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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

INsite: The Pregame Tailgate (October 2004) 

(The October INsite hits stands on Friday)

The Pregame Tailgate
by Andrew Fox

As I sit down to write this column the number four sticks out in my mind. Have you ever stopped to wonder what is so special about four? Why is it, specifically, that so many significant events occur once every four years?

Take 2004 for instance. This past winter we added an extra “leap day” to February. In August athletes from all nations convened in Greece for the Summer Olympics. And in November, millions of Americans will cast ballots to determine the next president.

All are meaningful, but it’s another four-year cycle that weighs on my mind this month. My inner Pachyderm’s mantra of “four more years” will have to go on the shelf as I travel to Dallas next week, because the 2004 Red River Shoot-Out has arrived. Like every other Texas fan, I’m hoping to see the Burnt Orange bleeding of the past four years cease.

Four years. It’s hard to comprehend. The University of Texas has seen Oklahoma walk out of the Cotton Bowl with bragging rights four years in a row. For the Longhorn faithful, that stings more than a George W. Bush inaugural speech in the Michael Moore home. But it’s the reality that we face as the two Big XII titans prepare to face each other again this season.

“Four more years.” Don’t think that some Sooner entrepreneur hasn’t put that phrase to use. I expect to see plenty of crimson-clad vendors on the State fair's midway, hawking T-shirts or koozies emblazoned with that poignant reminder of Oklahoma’s 21st Century dominance of Texas.

I just hope they exhaust their supply, because that dominance ends this year.

As the final seconds tick away on Oct. 9, “four more years” will become a historical footnote in this storied college football rivalry, taking its place alongside the ghosts of Barry Switzer and Peter Gardere. Texas is going to stun the Sooners and the entire college football world.

Before you say that I’m crazy (I might be) or rash (I definitely am), consider this: Oklahoma has never beaten Texas five consecutive times. I know the arguments for why Texas cannot win this game, but frankly, that fact is all I need to know to counter that we will.

Fifteen years ago, Oklahoma walked into the Cotton Bowl seeking their fifth straight win against Texas. No one even expected the unranked Horns to keep it close. They did more than that, winning 28-24 with a late touchdown pass from Gardere to Johnny Walker.

The next year Gardere led the Horns to another upset victory, 14-10, with more fourth quarter heroics. In 1991 the Texas defense led the way. Bubba Jacques’ late fumble return for a touchdown gave Texas a 10-7 win. Gardere’s arm again proved golden in 1992, when he capped off a career of Sooner mastery with a 34-24 win.

I’m not so stuck in the past as to think that the Horns are going to automatically reel off four in a row to answer Oklahoma’s current streak. I know, however, that this series has always been streaky, and it isn’t necessarily the best team that always wins. Texas wasn’t in 1989, that’s for sure. Oklahoma wasn’t in 1997 either, when they upset Texas for their first win of the season.

Bob Stoops is a major upgrade from the Gary Gibbs and John Blake teams that played in those respective games. Mack Brown, however – despite his faults – is an equal upgrade from the David McWilliams-led teams that ran off that leap year’s worth of upsets, and he’s at least marginally better than John Mackovic, who engineered the ’97 debacle.

It’s true that the 2004 Red River Shootout won’t be decided by a history book. History will play its part, though, and when combined with the Horns’ newfound power rushing game and the shifty ability of QB Vince Young, history will repeat itself.

At least I hope so, because I can’t take another four years of this.

e-mail TPT at drewfox@gmail.com


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