How Texas Football Returned in 2021 with its Grandest Vision to Date

Live music was in the air; carnival rides filled the streets; and an updated stadium glistened against the blazing sun. On Saturday, September 4, 2021, the full force of Longhorn Nation descended on campus for the first time in 20 months.

“It was one big, fantastic, and fabulous family reunion,” Texas Athletics Director Chris Del Conte declared following the season-opening victory over the No. 23 ranked Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.

The team had been remade, starting with new head coach Steve Sarkisian, and the stadium had been transformed, now featuring a towering complex at the south end zone.

While the Horns remained the headliner, with still three hours remaining before kickoff, the school’s official pregame party was the center of attention. For the 2021 season, the sprawling tailgate known as BEVO Blvd. increased its footprint, enveloping nearly half a mile of campus streets with a fan-focused celebration.

Overlooking campus atop the LBJ Library lawn was Longhorn City Limits, back for its third season of pregame concerts. Music fans arrived early to enjoy Stubb’s barbecue alongside a diverse lineup befitting the legendary Austin venue. Through three seasons, bands have ranged from established acts like Ludacris, Salt-N-Pepa, and Gin Blossoms, to local favorites like Black Pumas, Midland, and Jimmie Vaughan.

With the music behind them, fans could head west down DeLoss Dodds Way toward the UT Tower. Renamed from East 23rd Street to honor the former Texas athletics director in 2016, on gamedays the street now assumes a third name: Smokey’s Midway. This stretch of the party promised to bring the Texas State Fair to Austin—and was brimming with carnival games and corny dogs.

At the middle of the midway, amid the Ferris wheel and tilt-a-whirl and tucked inside the north end zone, is the Frank Denius Family University of Texas Athletics Hall of Fame.

First opened in 2019, the Hall of Fame was, along with most of the surrounding facilities, shuttered during the 2020 season. But with the limits placed on capacity and tailgating activity fully lifted for 2021, the hall is once again open before, during, and after games. A living building, it gets a refresh each year with Texas’ latest accomplishments. Notable additions for 2021 include champions from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and, for the first time, the Learfield IMG Directors’ Cup, which is awarded annually to the most successful college athletics program.

At the end of the block, Winship Circle was filled with food trucks from local favorites and a giant beer truck cheekily dubbed “Big Beertha,” dispensing more than a dozen draft brews. This food court and beer garden was christened “Hook ’em Hangout” and illustrates the drive to keep improving the gameday experience.

“The idea isn’t to expand—it’s to provide fans with different options and better options to enjoy the game,” Del Conte told the Alcalde in 2018. “We’re fighting the couch.”

Del Conte joined Texas in late 2017 and revamped nearly every aspect of gameday within his first year. He introduced BEVO Blvd. for the 2018 season, lowered concession prices in the stadium, and even rewrote the stadium announcer’s script.

While Del Conte is the force behind the current iteration of Texas gamedays, UT previously added a series of tailgating setups that reportedly took inspiration from The Grove at the University of Mississippi. Just outside the stadium, these “turnkey” tailgates can be rented and extend north from the LBJ lawn up Robert Dedmon Drive to the edge of campus.

The plans to transform the stadium were formed around that time as well, with a feasibility study completed in 2014. Following two years of construction beginning in 2019, the dust has settled on the fully enclosed Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The team now emerges onto the field from a massive, illuminated Longhorn logo that spans sections 35-42.

The construction also completes the seating into a full bowl for the first time in the stadium’s 97-year history, while maintaining the view of the Texas State Capitol. Students fill a quarter of the bowl in one continuous section, giving the Longhorns an even more raucous home-field advantage, with roughly the same 100,000 capacity as 2018.

Even the field itself has been improved, with a sophisticated artificial grass surface that was completely replaced for the first time in 12 years. And starting with the dedication before the first game, it was officially named Campbell-Williams Field in honor of the team’s two Heisman winners, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. Previously named Joe Jamail Field after the late, longtime benefactor, the change was made at the request of the Jamail family in the summer of 2020.

Further behind the scenes is a slew of enhancements inside the imposing south end zone complex and the fully remodeled Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center. Upgraded at the price of $175 million, the state-of-the-art facilities reflect the university’s immense investment in their student-athletes.

The complete renovation of Texas football includes overhauls made to the coaching staff and roster down to the facilities and fans. For Texas fans, the gameday experience is now about far more than just the 60 minutes of action between the lines.

Credit: Courtesy Texas Athletics


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