial recollections pertain to the fair rather than the rivalry.
“I liked to ride all the roller coasters, so, when I was young, and I’d go, I’d always get on them,” Swoopes said. “I never really was into the stuff they fried — it was not for me.”
Swoopes didn’t just miss out on the fried food. Unlike Harris, Swoopes didn’t realize the importance of the Red River Rivalry to fans and players until high school. It was then when he sat behind Texas’ bench at the 50-yard line and first experienced the hype.
“Sitting between both fans, I got to see how they all interacted during the game, so that was fun,” Swoopes said. “It’s really loud the whole time; nothing gets quiet or settles down — it’s always electric and going.”
Following a near shutout against Baylor last weekend, Texas’ offense knows it will need to produce more against a powerful Oklahoma team. A win against Oklahoma would be huge for the Longhorns’ momentum, Harris said. It’d build their confidence and their reputation.
“If you can beat Oklahoma, everything’s good,” Harris said.
If Harris can score his dream touchdown along the way, things would be even better for him.