Is an era ending after this year’s Red River Rivalry?

10/07/2013 2:59 PM

10/07/2013 2:59 PM

The Red River Rivalry arrives this weekend, and you know what that means. Public intoxication arrests in Dallas on Friday night, fried bacon cinnamon rolls at the State Fair of Texas (it won Best Taste at the 2012 fair), and the top spectacle in college football — Texas vs. Oklahoma in an 11 a.m. Saturday kickoff at the Cotton Bowl.

Even if you’re not a sports fan, this is bucket-list stuff. Somebody may know differently, but is there another sporting event in the world where a 92,000-seat stadium is filled and equally divided between fans? And they’re not separated by a fence, just aisles.

As for the game, the Sooners are rightfully favored, and if the two-touchdown spread seems out of whack in a rival, consider Oklahoma has won the previous two encounters by a combined 118-38 score in years the teams’ strengths were expected to be more aligned.

The distinguishing characteristic of this game is that it could be the final matchup between coaches Mack Brown and Bob Stoops. With Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds announcing his retirement last week, the Longhorns’ sports program swirls with uncertainty. Texas is off to a disappointing 3-2 start, and Brown’s future on the Texas sideline is not a given.

If this is the final Brown-Stoops encounter, it should be savored. By restoring power to their programs upon their hires in the late 1990s, they returned the Red River Rivalry to a position of national prominence, precisely where the Big 12 needed it to be when the league was launched.

As league officials were counting up the prized properties in the formative years of the Big 12, Oklahoma-Texas football topped the list.

Because football regular-season television contracts were becoming a greater source of revenue, the founding fathers looked at the Red River Rivalry as a huge chip to attract bidders, and it delivered. Nearly $54 million was distributed to the 12 schools after the first season of competition. Some $27 million was shared by Big Eight schools in 1996.

Still, it took a few years for the quality to regenerate. Both programs were down in the early Big 12 years. The Sooners were unranked during the teams’ first four meetings as conference members.

In 2000, everything changed. Oklahoma, ranked 10th, walloped No. 11 Texas 63-14 on the way to the Sooners’ national championship.

Over the next decade, both teams often factored into the national title picture and their meeting was can’t-miss viewing.

Today, we think of the Southeastern Conference championship game as a de facto national semifinal. For much of the 2000s, the same idea applied to Texas-OU because one of them played in the BCS national championship game time seven times in 10 years.

Brown is 6-9 in the series. His best moments came from 2005-09, when Vince Young and Colt McCoy helped the Longhorns win four of five.

Stoops, who arrived in Norman a year after Brown in Austin, has the upper hand at 9-5, with four blowout victories.

But Brown has a unique perspective on the game, having seen it from both sidelines. He was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator in 1984, when the teams played to a controversial 15-15 tie.

“It may be the best game in college football, it’s so unique” Brown said. “And I’ve been blessed to see it from both sides.”


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