The alarm on my phone was set for 6 a.m.
But I was wide awake at 4:50 a.m., and I couldn’t turn off my brain long enough to go back to sleep.
I sat on the side of the bed, thankful that my wife encouraged me to join her in drinking a full gatorade and tossing back a few Advil before going to sleep when we returned to our hotel room just four hours earlier.
My eyes burned a little bit, my head slightly fuzzy, but you don’t come to Dallas for your first ever Red River Showdown to sit inside all evening and get to bed early the night before the game.
Eventually, sure. But not the night before your first ever trip to the Cotton Bowl for a bucket list football game.
Friday night actually began around 3:30 in the afternoon, when we met some of our good friends who were just as excited to show us the Red River ropes as we were to learn them.
I saw Texas and Oklahoma flags hanging from buildings on Main St., store clerks, waiters and waitresses donning burnt orange or crimson, silently announcing their alliance.
I heard Boomer Sooner, Texas Fight, OU Sucks and (Expletive) you!
I threw horns up to strangers in orange and white, and I refrained (for the most part) from tossing up double middle fingers to strangers in crimson.
We went to a Texas Exes party at Ross & Hall Kitchen+Beer Garten, where I led Texas pom in several Texas Fight chants, danced with Hook‘Em and somehow managed to get in good with DJ Leo, who let me have the microphone on more than one occasion to essentially do three installments of two-minute stand-up comedy routines that ended with me leading one of several classic Texas chants.
At one point, when I received the microphone, I asked for everyone’s attention for an extremely important message.
“There is an SUV parked out front with Oklahoma plates. If the owner doesn’t move it, we’re going to set it on fire!”
The cheers were so loud that I truly thought they might have taken me seriously and we soon would all be outside in search of an SUV with Oklahoma plates prepared to flip it and set it on fire.
Kickoff was still more than 12 hours away, but I wanted the game to start right at that moment.
When Saturday morning came around, I sought out coffee at the nearest place I could find open at 5 a.m. This, of course, included the fun game of pulling up my Chase Bank app and participating in “Oh, we spent that much last night?”
When I walked into the world’s most famous coffee shop, 7 Eleven, the gentleman behind the register asked, “Are you still out from last night, or did you just wake up?”
I returned to our room to finish the 16 oz. cup of joy that was my coffee and hopped in the shower. When I got dressed, I did what any good husband would do; I played The Eyes of Texas as loudly as possible to wake up my wife. Throughout the many Texas trips we’ve embarked on (2017 USC, 2016 Kansas, Notre Dame, 2015 Texas Tech, Notre Dame, to name a few) she has become accustomed to my childish joy that resembles the excitement of every eight-year-old on Christmas Day.
Not too long after, we headed to the downtown Marriott for a Bloody Mary before getting on the DART with our friends we were out with the night before.
I can’t tell you how I did it, nor can I tell you why, but I somehow managed to make it the entire DART ride to Fair Park without starting something along the way. Everywhere I turned there was an OU fan just standing there, begging me to say something and get the show on the road. At one point I bumped into a guy wearing an OU polo shirt and I literally had to pause and decide if I was going to tell him “oh, I’m sorry” or “excuse you, land thief.” I chose neither. I had to set the tone early.
When we got into the food court I couldn’t navigate my emotions. Living in Indiana, anytime I see someone wearing OU gear, I’m quick to point out OU sucks and they probably do, too. At least when I’m not in a professional setting.
But inside this food court, you really have to be methodical. You can’t just walk up to one Oklahoma fan and say something, you might get flanked from your backside, hit upside the head with a Fletcher’s dog and pushed into a picnic table as they steal your coupons right out of your hands and pockets.
Naturally, I decided to squad up with my people. After my buddy Mike Barnes got the crowd going with some Texas Fight chants, I proceed to stand on the picnic table and chant “OU Sucks!”
I felt much more accomplished standing on the picnic table with double birds in the air leading a chant. Much like leaving the severed head of a horse in an enemy’s bed to send a strong message, choosing to let all Sooners fans know daddy was home and they weren’t welcome was much more effective then picking off a few standing in the six-coupon beer line.
Throw out everything you think you know when you head into your first ever Red River Showdown game. All these years I’ve sat with goosebumps watching pregame intros just before kickoff.
Bless my heart.
I’ll never be able to put into words what it felt like as we headed to our seats, row two, section nine.
As my friend Matt Fegan said, Iif you could take the crowd that shows up for this game and stick it inside DKR six times a year, we would have four more national championships than we already do.”
He might not be lying. I’m lucky to have never experienced what I’m about to describe, but after Saturday I imagine I have a good idea of what it’s like.
Imagine you’re in a crowd of people who are waiting in line for free bottled water, but as soon as the doors open strip steaks, turkeys, hams and $100 bills are tossed into the air. People essentially begin to lose their minds as they scramble to gather as much food and money as their arms can hold.
The crowd becomes unruly. Animosity. Hatred. Us against the world mentality.
That was the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, and I want it injected into my veins every Texas football Saturday for the rest of my life. Let me get drunk on that feeling.
Every time Texas scored I was hugging — not high-fives — hugging Texas fans around me.
I could have cried and I don’t think anyone would have blamed me. That was as emotionally exhausting as anything I’ve ever been through in life, especially after nearly blowing a 21-point lead.
And I still haven’t decided what was the best part of the game. On one hand, Texas rag-dolled Oklahoma for 52 minutes of Saturday’s game. On the other hand, watching Sooners fans go into full-blown surrender cobra stance after Cameron Dicker’s field goal was as beautiful as any sight I saw that day.
When Oklahoma tried to run the Annexation of Puerto Rico, or whatever that play was at the very end of the game, you would think someone in my shoes would have felt compelled to run onto the field screaming in joy. But all I could do was stand and look around in silence.
For at least five seconds I felt paralyzed by the moment I will forever be a part of, standing in sheer disbelief, not because of the win but because I was there.
So many stories from family members, exes in my family tree who got to attend this game multiple times as a student, as well as friends who have sworn on their lives I needed to be at this game, and here I was. I was experiencing this beautiful moment in time in person with my own two eyes.
And then came the moment so many tell me is the most beautiful moment I’ll ever witness at a Longhorns game: Texas fans all accounted for as the south end of the Cotton Bowl empties as angry Sooners fans exit one by one into a miserable sadness that they’ll carry with them for the remainder of the weekend.
The eyes, after a win. There’s nothing better. pic.twitter.com/b6y4AdF7uq— Corey Elliot (@CoreyElliot) October 7, 2018
I’ve been lucky to sing the eyes after a Texas win on several occasions. But unless it’s at the College Football Playoff National Championship, I don’t know if any rendition of The Eyes of Texas will ever be as beautiful as it was last Saturday.
On one hand, I can count the times I’ve experienced such a wide range of emotions in my lifetime as I did last weekend.
My advice for anyone who bleeds burnt orange: If you had a broken ankle and needed to drain the last $1,000 in your savings account to help pay for reconstructive surgery, and the night before doing so your buddy called and said he has an extra ticket to the Red River Rivalry, but the trip down plus the ticket would cost you that $1,000 you needed for surgery, I want you to understand how serious and genuine I am when I tell you that your ankle can wait and if it has to be amputated so be it.
Go to the Red River Showdown game.
The Golden Hat belongs to Texas. This t-shirt can belong to you. The victory will live forever.