Cotton Bowl's 50-yard line represents rivalry's tradition

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Photo Credit: Joshua Guenther | Daily Texan Staff

When Texas meets Oklahoma at Fair Park, 12 months of built-up hostility between the Longhorns and Sooners crosses the Red River and joins at midfield.

Usually, the surging red-stained boundary forces a divide between the two states. There is no such natural boundary at the Cotton Bowl. While just inches separate the crimson and the burnt orange, the north and the south, the Sooners and the Longhorns, the barrier between the two could not be more stark.

The south half of the stadium has always played host, ironically, to Oklahoma. Texas’ home is the north half. The Longhorns have had the opportunity to alternate sides to the south each year. They’ve never taken it.

The bleachers that rise from the 50-yard line are where the two cohorts of supporters have met for each of the 87 times these two schools have played here. A lot has happened since that first meeting at Fair Park, a 21-0 Texas victory.

Texas has won 48 of those clashes, and now, Oklahoma has won 39. Ten Longhorn head coaches have come and gone, as have 15 Sooners. Hundreds of players on each side have passed through this storied stadium. The Cotton Bowl itself has undergone renovations a number of times, most recently in 2013. 

Longhorn graduate Greg Dickson watched Saturday’s matchup in the lower level on the 48-yard line. Dickson first attended the Rivalry game in the late 1960s as a student.

“It was just the first time I had been here,” Dickson said. “The noise, the rivalry, the excitement, it was just like it is today. … I’d never seen anything like that.”

Yet with all the changes, there’s one thing that has never changed. It’s burnt orange in the north, crimson in the south, and chaos where they meet.

Of course, proximity provides the opportunity for animosity. That showed before the game, when players from each team jawed at each other in the tunnel and were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for an altercation in the middle of the field.

As the Oklahoma band took the field (yes, the band), jeers rang through the north section of the 50-yard line seats. “High school band!” one fan yelled. 

Later on, senior defensive lineman Malcolm Roach was flagged for targeting, and expletives were traded between the fan bases.

“When you do get in rivalry games like this, your emotions are going to be at an all-time high,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. 

In the 2019 edition of the rivalry the Sooners held onto a 34-27 win. In a game that always has a flair for the dramatic, this year did not disappoint.

“Heck of a football game,” Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley said. “This game continues to live up to its billing as the best game in college football. … Great atmosphere again as always.”

But with this extra intensity that this game brings comes a level of respect only found between rivals. The Texas offense was stalling early, until freshman running back Roschon Johnson ripped off a 57-yard run down to the Texas 4-yard line that awoke a sleeping Texas crowd into a frenzy. The north side of the stadium erupted, and the south hunched into their seats.

Then, a spectator donned in Oklahoma gear, after his team had just given up the longest play of the game, said, “Man, I just love this game. There’s just nothing like it.”

He wasn’t entirely wrong. Army-Navy plays in Philadelphia, but every other major collegiate rivalry is played as a home and home. There are few other places that present the midfield juxtaposition found at the Cotton Bowl. At the 50-yard line, with the dichotomy between the two schools on full display, the divide created by the Red River some 75 miles north is never more clearly on display.