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Texas vs. OU: A Longhorns' guide to the Red River Showdown

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A fan and former player reflects on gameday and the best way for a Texas fan to experience it.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Each year, on a fateful October Saturday in Dallas, after only a few hours of restless sleep, we rise before the crack of dawn, completely wired, and approach our already-laid-out clothes like a player approaching his locker to suit up for battle. We've thought out everything about attending the annual Red River Showdown in meticulous detail, down to the driving route we'll take to a previously scouted parking area.

As my fellow Texas Longhorns fans and I drive through the darkened streets of southeast Dallas, the anticipation for the game against the Oklahoma Sooners builds to the point that we can hardly speak. The silence finally breaks when the ice in our cooler full of liquid courage cracks as the car bounces over the first speed bump in the parking lot. Off in the distance, through the early morning haze, the lights of the Cotton Bowl gleam forebodingly.

As the parking lot quickly fills to capacity, we trade degrading remarks with the fans from the north in a thinly veiled attempt to convince each other that we haven't any doubt whose team will win the day. Regardless of their demeanor, it's easy to recognize the anxiety in fans' eyes, because we know all too well from years of monumental victories and crushing defeats that winning the Red River Rivalry means everything.

An hour or two before kick off, we make 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 squeeze together and shuffle forward nervously, as though approaching a prison. Only the cackling laugh or joke of an inebriated fan breaks the tension that envelops both sets of fans up until the fair admittance end of our game tickets are torn, and at long last we're inside... where everyone immediately returns to the business of the day: throwing as much fuel as we can on one of the most fiery rivalries in all of sports.

We wander through a maze of carnival booths, inhaling Fletcher's corndogs and warm beers out of a waxy cup, anchoring our location with skyward glances to the familiar concrete façade of the Cotton Bowl, gradually honing in on the ramps leading to the stadium gates. Every step up feels like the initial ascent of a roller coaster—click, click, click—the anticipation steadily building as we negotiate the huddled masses filling every square inch of the Cotton Bowl's cattle-herding corridors, until the bottom drops out from beneath us as we catch our first glimpse of the endless expanse of orange- and crimson-clad fans rising up from every side of the glowing green field below.

The sensory nirvana all but stops time, as though in the slow motion sequence of a war movie. In our stunned state of being, the cacophony of sounds are entirely muted, until the bang of a drum and the explosion of a cannon bring us back into the now. And with that we have arrived, at the greatest college football game of them all. Before we know it, the opening kick off sails through the air and our minds begin operating in fast-forward mode as we plunge into a thrill-a-minute ride, momentum swinging back and forth, both teams making plays at an impossibly fast rate of speed, our brains grasping for air...

And that's just the first five minutes of the game.

When it's all over, to the victor go the spoils, indeed. Fans of the winning team float out of the stadium on an air of euphoria not thought possible without the aid of hardcore hallucinogens. Conversely, the losing team's fans mostly limp away from the stadium with their heads hung low, hoping to make it back to their cars with as little contact as possible with the floating, gloating fans of the winning team. A few bitter fans remain defiant to the end, continuing to lash out at their hated rivals. But it's futile, the hopelessness in their glassy eyes all too recognizable to anyone who's been on the losing end of the Red River Showdown.

For Texas and OU fans alike, the second Saturday in October is the closest we'll come to purgatory on earth and the heaven or hell that awaits us on the other side. We can hardly wait.

Whether this is your first or fifty-first trip to the annual grudge match, below are some suggestions to help you make the most of some of the best traditions in all of college football:

Texas vs. Oklahoma • The Cotton Bowl • Dallas, TX • October 10, 2015

Transportation: With Dallas being an easy drive from UT's other alumni havens of Austin, Houston and San Antonio, the majority of out-of-town Longhorns fans will likely motor in for the game. And with 35,000-plus Texas fans expected to make the trip—not to mention all the OU fans who make their homes in Texas who will also be driving in—be forewarned that the major highways leading into Dallas from the south (I-35 and I-45) will be extremely congested and typical driving times can easily double, especially throughout Friday afternoon before the game.

For those coming from out of state, Dallas features two main airports: Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), located just west of Dallas, about 25 miles from the Fair Park where the Cotton Bowl resides, and Love Field (DAL), located just north of downtown, about 12 miles from the stadium.

Renting a car would be optimal for its flexibility and convenience getting around, but Dallas does feature a public transportation system, DART (dart.org), and it includes a light rail option with stops within walking distance of several downtown hotels. The stop for Fair Park is on the Green Line and has become an increasingly popular mode of transportation on game day. If taking the light rail, you'll want to leave two to three hours before kick off to avoid delays and crowded railway cars. Also, with parking around Fair Park at a premium, taking a taxi to and from the game can be a very attractive and viable option.

Lodging: Though some fans drive in for the game and back home that same day, most choose to make a weekend out of it and stay both Friday and Saturday nights. Hotel options are limited near Fair Park, so lodging in or around downtown typically books up first and features rates that are higher on average. That said, with over 70,000 hotel rooms in the DFW area, there will certainly be space available and good deals to be had. Budget-conscious fans who are willing to drive a little farther would be wise to check with the hotels that cater specifically to business travelers and typically feature lower rates on weekends, many of which are located in the suburbs north and west of Dallas (Addison, Plano, Las Colinas, etc.).

Restaurants/Bars: Commerce Street in downtown Dallas was long considered ground zero the Friday night before the game. Fueled by copious amounts of liquid courage, fans of both teams would line the street, rarely missing an opportunity to confront opposing fans as they walked or drove by. After years of barely controlled chaos (and thousands of arrests), an unfortunate shooting incident in 1992 finally convinced Dallas city officials to put an end to the revelry. Since then, the night before the game has become somewhat more subdued (relatively speaking), with many fans attending private parties. But there are still plenty of opportunities to let OU fans know exactly how you feel, and you'll most likely find fans of both schools in the restaurants/bars in the following areas:

  • Deep Ellum - Located just east of downtown across Central Expressway (I-75), primarily on Elm, Main and Commerce streets. Similar to Austin's 6th Street entertainment district, Deep Ellum caters to younger adults and is renowned for its many live music venues and raucous bar scene. For a list of bars and restaurants and to see what bands will be playing TX/OU weekend, visit deepellumtexas.com.

  • Uptown - Located just north of downtown, primarily on or near McKinney Avenue between Pearl Street and Lemmon Avenue. The Uptown scene is probably best described as a "young professional" or "see and be seen" crowd. For a list of bars and restaurants, visituptowndallas.net.

  • Knox-Henderson/Lower Greenville - Located about five minutes north of downtown and slightly east of Central Expressway (I-75), you'll find a pocket of relatively new and highly acclaimed restaurants with great food all along Henderson Avenue. Proceed another mile or so east and you'll hit Greenville Avenue (between Henderson and Mockingbird Lane), where you'll find several fun, casual bars and restaurants that have been around for years and are practically Dallas institutions.

Tailgating/State Fair: With so much to see and do inside the grounds of the fair, tailgating is typically limited to those fans who arrive extremely early to get spots in the parking lots surrounding Fair Park. By 10 a.m., most fans have entered the fair grounds, many of whom congregate between the southeast side of the stadium and the Coliseum (big "blue box" building) to watch and cheer or jeer as the team buses arrive. Several popular food and beverage concessionaires like Fletcher's Corny Dogs are located in this area as well. For more information and maps, visit bigtex.com.

Keep in mind these tips for arriving and making your way to the game:

  • Arrival - Whether by car, cab or light rail, plan on arriving at and entering the fair grounds at least two to three hours before kick-off.

  • Parking - If it's a State Fair-sanctioned parking lot, the fee will be $15 and most of these lots fill up by 10 a.m. Many of the property owners in the surrounding neighborhoods secure a license with the city to sell parking spaces on or near their properties. Prices vary and typically depend on proximity to the fair. While this is a commonly accepted practice, use discretion and park at your own risk. You'll want to verify that they are licenseed or you may be towed, as those parking spaces tend to be monitored throughout the day.

  • Coupons - Most all food, beverages and activities in the fair require coupons for purchase. Booths selling coupons (valued at 50 cents per) are located throughout the fair. Expect food and beverage pricing similar to that found at a professional sports venue.

  • Stadium - The city of Dallas made several improvements to the Cotton Bowl a few years back, but you're still advised to arrive at the stadium at least 30 to 45 minutes before kick off. Entering through the gate listed on your ticket is also advisable, as the corridors within the stadium can get quite congested, making it difficult to move quickly from section to section.

Tickets: The game is always a sellout, with both schools easily selling their allotments of tickets. If tickets can't be secured through the schools, auction sites like Stubhub may be your best bet, as purchasing tickets on the day of the game can be difficult. There are typically scalpers on the street corners or roaming the parking lots adjacent to the fair, but because the game ticket includes an admittance stub to the fair, fewer tickets are sold inside the fair near the stadium.

Gameday Traditions: This year will mark the 106th meeting between the two teams, making the game a tradition in and of itself. Dallas is located almost exactly halfway between both campuses, and seating is divided equally between the schools, with each fan base filling half the stadium from either side of the 50 yard line. As mentioned, lining the streets to cheer or jeer the team buses as they make their way to the stadium is a popular game day tradition.

Others include the famous tunnel from which both teams enter the field, the Golden Hat Trophy and, of course, the chants, gestures, and paraphenalia specifically created for antagonizing the opposing fans. Longhorns fans enjoy inserting the words "O-U Sucks" into UT's fight song while the Sooners fans never miss an opportunity to flash an upside-down "Hook'em Horns" hand gesture.

Lastly, while not an official tradition, it has become commonplace for the winning fan base to remain in the stands long after the game has ended to savor another precious victory as the band serenades the players celebrating on the field. For Texas fans, every singing of "The Eyes of Texas" is sacred, but you'll rarely hear it sung more passionately than you will in the Cotton Bowl after a victory over Oklahoma.