Pre-Game Oklahoma

A Pregnant Widow

On the recommendation of Helen and Bob I’m reading a very good book, The Pregnant Widow, by Martin Amis. Amis adopted the title from the writing of Alexander Herzen.

The death of the contemporary forms of social order ought to gladden rather than trouble the soul. Yet what is frightening is that the departing world leaves behind it, not an heir, but a pregnant widow. Between the death of the one and the birth of the other, much water will flow by, a long night of chaos and desolation will pass.

As for the 2013 Longhorns, I think we’ve got a pregnant widow on our hands. As for the Texas-Oklahoma game this weekend, for many of us, there are years when it’s much more about the event than it is the game at hand. 2013 is one of those years.

Why I Love OU Weekend

Prelude

I was at my first college party in late August of 1974 at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house in Austin. Other than my blind date whom I had just met, I knew exactly one person at the party, Mark Adams, an elementary school friend from the years that our family had lived in Houston. I was 19 and had just arrived in town from Reston, Virginia.   I was shy but not without wit and I quickly discovered that being from somewhere other than Texas gave me a good line when I was asked, “Why did you come to UT from so far away to go to school?”  “Because they have a good football team,” I answered dead pan. This drew laughter every time I said it that night. A couple of the guys who laughed are friends of mine to this day and may be reading this now. Anyway, it wasn’t a joke. There were three reasons I came to UT: My older brothers lived in Austin, it got me to the Sun Belt, and I was fanatical about Longhorn Football.

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By the second Saturday in October of my freshman year, I had: gone through Rush week and pledged a decent fraternity (thank you, Mark Adams), taken my first round of tests as a college student, thrown up outside of the Sig Ep house in front of my first match date—she was tall, dark and stacked—after  drinking too much hurricane punch (no wonder I never got another good match date the rest of my frat career), and watched my first Texas game in Memorial Stadium as a college student.  Those were defining experiences, but the most defining, life altering experience of that fall was the Texas-Oklahoma game and OU weekend. 

I was in my seat in the first row of the upper deck of the Cotton Bowl an hour before kick-off for that Texas-OU game in 1974.  I love the Cotton Bowl. The first time I was there was in early December 1963 to watch the New York Giants play the Dallas Cowboys.  My family had moved to Houston from upstate New York by way of Kensington, Maryland, in January 1963 and we were Giants fans. The crowd was relatively small, and we were able to move freely about the lower deck, angling for better vantage points.  It was a great time, and we were lucky to see the Giants of Tittle, Gifford, and Shofner, who went on to win their third straight Eastern Conference Championship in 63—just prior to their steep demise. The trip to Dallas for the game had been planned months ahead of time, but a few days before the game my older brother Clayton was worried that the trip would be cancelled.  He was worried because the assassination of President Kennedy had occurred just nine days before the game, and he thought my parents might cancel a trip to Dallas for a football game out of deference and respect for the mourning of Kennedy.  We went to the game as planned, and just before the National Anthem, the P.A. announcer asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence for, “Our late President John F. Kennedy.  At eight years old, I was stunned by the solemnity of the moment.

My second game at the Cotton Bowl was the 1972 Cotton Bowl game between Texas and Penn State. The Cotton Bowl had been upgraded; most notably, the seats were now aluminum with backs in place of the wooden bleachers we’d sat on in 1963.  Throughout the game that New Year’s day, I was thinking, “If these seats could talk.”  It was the Cotton Bowl, where the Cowboys had lost that dramatic, heat—breaking reaking 1966 NFL Championship game to the Packers and James Street and the Longhorns had pulled out the last second victory over Notre Dame in the 1970 Cotton Bowl to preserve a National Championship.  I felt a reverence for the stadium and considered myself lucky to be there, even though the Longhorns took it on the chin to Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell that day 30-6.

I hadn’t seen nuthin’ yet.

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In the stadium an hour early, I watched Texas and Oklahoma warm up. It was sunny and hot, a trade mark of the OU game.  Oklahoma looked bigger than Texas and almost invincible in their crimson and white uniforms. I hated them already. Although the stadium was less than half full when I got to my seat, it was 75% full by the time warmups were over and The Longhorn Band took the field.  As I mentioned, I had been to Texas games that fall at Memorial Stadium. But this was different.  Oklahoma was our most formidable opponent, the rivalry was our most intense, and we were sharing Cotton Bowl with about 36,000 Okies. And they were louder than our 36,000 when they cheered for their team. They were louder still when they booed the Longhorns. I loved every minute of it.

It was during the 1974 OU game when I first appreciated that there was something special about watching a game in the Cotton Bowl.  I couldn’t put my finger on it right away.  It slowly dawned on me how excellent the view of the game was for me even though I was sitting on the goal line. The seats were angled toward the 50 yard-line and were closer to the field than in any other stadium I had been in, including small high school stadiums.  And the 72,000 spectators were in close proximity to one another. At Memorial Stadium in Austin, the field and the opposite side of the stadium seem off in the distance. In the Cotton Bowl, you were right on top of the field, and you could actually make out familiar faces on the other side of the stadium. The cozy Cotton Bowl.   From inside the stadium you can see the State Fair’s roller coaster and Ferris wheel.  The Texas-Oklahoma game actually is played in a carnival atmosphere.

When the Longhorn Band played Texas Fight and March Grandioso, the Texas fans cheered and my heart was reaching capacity as I blinked back tears and tried to clear the frog in my throat—and we hadn’t even gotten to the Eyes yet. I was glad that in the excitement my Sig Ep pledge brothers I was sitting with didn’t notice my condition.  I don’t know why I react to these events this way, but my reactions have been the same all 34 times have been to this game. 

The future Willie Earl with Pledge Brother, Greg Bowers in 1974

The future Willie Earl with Pledge Brother, Greg Bowers in 1974

In 1974 Texas was a 17-point underdog to Oklahoma, who went on to win the National Championship that year.  As the game went on and the Longhorns hung tough with Oklahoma, the intensity of the game became wonderfully unbearable.  When Earl Campbell rumbled seven yards untouched into the end zone right in front of me, the Longhorns took the lead late in the third quarter.  My Sig Ep pledge brother, David Crawford, sitting next to me, repeated several times, “We’re going to win this game, Frink.”  I didn’t say anything, but I wished he would quit saying that out loud.  Ultimately we did not win the game, losing a heart breaker 16-13. 

For the first couple of hours of the aftermath, I was devastated.  My devastation slowly numbed into disappointment.  I didn’t appreciate the Fair before or after the game in 1974 as I have come to appreciate it, win or lose, in all the years since. 

The Texas-Oklahoma game, with the traditions so rich, the rivalry so intense, the teams perennially so excellent—could stand on its own without the neutral site of the Cotton Bowl, the parties, and the Fair.  But with all those elements and more, such as the drive up I-35 on Friday shared with all the other Texas fans on the road, the Texas-Oklahoma game and OU weekend stands alone among all the many sports traditions I have celebrated.

For me, there was much at stake in the Texas-Oklahoma game in 1974, and the loss was tough to take.  I didn’t experience a victory in the OU game until my fourth trip to Dallas in 1977.  There was much more at stake in 77, and in many other years than there was in 1974. There have been many glorious victories unmatched by others in their pure joy and there have been several disappointing defeats.  But since 1974, for me, the stings of the losses to Oklahoma only last for a few minutes.  How can you be down for very long engulfed in Longhorn camaraderie, surrounded by close friends and family, while drinking beer from paper cups at the State Fair of Texas?  That’s the real beauty of this thing.

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P.S to Bob, Molly, and others to whom this may apply,

Some October after I’m gone and you’re ambivalent about going to the OU game.  Go and soak up every glorious moment of OU weekend.  I don’t know where I’ll be then,kids, but I’ll know about it and I’ll be happy.

OK, OK, I’m just kidding….sort of.

HooK eM,

W.E.

Over/Under

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6 Comments to “Pre-Game Oklahoma”

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  2. W.E., I write this from a rooftop bar in the Plaka in Athens, just before kickoff in Dallas, with the splendor of the floodlit Acropolis and Parthenon in clear sight, while sipping a chilled Mykonos beer. Earlier, I passed by a shrine of sorts to Lord Byron, who died in Greece while fighting the bloody Turks, so I thought I would offer one of his poetic chestnuts to those of us who plan to observe this afternoon’s events, even from afar. “Man, being reasonable, must get drunk; the best of life is but intoxication.” Lord Byron. This seems like perfectly sound advice as I plan to check ESPN.com from time to time this evening to catch-up on the game, while ordering a steady stream of Mykonos, Fix or cheap Greek wine. As usual, I enjoyed your repast of the Texas-OU games back in our day, intertwined with your Greek experience, and damn it, here I am! The one thing I learned being in the UT Greek world apart from Byron’s finer art of throne-hugging intoxication to which you also attested, in front of your best match (har!), is the Greek alphabet, and by golly, it’s come in handy here! I can figure it out, so ain’t it cool. After we absorb the score today, we head off tomorrow on a plan to Oia on Santorini, you buggers. What better place to forget about the ignominy of those red-clad bastards laying it on us again, but to be in a white-washed blue-roofed cliff house terrace overlooking the blue caldera, and taking more of Byron’s advice. I’ll be chillin’ hombre, you are right, it’s about an event, a passage of time, soon to be forgotten, even in advance.

  3. Mark (Cheeto) Adams and I were just talking about the 1974 game at our high school reunion the other day. I drew #2 X 50 yard line seats, we were living next to each other in 1 room apartments at Windridge, and he was working as a DJ/barback at the Cabaret in the Driskill hotel.

    He had to work Saturday night, so after staying up all night Friday, we had a couple of bloodies for breakfast and flew to Dallas, where we were picked up by his older brother, Dan Adams. We further fortified our constitutions with flask contents from our boots during the game, cheered madly in a losing cause, and bolted for the airport at the final gun, just making the flight.

    Been to alot of those games since (the last was in 1998)–but I still remember the electricity in the crowd at the Fair, both before and after. Will be making Hatch Green Chile nachos and probably screaming at the TV tomorrow while the majic one, Case of the pixie-dust, tip-toes through the snarling Sooners and drives a stake into their evil hearts. (I know, I know, but an old man can dream, can’t he?)

  4. #2 Is Overstret to be considered a QB if he takes snap in the “wild?”

    Do sacks count in the average yards per rush for #8?

    Typos in fourth line of fifth paragraph

    • Check out the shirt in the picture. We bought a 1500 square foot house in Katy and my wife insisted that I get rid of my disco clothes that were taking up too much space. My mother in law was having a garage sale that the shirt and a suit that was a bell bottom, cream colored with green pin stripes went for sale. A man checked out the suit and found a piece of paper in the lapel pocket, put it down and bought the suit. My mother in law picked up the paper and it was a warrent for my arrest. You fill in the blanks – 1974, going the wrong way on a one way street in Austin. I told my mother in law, don’t worry the statue of limitations ran out. Later my sons went to Stratford HS, they had a 1970s dance each year. I had great delight listening to my wife defend her decision to get rid of that shirt as my sons would have been the coolest guys at the dance if they had that shirt.

      • Great picture,the shirt, the reference to the bell bottom suit (I think we all had one), the hair, and the porn mustache, reminds me of Ron Burgandy in Anchorman! Thanks for telling me about this blog Bowers, great story about that first OU game Frink. I’m married to a wonderful country girl from Oklahoma (second wife), and my father never could understand how in hell she got into the family, especially on Texas/OU game days when she would wear her OU red jumpsuit (just to get my dad’s ire). Enjoyed a lot of great OU weekends, especially when we won, one of the last true college football rivalries that will probably never die!

        Hook’em Horns!

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