Monday, October 15, 2012

The evolution of a rivalry

This weekend was the annual Red River Rivalry, one of the greatest rivalries in college football. It has a remarkable and storied tradition. For me it was my 29th in a row to attend. During that tenure, I've seen it all, and I can say that in a way I believe few true sports fans can match. My deepest agonies of defeat and greatest joys and thrills of victory in all my sport spectating have come in that Cotton Bowl stadium in the middle of the State Fair of Texas in Big D, half-way between Norman and Austin.

As much as the experience has maintained its continuity, there are a few significant changes that have taken place. I have watched as that game and the weekend that surrounds it has evolved over time. It is unmistakably a more subdued, sophisticated, and superficial affair. For the most part these changes are good. A little of the pure rivalry is lost, I believe, but on the whole it is a better environment. Some of the changes have been:

  • The center of fan pre game (night-before) activity has moved away from the rowdy and rough areas like Deep Ellum and the West End and into the tony Uptown and stylish Knox-Henderson.
  • Yelling at, taunting, and otherwise verbally berating opposing fans is generally gauche and rare.
  • Wearing team colors the night before is rare rather than the norm (this contributes to the prior trend).
In summary the behavior is better, the environment cleaner, and the atmosphere more sophisticated. 

Most of this, probably 80%, I attribute to the wealth effect. We've gotten a bit wealthier in both fan bases overall, but in particular the selection of fans has probably gotten considerably wealthier. The explosion in sophistication in Dallas, some of it genuine wealth, some of it the so-called $50,000 millionaires, has attracted a different crowd to the game. These fans are willing and able to spend much more for the OU-TX experience, and they crowd out other fans that more resembled what I saw in the mid-eighties. Also, the relaxed attitude generally for secondary-market ticket sales, read market prices, have further pushed out the fans of lesser means. 

The remaining 20% or so behind the evolution would include the significant downturn both teams experienced in the 1990s. This surely washed out some of the marginal fans. Also, the general encouragement of respectfulness would seem to have played a role. This attitudinal shift started at OU around the time of Stoops' arrival, but I believe it was incidental to him per se. Lastly, the extreme and probably over-the-top police enforcement during the 1980s and 1990s in Dallas surrounding the OU-TX game stands out. For a while they seemed intent on taking away the fun as the took brawlers off the streets and made what I witnessed to be arbitrary arrests of public drinkers (not drunks, mind you). There were literally invisible lines that once crossed would land you ziptied on the curb without warning. 

Again, I think the evolution is overall positive, but some of the spirit is lost.

PS. There is nothing like beating Texas. Boomer Sooner!