Cot­ton Bowl is in fu­ture of OU-Texas

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - Berry Tramel [email protected] ok­la­homan.com

Chris Del Conte ar­rived early, about 6 a.m., last Oc­to­ber for the Ok­la­homa-Texas game. Del Conte, in his first year as the Longhorn ath­letic di­rec­tor, wanted to see all sides of the spec­ta­cle, from the foot­ball game in the Cot­ton Bowl to the revelry sur­round­ing it in the State Fair of Texas.

And Del Conte was amazed.

“Mind blow­ing,” Del Conte said. “I spent all morn­ing just walk­ing around, soak­ing it all in and see­ing the van­tage point as a fan, what’s the ex­pe­ri­ence like.

The game is awe­some. This year’s game was fan­tas­tic. You had both GameDays there (ESPN and Fox). The State

Fair was phe­nom­e­nal. Two great, com­pet­i­tive teams.”

So you half­way be­lieve Del Conte when he says that two months later, when the Soon­ers and Longhorns met again,

18 miles west of Dal­las in Ar­ling­ton’s AT&T Sta­dium for the Big 12 cham­pi­onship, he never com­pared the two venues. Never en­vi­sioned what OU-Texas might look like in Jer­ryWorld.

Del Conte fig­ures Ar­ling­ton is per­fect for the Big 12 Cham­pi­onship Game. And Dal­las is per­fect for OU-Texas in Oc­to­ber.

“For my per­spec­tive, the Red River Ri­valry has al­ways been played in the Cot­ton Bowl,” Del Conte said. “It’s around the state fair. All the pomp and cir­cum­stance that sur­rounds that is fan­tas­tic, and it’s such an awe­some event and one that is steeped in tra­di­tion.”

OU-Texas has been played at Fair Park an­nu­ally since 1929 and at the Cot­ton Bowl since 1932. But the re­turn of the Big 12 ti­tle game made an OU-Texas re­match pos­si­ble, and that’s what we got Dec. 1. It was in some ways a sneak peek at what the se­ries could look like if moved from an an­cient sta­dium to foot­ball’s most lux­u­ri­ous.

Over the decades, crit­ics called for the se­ries to move to the cam­puses. Since the con­struc­tion of Jer­ryWorld a decade ago, some have clam­ored for the se­ries to stay in Greater Dal­las, but move to Ar­ling­ton. And cer­tainly Jer­ryWorld’s ameni­ties shame the Cot­ton Bowl, which has small seats, tight con­courses and plumb­ing is­sues that never seem to end.

So I talked to both ath­letic di­rec­tors, Del Conte and Joe Castiglione, to gauge their re­ac­tion to an OU-Texas game played out­side Fair Park for the first time since 1923.

Both say an OU-Texas cham­pi­onship game in Ar­ling­ton was great. But both say OU-Texas in Oc­to­ber be­longs with Big Tex and the corny dog stands and the Texas Star Fer­ris wheel.

“It’s a bucket-list game,” Castiglione said. Joe C. says he and his staff, and their Longhorn coun­ter­parts, are “cu­ra­tors of a grand tra­di­tion.”

Del Conte agreed. “One of the things we have to do in col­lege ath­let­ics is pre­serve tra­di­tion, be­cause that’s what makes col­lege ath­let­ics so great,” he said.

Prag­mat­i­cally, the Cot­ton Bowl serves more fans from the schools. Jer­ryWorld fa­mously has a ca­pac­ity of 100,000. But 20,000 of those are stand­ing-room only, and only the fans stand­ing in the first cou­ple of rows of the pav­il­ions above the end zones ac­tu­ally see the field. The rest are watch­ing the gi­ant video board.

And as we learned at the cham­pi­onship game, Jer­ryWorld’s suite seats num­ber 17,000 and aren’t avail­able to the masses. They are held by Dal­las Cow­boy suite own­ers. So in ac­tual seats, OU and Texas would each be al­lot­ted about 31,500 in Oc­to­ber. They each get about 46,000 at the Cot­ton Bowl.

“If some­one wants to sug­gest we move, I’m go­ing to of­fer them the job of call­ing those fans” that don’t get tick­ets, Castiglione said.

Fair Park ad­min­is­tra­tors and the city of Dal­las have scram­bled to keep the Cot­ton Bowl an ac­cept­able venue. The Dal­las Cow­boys played at the Cot­ton Bowl in the 1960s and since have twice moved on to new sta­di­ums. But OU-Texas re­mains where it’s been for al­most nine decades.

Ex­pan­sion and im­prove­ments have been con­stants in re­cent years, and for now the venue is hold­ing on.

“Some­where out in the fu­ture, some­one will have to make a de­ci­sion in re­gards to a new venue,” Castiglione ad­mit­ted. But “it’s just fine right where it is.”

Del Conte is ex­cited about the pos­si­bil­ity of cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tions. 2028 will bring the 100th straight OU-Texas game played at Fair Park. 2029 will bring the 100th an­niver­sary of the game that ig­nited the an­nual se­ries. Those same sta­dium mile­stones ar­rive in 2031 and 2032.

The OU-Texas con­tract with the city of Dal­las runs through

2025, but there ap­pears no ap­petite to con­sider leav­ing after that.

For the fore­see­able fu­ture, this is the OU-Texas lineup: for sure in Dal­las in Oc­to­ber, maybe in Ar­ling­ton in De­cem­ber.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected]­la­homan.com. He can be heard Mon­day through Fri­day from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports An­i­mal ra­dio net­work, in­clud­ing FM-98.1. You can also view his per­son­al­ity page at new­sok.com/berry­tramel.

[PHOTO BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Tick­ets to the OU-Texas game in the Cot­ton Bowl an­nu­ally are dif­fi­cult to ob­tain.

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