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


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.


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.


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.


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,



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