You can't blame Longhorns fans for being inhospitable. Their team has dropped four in a row to Oklahoma, and the Sooners' dominance is now extending to other areas—namely recruiting. Oklahoma has an oral commitment from Rhett Bomar of Grand Prairie, Texas, the top high school quarterback in the Lone Star State. This after the Sooners went into Killeen, Texas, three years ago and signed defensive tackle Tommie Harris, arguably the best high school player in the state that year. "You lose this game once or even twice in a row, you can live with it," says Tim Lashar, a native of Piano, Texas, who kicked for the Sooners in the mid-'80s. "You start losing three, four, five times in a row, guys are gonna start going up north. That's what happened to me."
Having attached a little OU flag to his car before driving to the fairgrounds on Saturday morning, Lashar and his wife pulled up beside a carload of Texas sorority girls, who cheerfully flipped them off. It's a tough crowd. Not that the Oklahoma faithful are any less cutting. One woman on the Midway wore a crimson T-shirt bearing the legend YOU CAN'T SPELL SLUT WITHOUT UT.
No sport does tradition like college football. Upon toppling the uprights on their home field after their team's upset of Nebraska on Saturday—Missouri's first win over the Corn-huskers since 1978—Mizzou students bore one of the uprights to a Columbia watering hole called Harpo's because...because mat's what they do in Columbia after a huge win.
College football tradition is the coaches at Hawaii wearing leis on the sideline, the Iowa band making the rounds of public houses in downtown Iowa City on Saturday nights, standing on countertops and tables and playing the school fight song or, say, an off-color version of Michigan's. It's "War Eagle!" and "Roll Tide!" It's the Volunteer Navy, a flotilla of boats up to 90 feet long that dock on the Tennessee River, a mile or so from Neyland Stadium. It's a set of rites and customs so disparate that they could not be contained, you would think, by a single sport.
The Texas-Oklahoma game transcends tradition. It is American history overlaid on an athletic contest, a game that's been played for a century, an outlet for marrow-deep passions and ancient grudges. But it is still 60 minutes of football, and in keeping with a more recent tradition at the Red River Shootout, the Sooners beat the snot out of the Longhorns. In the wreckage of the most lopsided loss in Brown's six-year tenure in Austin, Texas fans glimpsed the player who may lead them out of this desert. Redshirt freshman quarterback Vince Young was, at times, electrifying, spinning and hip-faking his way through the Oklahoma defense for serious chunks of yardage. For every big play Young broke, however, the Sooners had 10. The Cotton Bowl was a stereo system with one speaker out of whack: The orange half as quiet as, well, Jim Sorgi; the crimson half pumped up to 11.
The few moments of success the Longhorns enjoyed were short-lived. When Texas scored its second touchdown, Dusty Mangum missed the extra point. Standing not far away, Bevo the Longhorn defecated immediately and prodigiously. While it might have been a coincidence, the beast might also have been communicating his displeasure with his fellow Horns.
In the game's final minutes I spoke to the steer's handler, Justin Moers, an accounting major who cleans up after his charge with a shovel. He'd slipped earlier and gotten a bit of Bevo's ordure on his pants leg. "That's about how my day is going," said Moers.
"We're seniors," added Janaan Lorimer, who was standing nearby, "and we're 0 and 4 against Oklahoma." I did what I could to cheer them up, reminding them that keepers of an animal mascot are stewards of yet another cool college football tradition.
The outcome of Oklahoma-Texas having long since been decided, my thoughts turned to the Badgers. Starting around 3:30 p.m. I'd begun to receive voice mails from a Wisconsin alum who felt compelled to update me.
"T minus about four hours and 45 minutes until we shock the world," said the oddly familiar voice.