Tuesday, October 18, 2011

OU football: Four days in Dallas

Posted by berrytramel
on October 11, 2011M at 10:40 pm

The OU-Texas game has become a virtual week for me. Wednesday through the weekend. You learn a lot about a city when you spend four days there doing a lot of different things. I went all the way northeast to Sherman, all the way west to Fort Worth. I drove on 10 freeways: 35W, the Tollway, the Bush Turnpike, 75, 45, 183, 114, 121, 30 and 820. I went to an OU engineers dinner and an OU Club of Fort Worth luncheon. And I saw a very interesting football game.

BATHROOM PROBLEMS

I mentioned this in my post-game report card, but it bears more discussion. I received a couple of reports about plumbing problems at the Cotton Bowl, of bathrooms being closed — or remaining open despite no water pressure for flushing. I still haven’t nailed down how extensive the problems were. I hope to write about it later.

But I’ve got to tell you. This might be the death of OU-Texas at the Fair. There’s a gorgeous stadium 20 miles to the west; Jerry Jones would salivate at getting OU-Texas. The Fair and tradition are great. But when the plumbing doesn’t work, if Dallas can’t patch up the ancient stadium, it’s time to walk away.

Dallas missed the boat when it decided not to play ball with Jones and get the Cowboys’ stadium on the fairgrounds. Ever since, Dallas has been scrambling to keep OU-Texas. Soon enough, Dallas will have spent more to put band-aids on the Cotton Bowl than it would have cost to get Jones to build his stadium in Fair Park. That’s a lack of vision and leadership. Now it’s too late. And Dallas gets to try to make plumbing installed in the 1930s for 50,000 work in the 21st century for 96,000. Good luck, Big D.

Truth is, the Cotton Bowl’s best friend right now is the stadium size in Arlington. Sure, you hear all the time about how JerryWorld can house 100,000 fans. But there are about 80,000 seats, with 20,000 standing-room tickets sold. That’s a recipe for disaster at OU-Texas. For better or worse, OU-Texas is a heavy drinking event. Pack people into tight conditions, with nowhere to go, and you’ve got trouble. The Cotton Bowl, through expansion after expansion, now crams 96,000 into the old stadium. And everyone has a seat.

TURNPIKE TECHNOLOGY

Greater Dallas has done away with tollbooths. Just drive on the turnpikes, and cameras record your license plate and send you a bill. I have one word for such an Orwellian development: fantastic.

The Tollway and the Bush Turnpike are great time-savers; less traffic, travel at angles. But they always were hassles, if you stopped every four or five miles to pay a toll. Now, no stopping. Just zipping through the Metroplex. We traditionally have stayed the weekend at Las Colinas but had dinner on Friday night with family up near Plano. That trip has been cut in half by the Bush Turnpike, which goes northeast/southwest.

I don’t know what kind of bill we’ll get. I don’t know if it’ll be $10 or $100. But let me tell, it made for one pleasant trip.

FAN INTERACTION

For several years on OU-Texas week, I’ve spoken on Wednesday night at a dinner hosted by OU’s College of Engineering, for Engineering grads in Greater Dallas. My wife is a fund-raising for the college and puts on the dinner, so I always attended with her. One year, they asked me to take questions, and one thing led to another, now it’s a tradition. And it’s always fun.

The dinner at the Anatole Hotel included three OU vice-presidents. Someone asked me if I was free to answer questions about the recent sale of The Oklahoman. I said if I can stand up there in front of three vice-presidents and answer questions about David Boren’s role in realignment, I can answer questions about the newspaper sale. Funny thing, no one asked about the paper or realignment. Everyone wanted to talk football.

Friday at noon, I was part of the program in downtown Fort Worth, at the Petroleum Club. The OU Club of Fort Worth puts on a great luncheon every OU-Texas Friday. I went three years ago and heard Steve Davis deliver a fantastic speech. Last year, I was on the program with Uwe von Schamann, who told a superb story about his mother, which I retold with my annual Mother’s Day column last May. http://newsok.com/a-mothers-adventurous-spirit-lives-on/article/3566127 This year, I was on the program with Toby Rowland. Toby told a great story of how he got the job. How he dared not dream it possible, but it came to be.

We took questions, and strange enough, this time there were tons of questions about realignment. Which is understandable. This was one day after the Big 12 invitation to TCU. Lots of people with both OU and TCU ties; Friday was a day of celebration in Fort Worth.

Anyway, the luncheon and the dinner always remind me of what OU-Texas really means. Incredible excitement for alumni and fans. But also the university mission. The ties to alums in north Texas. The recruiting of general students in the Dallas area. OU has its biggest freshman class ever, 4,500 or so students, and one quarter are from Texas. On Thursday night, Boren hosts a dinner for high school seniors (and their families) from the Dallas area. It’s a prime recruiting event.

All the people clamoring for OU-Texas to be moved to campuses have no idea how much the game in Dallas fits in with university missions. This weekend is huge for donor connections, fan incentives and general student recruitment. OU-Texas in Dallas can’t be replicated in other ways. OU (and Texas) need the game in Dallas. Or Arlington. The argument that OU owes it to the state of Oklahoma to move the game to campus as some kind of economic stimulus just doesn’t hold. The university provides all kinds of economic benefits to Norman and the state. But OU also has to make decisions based on what’s best for itself. Playing in Dallas clearly is best for OU.

THE CORNER BAKERY

On Thursday morning, my wife had a donor visit in the Carrollton area. We were going to lunch in Sherman with Brooks Hull, now a vice-president at Austin College in Sherman and formerly an OU engineering fund-raiser. So the Dish dropped me off a Corner Bakery, where I got online and did my weekly chat.

During the chat, word came that the Big 12 had invited TCU. So I’m chatting online, answering questions about TCU, and also talking with the office about how we would respond to the story, all the while thinking, I’ve still got to go to Sherman, drive back to Dallas and get to work, not only on TCU, but all the OU-Texas stuff that still was due.

But it all made me marvel at how our jobs have changed. Here I was, sitting in a Corner Bakery, chatting on line, learning all kinds of stuff while doing so, and it made me realize how much more information we produce and process. When I say we, I don’t mean The Oklahoman. I mean most everyone in the business. We know so much more about what we cover. We report so much more about what we cover. For instance, OU or OSU football. Just in the newspaper alone, we print so much more information about the Sooners and Cowboys than in previous eras, much less the blogs and videos.

The day was wild. I went ahead to Sherman, had a great lunch, a great tour of Austin College (a prestigious Division III school) and a great trip with my wife. Traveling with her is my favorite pastime, be it on a beautiful beach or driving U.S. 75 through northeast Texas. But then it was back to the hotel, where I started cranking.

THE TRIP HOME

An 11 a.m. kickoff means most anyone can get home, if they want to. I wanted to, since the Dish headed home Saturday morning. So we left the pressbox about 7:30 p.m. Saturday and headed north. If you wait until Sunday to drive home, traffic is dicey. I know some people who left about 10:45 a.m. Sunday and made it back in about 31/2 hours. Others left sometime after noon and took five hours.

Not much traffic on Saturday night, once you clear downtown Dallas. But as we drove through Denton, I saw the lights of Apogee Stadium, the University of North Texas’ glittering new football facility. I checked my blackberry to see who the Mean Green was playing, and I couldn’t believe it. Florida Atlantic.

That’s right. The Sooners and Howard Schnellenberger’s team played in the Metroplex on the same date. I was dead dog tired and glad to be headed home. But I also had more than a twinge of regret. With a little better planning and some extra sleep, I could have stopped off in Denton and talked with the Colonel one last time.

This is his last season coaching the Owls. He’s 77 and been coaching since the ’50s. At Kentucky and Alabama and in the NFL and the University of Miami and Louisville and, for one memorable season, OU. That 1995 season remains the most vivid season in my career, just because Schnelleberger was such a hoot to cover. He wanted writers at practice and had us up to his office to talk football. He would say crazy things and talk big, and even though I never had much confidence he was going to lead OU football to greatness, I never once tired of writing it all up.

Soon enough, Schnelleberger was gone. That was 16 years ago, and Bob Stoops has taken OU on a great ride the past 13 seasons. But I always miss Schnellenberger, and I’ll never again share a city with him while he’s coaching football. Made me a little sad.

-------------Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter @BerryTramel.

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