Oklahoma and Texas have two of the most tradition-rich football programs in America, and as a result, two of the most passionate fan bases and best game day atmospheres around. But when the Sooners and Longhorns meet on the gridiron, the matchup takes place at Dallas' Cotton Bowl, coinciding with the nearby State Fair. It's an environment fans won't find for any other game.
"The Texas-OU game takes place at the Cotton Bowl, adjacent to the fairgrounds for the State Fair of Texas, kicking off at 11 a.m. or 2:30 pm," said Peter Bean, managing editor at Burnt Orange Nation. "Unlike a typical pregame setting, where fans spend the hours before kickoff tailgating in tents outside cars, fans from both schools mill about the fairgrounds in burnt orange and crimson gear, eating all manner of outrageous, but often outrageously delicious, fried foods, drinking beers and talking trash. Well, usually. Texas fans will nod in agreement when OU fans boast that the Sooners are about to whip the Horns."
"Because the game takes place at the State Fair of Texas you could say that it's a tailgate scene like no other," Matt Hofeld, who writes for SB Nation Oklahoma blog Crimson and Cream Machine, said. "There are selected hangout spots for those wearing crimson and cream, as well as burnt orange. It's not unusual to catch cheerleaders, band members and former players hanging out in those areas, either. However, the common ground between both sides is the food. There is literally everything from a fried Nutella to a fried Thanksgiving dinner and everything in between. Tell me where you'll find a selection like that at any other football venue in America."
Tailgating on campus at either Oklahoma or Texas features plenty of homemade foods, but at the Fair, the cuisine is Fair food. And that means one thing: fried.
"Outside the Cotton Bowl? It's a fairground feast: fried corn dogs, fried funnel cakes, fried pickles, fried coke, fried sticks of butter," said Bean. "I wish I were kidding. Every year, it's amazing to see what they've figured out how to fry next."
Flickr user advencap, Creative Commons.
Amazingly, even the drink choices at the fairgrounds include fried options.
"Just as diverse as the food options are at the Red River Rivalry, the drink options stack up just about as high," Hofeld said. "Lemonade, sodas, exotic juices, typical juices and a plethora of other options await you. The worse your team plays the stronger your drink order may be. In typical State Fair fashion, you can even order fried beer. No, I'm not joking at all. Of course this is the part where we tell you to be responsible and not to endanger yourself or anyone else."
The advice to be responsible and avoid endangering fellow fans is admirable, but is that even possible when fried beer is on the table? One would think all bets are off once fried beer is being consumed. Then again, fans from each side are all milling around the fairgrounds, interacting with one another, so maybe the fried beer is necessary to take the edge off. While fans may be sectioned off in separate groups before on-campus games, that isn't the case for the Red River Rivalry.
"Before the game, it's typically each fan base being relegated to their respective sides of the stadium to cheer the bands and team buses, as well as offer up a little banter to opposing fans that may wander through," said Hofeld. "However, after the game the winning fan base takes over the midway, while the opposing one pretty much disappears. In some years there's even been a particular fan base that vanishes at the half.
"You'll definitely want to hit up the midway though, because you're most likely going to run into a few players while you're celebrating having the bragging rights in the rivalry for the next 12 months."
Outside of the game day atmosphere, there's Dallas, the ninth-largest city in the United States. For Longhorns fans, there might not be a specific place to convene. After all, Dallas is filled with Texas fans and alumni, and they're spread out across the city. While plenty of OU fans live in the area, too, there seems to be a more centralized Sooners meeting place.
"You can't go wrong on Commerce Street either before or after the game," Hofeld said. "If you're looking for nightlife and/or restaurants, then this is your best stop. Humperdinks on the Northwest Highway is one of the more popular spots that becomes a Sooner hangout for the weekend. That place starts turning crimson and cream on Friday night and pretty much stays that way throughout the weekend."
Oklahoma and Texas fans might not agree on a lot, but they're on the same page when it comes to the location of the annual game. There's a lot to be said for the pageantry of an on-campus game and the surrounding atmosphere, but the Sooners and 'Horns are plenty happy to meet in Dallas.
"It'd be a lot of fun to host the biggest game of the year every season, but that still can't compete with the electrifying atmosphere of a stadium divided in half," said Bean. "There's just nothing quite like it, and as great as home games can be, they just can't match the energy of a neutral-site game with 50,000 fans from both teams on hand."
"There truly is no other venue like the OU-Texas game," Hofeld said. "This is a great rivalry all by itself, but the atmosphere of the state fair and the stadium being split 50/50 push the game over the top as one of the best games to attend each year."
Matthew Emmons, US Presswire.