It's impossible to overstate how unique the annual game between Oklahoma and Texas is in the world of sports. The setting, atmosphere, the pageantry, the history of the two programs, it's all so unique.
Players and coaches are well aware of that, regardless of how hard coach speak and generic soundbites work to downplay the fact this isn't anything special (OU tackle Daryl Williams said OU would treat Texas like a normal team no less than five times during Monday's press conference).
Just like the fans are in awe of the stadium and the crowd split right down the 50-yard line when they enter the Cotton Bowl for the first time, the players are as well.
“I really did not know what I was getting myself into,” Oklahoma cornerback Julian Wilson said. “Walking down that tunnel and seeing how the fans were split exactly down the middle and the trash talk that goes on throughout the game. The fans and driving through the fair is not something you can put into words. You have to go through it to really understand.”
Not every first memory of being involved with this rivalry is a good one. For OU coach Bob Stoops, it's anything but a sweet recollection.
“I remember being up 17 to nothing and then ended up losing,” Stoops said, recalling Oklahoma's loss in 1999. “So, again, just trying, frustrated, to get our guys to learn how to win and finish through a game.”
Saturday's game will be the 109th time the two teams have faced each other and the 91st time they've faced off in Dallas (86th consecutive). Players on both sides don't need a refresher course on what to expect when they're surrounded by 96,000 fans in one of college football's most historic stadiums.
“It's just when you walk about there and how lit the stadium is,” OU defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue said. “One side is crimson and the other side is whatever their color is. When you go out there and see that, it's great. It's always loud; it's a great atmosphere.”
The storylines coming into the game are some of the more interesting ones that will come out all season. Most of the players in this game are from Texas. They've played one another in high school; they're friends; they're sometimes enemies. Regardless of the relationship, the familiarity makes the game mean that much more to the players.
“I wouldn't say it's personal, but it's a rivalry game,” Ndulue said. “Rivalry games are always fun no matter what the stats say, no matter who the underdog is. That doesn't matter. It's not a home game and it's not an away game. You just go out there and play your rival.”
Ndulue is one of the 41 Texas natives on the OU roster (a low number compared to other OU teams) and with both last week and this week's games in the Metroplex, his family has been able to see him play without having to travel very far.
“It's the reason why most people come to Oklahoma is for the OU-Texas game,” Ndulue said. “My mom is going to be there, my sister, my dad, my best friend; friends are going to be watching. It's just nice to be going back home and getting back-to-back trips to Texas. I've enjoyed that a lot.”
But there are more than a fair share of Oklahomans on the Sooners' roster and that group has a plenty big chip on their collective shoulder for a completely different reason.
“It's really big,” Wilson, a Southmoore graduate, said. “Not too many Oklahoma players are on the team. It's a big Texas game but as an Oklahoma player, you have to play with a big chip on your shoulder.
I know me and Shep do (take it more personally). We used to talk about that all the time, Oklahoma guys. They say Oklahoma, you guys can't play football down there. So yeah, we do.”
OU quarterback Trevor Knight is starting his first Red River Showdown after redshirting in 2012 and not playing in last year's game. The moment is magnified for Knight because of his poor, 14-of-35 performance against TCU on Saturday. Knight hasn't been anything close to the player that torched Alabama, so the pressure of Saturday could be greater than normal for him, but he doesn't think so.
“I think it's just like any other game in the fact that I'm going to have to prepare,” Knight said. “It's going to be a hard fought game. Also, it's exciting for me. Watching that game growing up, it's a huge game. I'm looking forward to that opportunity.”
Oh and that's the other thing with Knight. His dad played for and graduated from Texas and Knight spent his whole life going to Texas games in Austin and sitting in the burnt orange end of the Cotton Bowl. Now, he's suiting up for the team he once disliked. Talk about a life change.
“I grew up going to a couple games in Dallas, so awesome memories from that, but none compare to running out for the first time as a freshman,” Knight said. “Feeling that atmosphere, feeling that energy, it was unreal.”
Everything about OU-Texas is special. From the scene to the storylines to the players themselves, it's a game that doesn't depend on both teams being superpowers to be intriguing. Let's just sit back and enjoy the latest edition on Saturday.