Joe Castiglione, like many others, always gets a corn dog from Fletcher's Original State Fair Corny Dogs at the State Fair of Texas the weekend of OU-Texas.
It’s become a tradition for Castiglione, now in his 21st year as Oklahoma’s athletic director. Like Castiglione and his corn dog ritual, the Red River Rivalry between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas has also become a tradition. Every year, on the first or second Saturday in October, the two schools’ football teams meet at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
It’s been that way since 1932, when the teams met at the venue for the first time.
“There isn’t anything that compares to it in college or professional sports. There’s no setting like it. It’s unique. It’s iconic,” Castiglione said. “I guess you could say (OU-Texas is) a place where the combination of the passion of the two fanbases (collide) with the pure joy of being in the middle of the state fair.”
But as the stadium ages and the popularity of the game itself grows, an important question arises: How much longer can the Cotton Bowl host the Red River Rivalry?
“Somewhere down the road, someone is going to have to decide to discuss a new stadium. I don’t know when that is,” Castiglione said. “Maybe not in my lifetime, but in your lifetime, that’s going to have to be on the table.”
The contract among the two schools, the state fair and the city of Dallas goes through 2025, but as the stadium enters its 89th year of existence, questions surrounding its viability in the long term have become relevant.
Castiglione said the biggest issues that have come up in the recent past have been the constant updates and improvements the stadium has needed. One of the biggest improvements, and maybe the most notable, came in 2008 when the Cotton Bowl gained more than 20,000 seats by adding an upper deck in both end zones, going from approximately 70,000 to 90,000 seats.
“It’s no secret the stadium itself is old. But the state fair has probably poured in close to $80 million over the last 5 to 10 years, including the seating expansion they did earlier (in 2008),” Castiglione said. “They keep finding ways to make the stadium better with some additional fan amenities that have really been helpful and welcomed. The basic structure of the stadium, while sound, is not quite providing the spaciousness of a new stadium.”
Last season, for the first time since 1932, OU and Texas met at a stadium other than the Cotton Bowl when they played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for the Big 12 Championship. AT&T Stadium also happens to be the most talked-about option if the Red River Rivalry were to be moved from the Cotton Bowl.
While nice in theory, Castiglione said moving the game to “Jerry’s World” just wouldn’t feel right.
“For (the Big 12 Championship game), AT&T Stadium is absolutely fabulous. One would have to really think through that. It’s obviously one of the best venues in the world,” Castiglione said. “But you’re talking about almost over 100 years of tradition. I know in today’s world sometimes people dismiss tradition and act like this is just like any other kind of thing, but this game is massive. It’s like a bowl atmosphere in the middle of the season. It’s magical. I’m not exaggerating anything when I say this game is on a different level.”
Oklahoma and Texas have no intentions of moving the game in the near future, Castiglione said. But no one can predict the future.
If Castiglione could have it his way, the game would stay forever at the Cotton Bowl. And he thinks most fans, on both sides of the rivalry, would agree.
“I say this in a humorous way,” Castiglione said, “but this game has such appeal, such attractiveness, such passion, such tradition — if fans had to sit on a 5-gallon paint bucket turned upside down to watch the game in that kind of setting, they might do it.”