A Longhorn’s First Time at Texas-OU Weekend

The final seconds of the 2017 Texas-OU game were some of the most stressful moments of my young life. As I stood around the huge screen at the Texas State Fair with my best friends from college and some 100 other Longhorns, horns raised in the air, I pressed my hand to my heart and said a little prayer. Wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey had just performed a truly acrobatic catch that was ruled a no-go and the players were getting back in formation.

I’ve been a Longhorn for six years now, but had never made it out for the Red River Showdown—in fact, I’d never even been to the State Fair. I’m the first person in my immediate family to attend UT, so I didn’t grow up bleeding burnt orange and throughout college, I was definitely a fair-weather fan. When I started school in 2012, Texas football was already on the downhill—by my senior year, I stopped buying season tickets and didn’t attend another game until this September. But then, about two years ago, I started working for this here publication and began meeting Longhorns of all kinds who fill me with a little more burnt-orange pride each time. And this weekend was no different. In those final four seconds, I thought about what a win would mean not just for the Longhorns, but for all the people who had welcomed me with open arms and showed me how to do Texas-OU Weekend the right way.

I was here on official business: To attend Dallas Chapter events and cover them on social media. Come 8 a.m. on Friday morning, armed with a portable charger and decked out in burnt orange, I made my way to my first event—the 30th annual “Get Teed Off at OU” golf tournament at Firewheel Golf Park. More than 300 people came out to play golf, eat, drink, win raffle prizes, and kick off Texas-OU Weekend. The chapter puts the funds raised by the tournament toward the Dallas Texas Exes Scholarship, making up to $50,000 in years past.

“The best part of all this are the people who come back every year,” said Dallas Chapter president-elect Bianca Hernandez, BJ ’98, Life Member, who I spent the entire afternoon riding around the grounds on a golf cart with. “You get to know them, they recognize you, and you have such a great time. And it’s all in the name of something awesome, which is raising money for scholarships and just being Longhorns.”

Leo Sierra, BBA ’82, Life Member, who confided in me that his is a house divided (one son is a Longhorn, the other an Aggie), said that for the first time, the Dallas Chapter decided to have a running theme throughout the tournament. They decided on “Heroes of the Game” and invited nine former Texas Football players who’ve beat OU in the past, the lineup of which included Peter Gardere, Nate Boyer, Kasey Studdard, Lyle Sendlein, Johnny Walker, Quan Cosby, Darrell Bubba Jacques, Stonie Clark, and James Brown. I’m no football pro, but I do know when I’m in the company of legendary Longhorns.

But current Dallas Chapter president David Rodriguez, BA ’75, Life Member, told me it was the alumni who helped him make the event possible that he was most proud of. This pre-tailgate tailgate was filled with over 100 chapter members and volunteers who were selling raffle tickets, hosting each hole, and making sure everyone was well fed and hydrated.

“The number of players who enroll will change sometimes depending on whether Texas is doing well,” Rodriguez said. “But the commitment from the volunteers is always the same. I love it. This is a fun day to leave the office behind and come be with volunteers, working as a team, getting to know them. We hope there’s a bonding of camaraderie and the hope that someone wants to do this again.”

Like I would come to find out was true for the rest of the Red River Showdown, the golf tournament was more than just about the forthcoming game. I spent a lovely afternoon getting to know Hernandez, learning why she became a Longhorn. I bonded with four other alums over Tejano music as it blasted from their golf cart stereo. I watched as chapter members, who’d printed out a cutout of a former chapter president who was recently diagnosed with cancer, made every tournament team take a photo with it because he couldn’t be there.

Just as a Sooner lunged for Ehlinger, I thought about how the Longhorn spirit during OU Weekend must infuse Texas fans with superpowers. I was thoroughly impressed by how many Longhorns I’d spent all afternoon in the heat with showed up Friday night to the Bash Before the Clash, another Dallas Chapter event that was held at a bar called The Social House in Uptown. From people my age in their early twenties to 60-something-year-old folks who were rallying better than I, the place was packed.

People at the bar were graced with a full-on traditional pep rally. Hook ’Em bopped his way into the crowd, Texas Pom led everyone into a “Texas Fight” cheer, and the Longhorn Singers performed their medley. And for the third time that week, I found myself standing with a group of Longhorns, singing along to the “Eyes of Texas,” feeling totally at home.

Watching Ehlinger make a last attempt to throw the ball to running back Chris Warren III, I thought about the burnt-orange love story I got to bear witness to Saturday morning. Molly Beth, PhD ’13, and Bruce Malcolm had invited me to their 30th anniversary vow renewal. Like true Texas fans, they decided to hold a ceremony at their Texas-OU Weekend tailgate. UT System Chancellor, and their good friend, William McRaven, BJ ’77, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus, gave their toast. I swelled with pride as he introduced himself to me and shook my hand, a meeting I never thought would take place.

“This is what is important about marriage,” McRaven said, champagne glass raised in the air. “It’s not that love doesn’t last but you better have your best friend beside you if this marriage is going to make it. And Bruce found that in Molly Beth.”

As friends and family shared hugs and congratulations, I snapped the Malcolm’s photo and left. I made my way into the State Fair, where I joined my new friends at the Dallas Texas Exes tailgate.

Moseying my way through the sea of burnt orange and crimson, speakers blasting country music through the crowd, I found Maria Garate, BBA ’98, Life Member, whom I had met the day before. Before I could say much, she grabbed me and took me through a fence behind the alumni tailgate, where the real party was happening. All the Dallas Chapter members I had met at the golf tournament were sitting in lawn chairs, coolers beside them, and each of them greeted me warmly. It was hard to believe I’d just met them 24 hours ago.

I was offered a drink by Ken Capps, BJ ’82, Life Member, who actually co-founded the golf tournament in ’88. On Thursdays before OU Weekend begins, he hosts a big party, where even Bevo makes an appearance on his front lawn. Moments later, I meet Audra Stanton, BBA ’90, Life Member, who’d coordinated the golf tournament. She insists I have to meet Nate Boyer, BS ’13, MA ’15, Life Member.

Which is how within a matter of seconds, I was shaking the hand of the former Green Beret turned NFL pro who was part of the winning team against OU in 2013. He casually sat on the tailgate of Capps’ SUV as I asked him about his weekend. He told me that it was his first game since he last played for the Longhorns and wished he could join them on the field. With just two hours left before kickoff, I asked him if he thought we would win.

“Yes,” he said. “You’ve got to always believe that.” And I felt sure, too.

Of course, that’s not quite how the game went.

After Texas lost, 29-24, the Sooners all around the Jumbotron yelled out in victory while those of us in burnt orange stood still. For a moment, I thought everything I experienced this weekend seemed like it was for nothing. But then I told myself to stop being so darn dramatic. Of course, that wasn’t true.

The weekend wasn’t about whether UT won or lost. It was about the immense, undying pride that Texas fans carry with them. It was about tradition. It was about feeling like you’re a part of something grand. It was about connecting with someone—whatever their age, whatever their story—simply because you’re both proud to be a Longhorn.

This was my first weekend at the Red River Showdown. But I declare, here and now, that it will, by no means, be my last.

Anyway, enough of my sentimental prattling. What time is it?

 
 
 

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