Mardi Gras can blow itself away in a hurricane clatter of doubloons. Miss America can trip over her six-inch spikes and take a dive off the boardwalk, rhinestones down. But as sure as the Goodyear blimp eats hot air, in America's culture of kitsch, Oklahoma-Texas Football Weekend is king.
It's the scene of roughly 100,000 real incredible Americans, loaded to their stetsons with statistics and alcohol -- the first to merely make the head swim, the second to do some serious brain damage. Last weekend was fight songs, fist fights and furniture-flinging, the carrying on of a tradition dating back four decades. It's all built around one football game between two southwestern giants, but this is more than football: This is the Ultimate Rib-Bruising, Party-Cruising, Win-or-Losing, Texas-Okie Bash. The superiority of one crude-infested state over the other is at stake, and those amazing animals undertake the yearly pilgrimage to the Cotton Bowl in "neutral" J.R. Land to prove it.
By July, nearly every hotel in Dallas is booked. By September, every dormitory in Austin, Tex., and Norman, Okla., has seen at least one pre-Dallas blowout. By the first of October, 50-yard-line tickets are being scalped for as much as $200.
6 p.m. Friday: The Sheraton Southwest in Oak Cliff is bustling like a cattle ranch at roundup. A Longhorn wearing a shirt of Texas orange sits in the lobby, braying "The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You," his head decorated in a neon 10-gallon and his belly hosting the rough equivalent in Jim Beam. A scrub-faced blond woman wiggles by and giggles in his direction, red hair ribbons marking her allegiance to Oklahoma clear.
"We're gonna kick a-- tomorrow, little gal!" slurs the Longhorn, staring frankly at the business end of her Calvin Kleins. She sashays safely by to the elevator, hops inside and sticks her head back out long enough to taunt a singsong "Boomer Sooner" before the door closes.
"Hell," says the Longhorn, taking a swig from his paper bag. "I ain't going down to Commerce tonight. We got Commerce Street right here, and I been practicing for three days just so's I can be in shape."
8 p.m.: On Commerce Street, the main drag, traffic is at a standstill, and packs of Sooners and Longhorns form a sluggish line that needs more than practice to keep it moving. Police stand tensely behind their barricades, keeping the endless line moving in formation, breaking up the occasional scuffle, arresting the occasional fallen soldier. But in comparison to the years when drunken fans routinely kicked in the Neiman-Marcus display windows and threw furniture from their hotel rooms out the unopen windows, things are pretty calm.
"I've been patrolling Commerce for nine years," says Dallas policeman R.E. Cowart, "and I can tell you it won't ever be no worse than '72. I was standing on the corner that night, just keeping 'em moving, and all of a sudden I seen a coffee table come flying out of the Baker Hotel . . .
"After awhile," says Cowart, "you don't care who you're arresting. You're not for Texas and you're not for Oklahoma. You're for the guys in blue on the other side of the barricade."
Meanwhile, the ritual goes on. Unprintable epithets come out of the crowd and alternate from sidewalk to sidewalk.
11:30 p.m.: The cops head 'em up and move 'em out. They don't have to fire a shot to do it; they just line Commerce Street and hose it down, and whoever's left will spend the night dripping dry in the drunk tank.
Midnight: Things are hopping at the Hyatt. The elegant hotel used to be the bailiwick of OU and Texas alumni with well-lined pockets and political pull. It still is, to some extent, but plenty of younger fans have found that Daddy's money is just as acceptable here as at the university housing authority.
At a party on the eighth floor, there are red and white streamers, bowls of gigantic shrimp, bottomless bottles of booze and a couple of girls running in one door and out the other, wearing one less article of clothing with each slam of the door.
The story's pretty much the same at Dupont Plaza, at the Hilton and at the Adolphus, where the Sooner team is purportedly "resting up for the game." At the Anatole, a fifth-floor suite stocked with all manner of food and booze buzzes with talk about Oklahoma's invincibility, the team's 1-1-1 record notwithstanding.
"I'll tell you this," says Charlie Gilmore, an OU graduate now living in Tulsa. "In the whole history of football, there's never been a team as consistently good as OU. And there's never been a conference as tough as the Big Eight. And there never will be a game like OU-Texas. You ask anybody except those bastards at UPI, and they'll tell you Oklahoma won that game with USC. They won that game. And they're gonna beat the hell out of Texas tomorrow."
1:30 a.m.: An alarm goes off in the Anatole. Those who can still walk go to the balconies in the hotel's atrium to see what the trouble is. "Is it a fire?" a girl asks, screwing up her face in disappointment. "Probably," answers her date, weaving slightly against the railing. "Probably some Texan started it." And he leads her back to their suite.
3 a.m.: Even the most practiced fans begin to lose momentum. Partyers stumble to their own beds, or find a friendly one somewhere else. Remove the orange shirt, the red dress, and truce comes as easily as gin-sodden sleep.
9 a.m. Saturday: (faint at first, then gathering decibels in the echo-chamber lobby of the Anatole:)
BOOMER! (from one end of the lounge)
SOONER! (from the eighth-floor landing)
BOOMER! (from the doors along one third-floor wing)
SOONER! (from more doors, through which wander half-dressed, half-awake fans)
There's a palpable hangover haze pervading the hotel, and these might as well be the agonized bleatings of brucellosis-ridden cattle. A lone shriek is the final wake-up call: BEAT THE HELL OUT OF OU!"
"This is my last year for Dallas Weekend," says a bleary eyed man in a red blazer. He sighs and sips a Bloody Mary, then begins to laugh. "I've said that now for 30 years. Thirty years straight." He's still laughing as he boards the bus for the Cotton Bowl.
11:30: The Cotton Bowl, just beyond the jam-packed Texas State Fairgrounds. To get to "America's Number One Game," one must first pass Big Tex, the Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull, the World's Largest Pig, the World's Smallest Horse, the World's Smallest Man and the World's Biggest Cow ("3,000 pounds of beef on the hoof"), and all the other superlatives that rake in money at the World's Largest State Fair. The combination of Dallas Weekend and the state fair makes the World's Most Brazen Kitschy Coup.
The fans here are clearly divided into red and orange. At one entrance to the fairgrounds stands Big Tex, the towering sculpted cowpoke, intoning "Welcome to the World's Greatest State Fair" in a booming voice. The red sea is parted only by a giant motorized Schlitz can rolling down the midway. Only 76,000 have made it past the partying to the Event Itself, and the severely hungover survivors are subdued. Of course, some of the fans drove up for the game with no idea of the wild night that came before.
Bypassing the World's Fattest Lady, a group of Longhorn fans stands goggle-eyed in front of Cecil Samara's Sooner-mobile, whose horn toots "Boomer Sooner" every minute or so. Texas can have its Bevo (a drug-dazed bull mascot whose detractors describe him as a eunuch), but Oklahoma has Cecil Samara, the World's Greatest OU Fan.
Cecil not only attends every Dallas Weekend, he has attended every OU game, everywhere, since 1952. His two front teeth are etched with the letters O and U.
Cecil is full of life at 65, but he seems to be giving death a little more consideration of late. He has decreed that his funeral music lead off with "Boomer Sooner," and that he be buried in his red blazer, with his index finger pointing heavenward, for "Number One." His most recent funereal stipulation is that, should the Grim Reaper be inconsiderate enough to beckon during an actual game, he must be left in the stands until said game is over.
"I've been in town since Wednesday," he says proudly. "And let me put it this way: I've raised a fair amount of Cain. I haven't missed a game in 30 years, although I almost missed one due to some back surgery. But God stepped in.
"I've made some pretty good predictions, and I'll tell you this. Oklahoma is going to beat 'em not just by at least 13 points. Get that right, now. Not just by at least 13 points."
11:52: Two minutes after kickoff. Oklahoma has scored its first touchdown, and the red part of the Cotton Bowl goes wild. Hangovers dissipate into the overcast Texas sky when it's announced that "due to a technical problem, the Texas scores will not be registered on the scoreboard." By half time, you can tell the loyalty of the fan by the look on his face.
Noon: A freckle-faced pompon girl named Missy Marler stands on the sidelines, talking to a fellow with a shiner. "I've been coming to Dallas Weekend since I was 9 years old," she says, "and I've always wanted to be an OU cheerleader. My parents are here somewhere, but ooooooh, I can't even tell you what I did last night!"
"We went to the Playboy Club, and we got real drunk, and we met some guys," says a fellow pomponer matter-of-factly, and Missy's freckles go a bluish color.
1:40: The second half of the game puts the Sooners in the nether world of gridiron inferiority. 34-14. An entire year of listening to the taunts and jeers of the Texas bullies.
Whether it's weariness from the night before or a sudden discovery of sportsmanship, most of the OU fans seem to take it all in stride, leaving the game a few minutes early to drown their miseries in the beer tents and gawk at the dog-faced boy.
"It's going to take a lot of booze and drugs to get me over this one," says a teary-eyed lass, "but I'll feel better tomorrow."
Ed Owen, OU '74, took the defeat a bit harder. "I'm going back to the hotel and cut my left nipple off. Then I'm going to the bar. I'll be the one in orange. On the floor.
"And I'm going to beat my grandmother up when I get home. You can quote me on that. She wears orange nighties to bed before Dallas Weekend."
"After all," says Dan Nightingale, OU '80, "it's not whether you win or lose, it's whether you can still party. We'll be back next year."