The Rivalry Atmosphere of the Red River Returns to “Fantasyland”

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DALLAS – Entries are very important to OR-Texas for the Sooners and Longhorns.

There’s the entrance to Fair Park, with buses winding through narrow streets lined with crimson or burnt orange fans, their reactions to the buses colored by their loyalty.

Then there is the entrance to the field, which includes a walk from the locker rooms through the famous Cotton Bowl tunnel, the two teams huddled together shoulder to shoulder, resulting in many verbal stone throwing and sometimes more than just words.

The teams step out facing a sea of ​​scorched orange in front of them and surrounded by Sooners fans in their crimson – roaring from both sides.

But last year, that experience dulled.

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There were no crowds of fans when the buses made their rounds through the fairgrounds, no lights halfway dancing with the rides. No roars rising from the sides of the roads. No rocking the buses, either in adulation or anger. No middle finger lifted to opposite sides.

There might as well have been some weeds rolling across the square a few hundred yards from the entrance to this venerable tunnel.

“Last year it was just a ghost town”, Sooners wide receiver Drake Stoops noted. “You just got around, got off the bus, it’s time to go to work.”

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The tunnel still had much of its intensity but upon exiting there was no cacophony rising to nearly 100,000 fans. Instead, booths were limited to just 25% due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the end of the game – a classic 53-45 in quadruple overtime – the stadium roared by 2020 standards.

“It was still noisy. It was still rockin ‘, ” OU defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas noted. “The fans were always there. “

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But on Saturday, things are back to normal in Dallas. Instead of a few scattered corn dog stands, the full line of fried foods will be available. The Cotton Bowl will be full, the fairground crowded with thousands of people who will not make it inside the stadium, and all that makes the Rivalry of the Red River college football’s most unique rivalry returns.

“Just playing the game itself brings out a lot of emotion,” said OU quarterback Spencer Rattler. “But we’d be lying if we had to tell all these fans (they don’t) also to bring out their emotions.

“So we are delighted to step into this environment and play.”

Jim Davis is also excited.

Davis has been going to OU-Texas games since the 1970s, but last year he watched him from work, perhaps trying to get over the fact that he wasn’t there, making the decision not to. not go to matches due to the pandemic.

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“It was awful,” said Davis, 65, as he stood at Marietta, trying to find a way to upgrade his upper tier seats for some in the lower bowl who might be safe from the Texas heat that appears to be a factor on Saturday. . “It really was. I’m so glad we’re back this year.

But although traffic along I-35 picked up significantly on Friday, Davis said the annual rally in Marietta and the caravan on the freeway to Dallas still wasn’t what it was. in the past.

“It could be 40% of what it was before,” Davis said. “People are still struggling with the pandemic. “

But the game has long been sold out, the State Fair is taking place after being canceled in 2020, and players are eager to make their entrance.

“It’s just crazy” Sooners rushes linebacker Nik Bonitto noted. “As soon as you come out of that tunnel, you can already feel everybody above you screaming and screaming and all that stuff.

“It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind experience.”

Lincoln Riley grew up hearing about the rivalry and watching it on TV.

When he arrived at the Sooners’ offensive coordinator in 2015, Riley tried to avoid doing things differently on OU-Texas week.

He was quickly disillusioned with this notion.

“My first time in this business, I kind of tried to have a ‘it’s just another game’ mindset, blah, blah, blah,” Riley said. “And that’s not the case. Not much about this game is normal. It’s almost like you’re in Fantasyland for a week and then a few hours on Saturday. Then you sort of come back to the real world or the normal world when it’s over.

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