The Red River Rivalry, from a fan’s perspective

Jori Epstein

At the Red River Rivalry, it’s always the rivalry that stands out the most. The win, the players and the level of play certainly matter, but tidbits from the rivalry atmosphere often stick in fans’ minds the longest. This year was no different.

Much was at stake in this game: Texas’ losing record, Oklahoma’s ranking, head coach Charlie Strong’s reputation and most importantly, bragging rights among fans at the State Fair of Texas and throughout Dallas during the remainder of the weekend.

The Red River Rivalry elicits the best and worst of college football. School pride and fan unity hit season highs and emotions swirl; rationality, logic and maturity hit near lows. Besides the brash shoulder nudges between Longhorn and Sooner fans navigating the crowd, one Sooner fan, who looked about 60, offered a typical example of this search for bragging rights this weekend.

“How does it feel to be 2-4? B-Y-U, B-Y-U!” he shouted at a visibly upset, burnt orange-clad 20-year-old. The UT student did nothing to provoke him — he hadn’t even talked to the man who issued the insult. And yet, even older fans take this game seriously enough to let their school pride trump guidelines of decency and social norms.

The Oklahoma fan’s insult was slightly ironic, overlooking one fact, however, that helped me hold my head high as I wove through fried food, roller coasters and colorful lights. The most poignant image of BYU’s 41-7 destruction of Texas on Sept. 6, remains BYU junior quarterback Taysom Hill leaping over sophomore defensive back Dylan Haines to complete a 30-yard run for the first of the Cougars’ four touchdowns in the third quarter. It was a reminder that, despite high hopes for Strong’s first season, Texas’ inexperienced offensive line and backup sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes weren’t the dominant offensive attack a team needs to succeed in the Big 12, much less a postseason game. The Oklahoma game, on the other hand, restored at least some faith in Texas’ offense and Swoopes’ ability. In addition to 334 passing yards, a record among Texas quarterbacks facing OU, Swoopes ran for 50 yards, including a bold leap over Oklahoma sophomore linebacker Dominique Alexander followed by a 12-yard touchdown run. The leap — scarily similar to Hill’s, athough not quite as elegant — felt like a taste of redemption from that awful first loss.

Another welcome change from the BYU game was Texas fans’ mass support. From the solemn glances at the ground when Texas’ chances of winning slipped to screams at the top of lungs when the Longhorns needed to stop No. 11 Oklahoma late in the fourth, each response added to the environment.

The spirit was palpable, and the student section was more electric than it’s been at any game since at least UT’s 48-45 loss at home to West Virginia on Oct. 6, 2012. Saturday’s game offered the full range of adrenaline sports has the potential to provide. The special teams exemplified disappointment, the defense merited pride, the offense generated excitement and Texas’ 11 penalties ramped up irritation. The game surpassed and twisted expectations: the Longhorns simultaneously performed better than fans and analysts expected, while making errors none expected them to make. They beat the spread by 10 points but blew a near comeback in the fourth quarter. And yet, the fourth quarter wasn’t just a source of depression. It was the student section’s fourth quarter spirit that reminded me why I go to the University of Texas at Austin.

Entering the fourth quarter down 24-13 to the Sooners, the hopes of a rivalry upset began to fade. But, the Longhorns didn’t accept defeat, rallying to within five with a well-rounded attack that stirred fans’ hopes.

At weekend’s end, Texas still stands 2-3, and Oklahoma fans received a better boost of confidence than those of Texas. But this year’s Red River Rivalry offered much, and, as with any rivalry, it only raised the stakes for next year’s faceoff.