Drake Stoops still remembers the eerie journey to the Cotton Bowl gate.
Few if any fans waited to greet the Sooners on Oct. 10 as their buses pulled up for the 2020 Red River Showdown in Dallas. The Texas State Fairgrounds lay dormant after the fair was cancelled due to COVID-19, detracting from the contest’s surroundings. The Cotton Bowl was also held to 25 percent capacity because of the virus, cutting seating to 23,025, opposed to a full 92,100.
The atmosphere was drastically different from what Stoops, the son of former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, had become accustomed to, growing up immersed in the culture of OU-Texas. He played high school ball at nearby Norman North and used to drive to Dallas after his Friday night games, sleep in the team hotel, then attend the Red River Showdown and celebrate on the field afterward. The former walk-on had also seen the lead up to the rivalry bout at its finest in his first two seasons as an OU player.
“Everyone's banging on the side of the bus, the police gotta move everybody out of the way so we can get through and you slowly make your way up to the gate to the stadium — that’s usually how it is,” said Stoops, a redshirt junior receiver. “Last year was just a ghost town, just rolled right up, got off the bus, it’s time to go to work.”
Despite the effects of COVID-19, the 2020 rendition of OU-Texas became yet another classic in the rivalry’s lore. OU coach Lincoln Riley said that while the hours preceding the game were different, the intensity once it began felt the same as always. Ultimately, the Sooners’ mission prevailed even amid strange circumstances, as Oklahoma outlasted the Longhorns 53-45 in quadruple overtime thanks to Stoops’ decisive touchdown reception.
1⃣2⃣ Days Until ⭕️🙌🏈."Drake Stoops — Somewhere, I know, your dad is proud."Spencer Rattler finds Drake Stoops for the eventual game-winning touchdown in OU's 53-45 win over Texas last season.#OUDNA x @SpencerRattler x @Drake_stoops pic.twitter.com/DwrEQ78MLT— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) August 23, 2021
“That was pretty different, but at the same time, we're there to win a ballgame,” Stoops said. “It's not really about the fans or anything like that. It's just about what goes on between those lines, but I'm definitely excited to see it back rockin’ again this year. It'll be very cool.”
One year later, No. 6 Oklahoma (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) faces the No. 21 Longhorns (4-1, 2-0) at 11 a.m. Saturday with full stadium capacity restored and a resurgent Texas State Fair, while ESPN’s College GameDay and an ABC broadcast add to the ambiance. Both teams are undefeated in conference play and are finding their stride, making the stakes high as always.
Seven years ago, the opportunity to coach in the Red River Showdown was one of the first things Riley thought about when Bob Stoops offered him the Sooners’ offensive coordinator position. Riley is now 4-1 against Texas as OU’s head coach and looking for another victory this weekend.
“I don’t take it for granted ever,” Riley said. “We've had a lot of fun, a lot of great games over the years, but it’s certainly one I don't ever take for granted because you realize how special it is each and every year, and I'm sure this will be no different.”
OU-Texas has produced a number of memorable moments over its history. Stoops mentioned enjoying Trey Millard’s 73-yard run in 2012, where the Oklahoma fullback hurdled one defender and stiff-armed another. He also appreciated quarterback Baker Mayfield’s game-winning 59-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mark Andrews in 2017.
7⃣3⃣ Days Until ⭕️🙌🏈.Trey Millard jumptrucks multiple Texas defenders on his way to a legendary 73-yard gain in OU's 63-21 win over the Longhorns in 2012.#OUDNA x @fat_daddy33 pic.twitter.com/UIwxkRQZOZ— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) June 23, 2021
Texas takes the lead. OU takes it back.Red River has NOT disappointed. pic.twitter.com/Ge1NnOgpje— ESPN (@espn) October 14, 2017
This year’s skirmish marks the 20th anniversary of former OU safety Roy Williams’ memorable “Superman” hit on Texas quarterback Chris Simms. Senior safety Pat Fields, a Tulsa native and team captain, said he talked to Williams, one of his mentors, on Sunday about the looming matchup with Texas.
Fields and Stoops both mentioned one play in particular though. Their eyes were once widened by running back DeMarco Murray, now Oklahoma’s running backs coach, tiptoeing down the sideline and flipping into the end zone for a touchdown in the Sooners’ 2010 victory over the Longhorns.
“I was just a little kid setting up the little pillows in my living room trying to reenact that,” Fields said of the play. “The game is big and the rivalry is big and it’s just something that you’re driven by.”
Now playing in the games he used to watch, Fields is preparing his defense for Texas quarterback Casey Thompson, who he and Stoops used to train with and play against in high school.
Thompson played at nearby Southmoore High and Newcastle High before heading to Texas, and is the son of former OU quarterback Charles Thompson. His brother Kendal Thompson also played quarterback for the Sooners before transferring to Utah and briefly becoming an NFL wide receiver.
Under the leadership of new coach Steve Sarkisian, Texas also boasts running back Bijan Robinson, who is second nationally and first in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game. As OU-Texas returns to a sense of normalcy, the Sooners again have a battle on their hands.
“This year's group is doing a really nice job,” Riley said. “I think they've improved as you've watched them throughout the year. They’ve obviously got some really good talent. which they typically do, and some guys that really show up on tape that we're gonna have to do a great job against, so I think I'll leave it at that.”