There’s a rivalry game being played in North Texas this weekend, in case you didn’t already hear.
For the first time since 1903 — two years after the inaugural playing of what is today known as the Red River Showdown — Oklahoma and Texas football will meet for a second time in a single season as the Sooners and Longhorns gear up for the 2018 Big 12 Championship Game set to be played Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
It’s the first time the two teams have ever met outside of the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas since 1929. It’s the first time the two bitter rivals have every laid it all on the line on a single field for a conference title. And quite frankly, it might just be one of the most-highly billed conference title games (save Georgia and Alabama in 2012) to ever be played, at least from a rivalry-standpoint.
And we’re doing just about everything to ruin it.
Maybe it will be an extremely entertaining game from start to end as Kyler Murray looks to further solidify is Heisman case — a trip to the College Football Playoff on the line — while Breckyn Hager would love nothing more than to finally cut his hair and see his team ruin everything for Oklahoma. Maybe it will have the dramatics of the “one second left” game in 2009, that saw Texas narrowly punch its ticket to the BCS national title game with a last-second field goal over Nebraska.
But we’re still doing everything to ruin it.
As Oklahoma and Texas fans flood into the metroplex, the hype has been stolen by the headlines generated from the Big 12 Conference’s decision to penalize players on Saturday for taunting Texas with the “horns down” sign — a staple of the rivalry that has been utilized by Oklahoma fans, players, and even coaches for decades.
Just ask Sooners legend Barry Switzer for his thoughts. You can even go across the aisle to the Texas camp, and the reaction might not be all that different. “Let college kids act like college kids” will likely be the general consensus, even if a few noteworthy voices may big to differ.
Remember that time Mike Gundy said we’re living in a generation filled with “snowflakes”? Maybe his comments are so far off after all. Will we soon see the day where it becomes outlawed to throw down the frogs or the bear claw? Let’s not even get started.
Saturday should be a celebration of everything right with college football. Sadly, there’s no guarantees that fans, as they deservedly should be, will be treated to that scene in Arlington. It’s already going to feel strange with Oklahoma and Texas playing outside of the State Fair for the first time since before WWII. And one can only hope and pray that this isn’t the first domino to fall in moving the October Red River Shootout away from the aging Cotton Bowl and right into the House that Jerry Built — something which the Cotton Bowl Classic already fell victim to once the glamorous venue captured the nation’s attention nearly a decade ago.
The good news is that there is a certain part — a element of pageantry, perhaps — that will never be taken away from college football no matter how the venues or rules change over the years. But good luck suggesting that rivalries as a whole are better off today than they were a decade ago. We’ve already lost West Virginia-Pitt. We’ve already lost Oklahoma-Nebraska. The Border War is no more. Florida-Miami is only intermittent. And even if lawmakers are supposedly working on a bill that would force the game to be played, it just seems wrong that Texas and Texas A&M haven’t met on the same field in now six years.
Take a second to even look at some rivalries matchups that are still intact. USC-UCLA? Not what it once was, even if the caliber of players on each team has something to do with that. Florida-Florida State? It’s a similar situation. Farmageddon? The Sunflower Showdown? Some of the younger Big 12 fans out there may not even be familiar with those terms.
Sure, things can’t last forever. But college football rivalries? It shouldn’t be that hard to preserve them, while making some reasonable adjustments when warranted.
Will Oklahoma and Texas ever part ways? Maybe they’ll find new homes if the Big 12 ever dissolves, but the annual meeting should survive no matter what the future may look like for the Sooners and Longhorns.
As for the passion that intensity that trademarks the rivalry game. There’s just no guaranteeing that.
The hole, in a blink of the eye, is getting deep. Whether we realize it or not, let’s not dig this thing any deeper — before it’s far too late.
Embrace rivalry. Embrace sportsmanship. And embrace college football being played the way that it was always supposed to be.