Oklahoma football: 101 primer on Red River rivalry series and what makes it special

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 11: Tyrus Thompson #71 of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrates a win against the Texas Longhorns at Cotton Bowl on October 11, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 11: Tyrus Thompson #71 of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrates a win against the Texas Longhorns at Cotton Bowl on October 11, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

There are a number of classic football rivalry series, but none quite as unique as the Red River Oklahoma football rivalry with the University of Texas Longhorns.

This year marks the 118th edition of the border-war rivalry series that began back in 1900.

It is not the oldest college rivalry game — in fact, it wouldn’t make the top 10 in terms of longevity — but it is easily one of the most popular, largely because of the elite status and historic national reputations of both programs.

There are many things that make this rivalry football game special and very different than most every other college football rivalry. For one thing, it is played on a neutral field every season, although very early in its history the game was played at the two campus sites.

Since 1932, the game has been held at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas. The stadium is located in Fair Park in Dallas, which stages the Texas State Fair the first two weeks in October every year. The annual OU-Texas game is played during that same time every year. That, in itself, makes this game totally unique from any other in college football.

Another unique characteristic of this game is the crowd configuration. Half of the stadium, or about 45,000 fans seated from the 50-yard line to 50-yard line, extending all the way around the south end of the stadium, is decked out in Oklahoma crimson, while the other half is similarly featured around the north end, proudly adorned in Texas school color of burnt orange.

An estimated quarter of a million people attended the Texas State Fair last year on the day of the OU-Texas game, including the 90,000-plus who were inside the Cotton Bowl to witness the Sooners’ thrilling 55-48 comeback victory over the Longhorns.

The Red River Showdown, as the game is currently billed (it also has been promoted in the past as the Red River Rivalry, the Red River Shootout and the Red River Classic) has been played annually at Fair Park in Dallas since 1929. The game has been played inside the Cotton Bowl every year since 1937.

The familiar fair sights of Big Tex, the iconic 55-foot cowboy that welcomes visitors to the state fair, and the Texas Star, the giant ferris wheel that sits just outside the Cotton Bowl are always big attractions as the fair activities are ongoing while the game is being played.

Getting back to the rivalry series, Texas leads the overall series with a record of 62-50-5, but Oklahoma has won 9 of the last 12 regular-season games with the Longhorns. Since 1971, the Sooners lead the series, 28-20-3.

Texas won six of the first seven games in the series, Oklahoma scored just 35 total points in the seven games. One game ended in a tie. Five of the first seven games were also played in Austin, Texas. The two teams played twice in both 1901 and 1903. The Sooners defeated the Longhorns for the first time in 1905, winning 2-0 in Oklahoma City.

The Longhorns dominated the rivalry series in the early years. Texas won 30 of the first 50 games in the series, with two ending in a tie. That margin is what gives Texas its current 12-game advantage today because the series has been fairly equal since then

The winning team is awarded the Golden Hat, a gold cowboy hat mounted on a large block of wood. The trophy is presented on the field after the game, and the players on the winning team are often seen donning the Golden Hat in postgame images.

Bob Stoops and Mack Brown were the respective coaches for the Sooners and Longhorns in this game for 15 seasons. Stoops prevailed 9-6 in that battle. Texas has had three head coaches since then (Charlie Strong, Tom Herman and now Steve Sarkisian). This will be Sarkisian’s second Red River rivalry game. This will be Brent Venables’ first as a head coach, but he was involved in 13 of them as defensive coordinator under Stoops.