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Getting mentally prepared for Saturday

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 A writer-friend of PB’s recently asked me some questions about the Red River Rivalry experience and I thought I’d share my answer to her question about a “proper October Saturday in Dallas.”

On a fateful Saturday every October in Dallas, after only a few restless hours of sleep, I rise before the crack of dawn completely wired to find my game-day clothes already laid out as if I were a player approaching my locker to get suited up for the game. Everything about attending the annual Red River Rivalry has been thought out in meticulous detail down to the driving route I’ll take to a previously scouted parking area. As I and fellow Longhorns fans drive through the darkened streets of South Dallas, the anticipation begins to build to the point we can hardly find the words to speak. The silence is only broken when we hear the ice crack in our cooler full of beer, vodka, and Bloody Mary mix as we pass over the first parking lot speed-bump and through the early morning haze, see the lights of the Cotton Bowl gleaming forebodingly off in the distance.

As the parking lot fills to capacity, we trade degrading remarks with the fans from the north as a thinly veiled attempt to convince them that we haven’t any doubt whose team will win the day. But with conference and national title implications hanging in the balance almost every year, you can see the anxiety in every fans’ eyes, regardless of their demeanor, because we know all too well from years of monumental victories and crushing defeats, that winning the Red River Rivalry means everything and losing...well, losing just isn’t fathomable because the pain is so intense your mind goes into shock and blocks it out. 

About an hour before kick-off, we start making our way to the stadium. Approaching the gates to the State Fair grounds offers a brief respite from the feud as Texas and Oklahoma fans alike stand nervously next to each other in line like they're awaiting entry into a prison recreation yard. A coy laugh or joke from an inebriated fan usually breaks the tension until the ticket taker tears off the fair admittance end of your game ticket and then it’s right back to the business at hand, throwing more fuel on an already fiery rivalry.

After inhaling a Fletcher’s Corndog and a warm beer out of a waxy cup while appearing to be lost inside a maze of carnival booths, we look high in the sky to find the familiar concrete facade of the Cotton Bowl to recalculate our way to the ramps leading up to the gates. Every step up feels like you’re on the initial assent of a roller coaster – click, click, click – and as we pass through the entrance at the top of the hill and negotiate our way through the huddled masses of the Cotton Bowl’s cattle-herding corridors, we come upon the entrance to our seating section only to have an expanse  of seemingly endless rows of orange and red clad-filled bleachers leading down to a bright green field release a wave of emotion over us that nearly causes us to fall flat on our faces as we make our way down the stairs to our seats in a semiconscious state.

Like a slow motion action sequence in a war movie, your body temporarily shuts down because of sensory overload. You get tunnel vision and the sounds around you become muted until the bang of a drum or explosion of a cannon brings you back into the now. Then your mind hits the fast-forward button and it’s a thrill-a-minute ride as momentum swings back and forth with both teams making plays at an impossibly fast rate of speed. You’re left mentally exhausted, your brain gasping for air. And that’s just the first quarter.

To the victor go the spoils indeed, as the winning fans float out of the stadium on a new level of euphoria not previously thought possible without the aid of hallucinogenic drugs. Conversely, the fans of the losing team file out of the stadium with their heads down hoping to make it back to their cars coming in contact with as few, gloating opposing fans as possible. Sure, a few fans from the losing side remain defiant to the end and continue to lash out at their rivals, but its futile as anyone who's ever been on the losing end of the Red River Rivalry can recognize instantly the reflection of the scoreboard in their hopeless eyes.

For the second Saturday this October is judgment day for all Texas and OU fans. And the Cotton Bowl is the closest we’ll come to purgatory on Earth and the heaven or hell that awaits us on the other side.