It is one thing to take in the State Fair, consuming the aroma and the calories of any of the various deep fried culinary delights before taking your seats inside the hallowed walls of the Cotton Bowl to watch what can only be described as 22 young men engaging in street warfare on a given snap.
Mack Brown and Bob Stoops will meet up for the 14th time in the Cotton Bowl Saturday morning.
It's quite another to make the vaunted walk down the tunnel onto the field where Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams ran wild, where Peter Gardere never knew the agony of defeat and where names like Randy McEachern, Stonie Clark and Johnny Walker have achieved legendary status based on their feats in this intense rivalry game.
For many former Longhorn players and coaches, it's hard to find words to describe the feelings that the Texas-OU game invoke.
“I’ve played in some big games, including two Super Bowls,” former Texas defensive back Glenn Blackwood said. “But nothing really compares to the Texas-OU game.”
For others, the meaning of this rivalry that will be renewed at 11 a.m. on Saturday doesn't isn't so complex.
“I hate those guys,” former Texas receiver Sloan Thomas said. “Unfortunately, I was never able to beat them, so that makes me hate them that much more.”
That hatred is perceived to be mutual, and helps make the rivalry so intense. No matter what the intensity level reaches in the stands or on the fairground pales in comparison to making the walk down the tunnel through the teeth of the Oklahoma section.
“You’re right there and people are leaning over the fence and yelling and screaming at you and the OU Ruf Neks are there doing their thing,” Gardere said. “It’s chaos. Then you walk out and see the crowd split in half. I get goose bumps now just thinking about it.”
Gardere is one of the true legends of the rivalry. No Texas signal caller has been able to do what Gardere did with his perfect 4-0 mark against OU.
“It feels really good, especially at this time of the year,” Gardere said. “We felt like no matter if we won the conference or not, a win over OU would make our season.”
Out of all of the four victories Gardere posted over the Sooners, his most memorable victory was his first in 1989.
“The 1989 game was on TV the other night and that game is still special for a lot of reasons,” Gardere said. “Mainly because the seniors at the time had never beaten OU and I really wanted those guys to have the feeling of having won that game.”
Walker was on the receiving end of Gardere’s game winning touchdown pass in that 28-24 victory for the unranked Longhorns against No. 15 Oklahoma. He remembers vividly what he told the young freshman moments before the play.
“I said, ‘Dammit Peter, don’t worry about anything else,'” Walker said. “'Just get the ball close.'”
Gardere indeed got the ball close as Walker made a leaping catch near the goal line to give the Horns their first victory over the Sooners since 1983.
The Texas-OU game has proven to be a series that's gone in streaks, and perhaps no Longhorn knows the downside of that better than Thomas.
Thomas, B.J. Johnson and Roy Williams had their first taste of the rivalry come in a 63-14 defeat at the hands of the eventual national champion Sooners in 2000. Two more gut-wrenching losses were sandwiched with another lopsided defeat to Oklahoma in 2003, 65-13.
“Between myself, Roy and B.J. we never scored a touchdown against OU. That’s not a stat to be proud of and certainly something I’m not proud of,” Thomas said. “The worst part for me was having to look at the faces of the Texas fans after the game and see the disappointment. I feel like whether we win by one or we win by 50, as long as the fans can walk out of stadium happy that’s all that matters.”
One former Longhorn who had the joy of seeing Texas fans walk out of the Cotton Bowl happy is former receiver Wane McGarity. McGarity, who saw the Longhorns go 3-1-1 during his time Texas, hauled in a 98-yard touchdown from Major Applewhite that helped break open the 1998 game that the Longhorns won easily, 38-3.
He didn’t grasp how big the rivalry was until he was on the sidelines for his first game in 1994, a 17-10 victory for the Longhorns that saw Clark stuff Oklahoma running back James Allen at the goal line to preserve the win.
“I remember [former Texas receiver] Justin McLemore telling me the reason he came back for his sixth year was to play in the OU game,” McGarity said. “I thought, ‘Wow, that game must mean a lot.’ Then my freshman year I’m there and Stonie Clark makes that play to win the game. I remember Coach [John] Mackovic coming up to me after the game and saying, ‘I’m glad you were here to see this.’
“At that point I knew what that game was all about and I couldn’t wait to play in it.”
So what do former Longhorns experience when they go back to the Cotton Bowl as a spectator?
“I still feel the same way about it as I did for my first,” said former Texas player, assistant coach and head coach David McWilliams, who participated in 24 Texas-OU games with 12-10-2 record.
“It's funny because on the field you have those rules of engagement, but those rules don't apply to everyone sitting in the stands,” former Longhorn defensive back Rod Babers said. “I tell everyone who played at UT that if they haven't gone back to the game as a fan they need to, because then you get a feel for what they go through and what that game means to them.”
No matter how intense things get in the stands, everything pales in comparison to being a part of one of the greatest traditions in college football.
“You’re down in the tunnel and both teams are ready to fight right there,” McGarity said. “There is a ton of trash talk going on. As you walk down the tunnel people are flipping you off, there’s grandma over there telling you, ‘You suck!’ There aren’t many things that compare to that.”