Last year around this time, I confessed something before the gathered BON masses. OU was coming off a loss, we had beaten them the year before in Mack Brown's final season at Texas, they had remained in the Big 12 alongside us--and I was just having trouble mustering the sports hate against our rival to the north.
This year, I'm happy to report that while we are far from early-2000s level of emotion in this rivalry, there are some good reasons to go ahead and let that sports hate start to trickle back into your hearts. Look, no rivalry game is ever as intense as when both teams are in the conference or national championship hunt, and therefore both have dual goals: win the thing, and stop your rival from winning the thing. The sweet taste of victory is made all the more enjoyable by the knowledge that your hated opponent has a bitter flavor on his tongue.
But failing that, this year's Red River [Football Game] has the next best thing: jealousy. Last year the sports hate was deflated not only by the rebuilding state of the Texas program, but also by the fact that the game was largely devoid of meaning for the Sooners as well. It was clear that they were playing for 3rd place in the conference, at best.
In the early 2000s, one of the driving forces behind the game's intensity was Longhorn jealousy. We were ever so close to the pinnacle of the sport, but kept losing in the Cotton Bowl to a team that was experiencing a resurgence under Bob Stoops and had reached the ultimate goal of a national title while Brown was still building up his program in Austin. In 2015, that same jealousy should be pretty intensely magnified.
Oklahoma had a down year in 2014, but it has still never finished worse than 4th in the conference this century (and even that happened only last year). Stoops' program has never reached the depths of Texas' last five years. The same coach who rebuilt OU into a power has seemingly managed to avoid a multi-year slump after last year's disappointment, and here they are headed to the State Fairgrounds with the same ambitions they had in the rivalry's best days a decade ago.
Fine. So the goal of winning this game to further our own national title ambitions is out of reach. But I feel I must refer you to my second paragraph above: there are two goals in a sports-hate game such as this one. The other, providing a righteous acid rain on the Oklahoma Championship Parade, is very much alive.
Someone has to derail the ridiculous Schooner before it gets too full of ego and hot air.
Someone has to remind OU that they will never be anything more than Okies.
Someone has to remind these people that Bud Wilkinson's protege had enough sense to make his lasting impression in Austin, in the stadium that now bears his name, because any Dustbowl Dweller knows the path to success is out of Oklahoma and into Texas.
Why not us? Why not this young, sometimes confused, apparently kind of angry football team in orange? Look, I know the TCU game bummed you out. Truly I do. Know what? It bummed me out too.
But weren't we all saying, not five weeks ago, that "Texas could be a half-decent team and still start the season 1-5?" And even though the Ft. Worth debacle is freshest in our minds, in the four losses--all of which Texas entered as underdogs--has Texas not outperformed expectations twice and under-performed twice? That is: taking the season as a whole, isn't this team roughly where reasonable observers likely expected it to be at this point?
What I'm trying to say is, the long-term trajectory of the Strong Era at Texas is fun to speculate about but at the end of the day, all anyone can do on that front is speculate. Maybe he'll get it turned all the way around; maybe this season will be so awful that he can't recover from it. Who knows? Nobody, fellas. Nobody does. So being all sad about the situation right now strikes me as premature and no fun at all.
What we do know is a bunch of Texas freshmen who have shown flashes of ability without putting it together for a signature win are about to get their first State Fair Football experience. We know Texas has an exciting opportunity to have the honor of being the squad that ends the silly, toothless dreams of Sooners everywhere that they might actually make the College Football Playoff. We know a surprising victory by the Longhorns will result in some good-as-gold TV shots of dejected Okies in the Cotton Bowl, most of whom will have spent their mornings talking trash through open-mouthed bites of Corny Dogs. And we know a big Red River win would kickstart a young team about to play five straight games more winnable than any they've played so far except Rice.
What do we know? We know it's time to turn the Oklahoma sports hate faucet up from a mere trickle to a steady, if thin, level of flow. Because we know there's more fun to be had this year than in 2014. And we hold out hope that there will be even more on the table in 2016--at which time, as science tells us, OU will still suck.