Every team has a rival, and every sport has a rivalry game. These games are defined by history, hate and respect, and in my opinion, all three of those elements must exist in order for it to be a true rivalry.
I have been covering sports for 15 years, and in that time, I’ve been fortunate to sit on the sidelines for several intense rivalry games: Duke-Carolina, Kentucky-Louisville, UCLA-USC … When these teams take the field or court, they don’t care about current records, past games or star players. For a few hours, all that matters is the name on the front of the jersey, and that name creates an invisible line of division and disdain. This weekend, I was able to add another rivalry game to my resume: The Red River Showdown at the historic Cotton Bowl.
One intriguing element to this game is that the players understand the history of Oklahoma versus Texas. The majority of them grew up on “either side of the river.” They watched linebacker Brian Bosworth spew venom towards the “burnt orange,” and they watched running back Ricky Williams demolish the Oklahoma defensive line. Oftentimes, rivalry games become internally diluted within athletic programs because of cross-country recruiting, but that’s not the case with the Red River matchup. They get it. They really get it, and after this weekend, I get it, too!
Let’s start with the quarterbacks. Both Baker Mayfield and Shane Buechele grew up in the shadow of the Red River. Mayfield, who now calls Norman his home, went to Lake Travis High School in Austin, Tx. His jersey hangs in his high school coach’s office just 20 miles from the University of Texas campus. Mayfield’s former Coach Hank Carter told me Mayfield stops by the school from time to time to chat with current players (his last visit was just a few weeks ago prior to the TCU game).
I asked Carter, “How many kids at the school would be rooting for Mayfield, and how many would be rooting for Texas?” He said, “We have a few kids whose parents work at UT so they’re definitely pulling for the ‘Horns. But, there’s also a large group of Baker fans.” Good to know some folks in Austin were celebrating after Saturday’s game!
For Shane Buechele, the intensity of the rivalry hits closer to home … literally. Buechele has four siblings, and all of them are Oklahoma fans. Yup, his brother Tanner is an OU fan, his sister Amber is a junior at Oklahoma, brother Jordan is a graduate and Garrett was a star baseball player who helped lead the Sooners to the College World Series.
Take a look at the family’s Christmas card … talk about being outnumbered!
Speaking of numbers, how about Dede Westbrook and his five touchdowns in the last two weeks? Bob Stoops has said, “Westbrook has finally recovered from a nagging injury” and you have to imagine there is a sense of relief amongst Sooner fans, who spent the first few weeks of the season wondering who would replace Sterling Shepard now that he’s playing on Sundays with the New York Giants. Why not Westbrook? After all, he was mentored by Shepherd and still refers to him as “a brother.” Westbrook told me (through the Oklahoma SID) that he spends holidays with Shepherd and his family and talks to him every week before his games. Shepherd even sends word of encouragement to the rest of the receiver group though Westbrook. This week’s message was simple: “Go out and get a win.” The respect between the players is mutual as Shepard tweeted after the game, “Tried to tell y’all Dede is the truth!”
Tried to tell y'all @DedeTHEGreat11 is the truth!
— Sterling Shepard (@sterl_shep3) October 8, 2016
Here are some sideline observations from Oklahoma’s 45-40 victory:
In most stadiums, teams have separate entrances to the locker room, which allows separation from the players while entering and exiting the field. This eliminates emotions from spilling over into the tunnels. This isn’t the case with the Cotton Bowl. The Texas players had to wait for Oklahoma to vacate the field before they could leave.I was standing a few feet away as they corralled the Texas players after warm-ups. The coaches and security guards literally had to hold the players back. The player’s energy reminded me of a shaken can of soda … just waiting to explode. The players were yelling, and the fans above were responding. It was electric.
A few weeks ago, Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews looked as if he was poised to have a breakout season; however, the last few weeks he has struggled and his frustration is obvious. On Saturday, after consecutive dropped balls, a handful of his offensive teammates walked over to Andrews and offered words of encouragement. Joe Mixon, Westbrook and Samaje Perine were just a few. I wasn’t able to pick up on all the conversations but did hear Mayfield telling him, “You are here for a reason, and you are on that field for a reason. Shake it off and go show everyone what you can do.” It was a great display of leadership by Mayfield.
And finally, for me the weekend really started Friday evening when I joined my analyst Joel Klatt for his Facebook Live “Breaking The Huddle” broadcast. We were live from the Texas State Fair surrounded by fans, fried food and livestock, but the best part of the show were the guests that joined us — Bosworth and former Texas quarterback Vince Young. Listening to the two talk about this game and their experiences playing in it was a sports fan’s dream and certainly a highlight of my career.
We are back in the state of Texas next week in Lubbock! It will be my first trip to Texas Tech as West Virginia comes to town. Both head coaches – Kliff Kinbsury and Dana Holgorsen — come from the Mike Leach coaching/player tree so there’s sure to be a lot of exciting offensive plays!
See you then.