Dear Sooners

Cal Sport Media via AP Images

Dear Sooners,

I still remember everything about stepping onto the field at the Cotton Bowl. It was so loud I couldn’t hear anything, but I could actually feel the energy — like a stream of electricity was being pumped under the grass and into my feet. Down the middle of the stadium was an even split, with half of the fans wearing burnt orange and the other half wearing crimson.

And it smelled like shit.

That’s not an exaggeration. There are actual cows and pigs and goats and chickens all over the area surrounding the stadium. It’s the state fair. So it really does smell like manure in the air.

And then, right as your senses are overwhelmed taking everything in, the game starts and you’re in a battle for survival. No question, those guys lining up across from you are your enemies, plain and simple. And you couldn’t possibly find yourself in a more intense environment.

I’ve played in some big games in my life, but there’s still only a handful that I really remember in detail.

I mean there’s the Super Bowl, obviously. There are a few playoff games here and there, but hardly anything stays with you from the regular season. Once you get into the weekly routine, with that championship goal in mind, there’s just not enough time to reflect on past victories. Even if it was a great game, it fades in a few hours. If you want to win, it has to be that way. It’s always “on to Kansas City”, or Cincinnati, or Washington. No stopping to smell the roses until the off-season. And by then you’re so tired and beat up, regular season football is the last thing on your mind.

But more than any game, college or pro, I remember Texas vs. Oklahoma.

More than any game, college or pro, I remember Texas vs. Oklahoma.

I can’t help it.

I don’t even think about it like a game, really. It’s more like I remember playing football before Texas-OU, and playing football after. Sometimes a memory from one of the games I played in will just force its way into my head at a random time during the day. It’s always there. Like a scar on the back of my brain. My last game against Texas was more than six years ago but it still feels like yesterday.

Cal Sport Media via AP Images

A lot has changed in six years, both at Texas and Oklahoma. The sport of football has changed. But this game, this rivalry, it’s always been about the same thing.  It’s grounded in passion and hard work and respect, and all that stuff that we forget about sometimes. All of the things that make football great.

And, yeah, it’s also about hate. Good, old-fashioned hate.

God, I hate those stupid, overrated, arrogant-as-hell Texas Longhorns.

I’ll admit that growing up I was a big Horns fan, along with the rest of my family in Groveton, Texas. Nobody’s perfect.

I won’t deny that I liked Vince Young, same as everybody else. And once I got into football, the University of Texas was always the school at the top of my list.  I did everything but beg them for an opportunity to play after coming out of junior college.

But the fact is that they never made me an offer. Oklahoma did. That’s just how it all worked out.

I still didn’t hate Texas then, but I was always very grateful to Oklahoma for the opportunity they gave me. Grateful to go to a school that wanted me. I met a lot of other guys from Texas, too. We bonded over the fact that we’d come to a superior school that would turn us into superior football players.

We bonded over the fact that we’d come to a superior school that would turn us into superior football players.

That’s not just talk — check the record book the past couple of decades. And every bit of it was earned. Those practices at Oklahoma leading up to the Texas game were honest-to-God the hardest practices I’ve ever been a part of in my life. And at the end of those practices, we were usually more angry than we were exhausted. All of that anger got directed at Texas. I can’t tell you exactly why in this moment. But somehow, those hard practices were all Texas’s fault. It was like we knew if we weren’t prepared to the maximum, we’d be letting the whole world down when it came time to represent Oklahoma in this game. Austin is a city, but Norman is a community. We know the people we’re playing for and we know how much this game means to them.

By the time the Texas-Oklahoma game comes around, it’s more than just a circled date on the calendar. It’s all the days of work you’ve put in, combined into one. It’s a fight for respect — a fight most of us have been in our whole lives — except now it’s got a face on it: Oklahoma vs. Texas. It’s the biggest fight you’ll ever be a part of.

The bus ride back from Dallas in 2012 after we slaughtered Texas 63–21 was one of the happiest trips in my life. Not just because we’d won (obviously), but also because we made it out. We entered boys and came back men. But it isn’t even about winning or losing, really.

But Lane, I thought winning was the most important —

Shut up.

O.K., yeah. Sure. Most games are about winning and losing, if you want to get technical. But this game isn’t just one game on the way to a championship. It’s so much more. It’s a whole year of bragging rights. And what makes it special is that even the fans on the winning side will leave the stadium feeling totally drained. Not a single person is going to have energy the next day, and that’s because Oklahoma-Texas is about unleashing everything.

Aaron M. Sprecher/AP Photo

It’s about letting the civil part of you go for a few hours and completely giving into the competition. Living in the moment and letting your rage turn you into a movie-level supervillain when you suit up and step onto the field — I’m talking like, Michael Myers-level bloodlust. Except, you know. The football version. Hitting. Playmaking. You know. Not murder. I mean you need to be this unfazed, unflinching monster. Regardless of what’s boiling up inside you, keep that same sense of calm as you methodically dismantle your opponent.

That’s what we do. We beat Texas.

That’s what we do. We beat Texas.

So when you get on that bus and head to the State Fair, think about what you can do to help OU win. When you’re in the locker room putting on your pads, think about what you can do to help OU win. And when you’re in the tunnel waiting to take the field on the biggest stage of your life, know that you’re there because you’ve done everything you need to do to help OU win.

And if, at some point during that process, you happen to walk by a bathroom and accidentally get a whiff of a particular, unpleasant, disgusting smell.…

Well, think about how much you hate Texas.

Let’s go.

Boomer Sooner,

Lane Johnson