Cotton Bowl ‘ratty,’ but fans want to stay; Fair atmosphere, accessibility, tradition make up for blemishes

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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Oklahoma fan Ed Marburger has been coming to Texas-OU games for 29 years. And the idea of doing it anywhere other than the Cotton Bowl seems as wrong to him as crimson and cream on Sixth Street.

“You’d lose all the festivities and the atmosphere,” the Oklahoma City resident said. “It wouldn’t be the same.”

The football rivals have played at Fair Park since 1929 and have agreed to stay there through 2010. But it’s unclear where the Red River Rivalry will call home after that.

Dallas? Arlington? Austin and Norman?

The new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington is set to open in three years and promises to be the modern, plush facility the city-owned Cotton Bowl decidedly is not. The older stadium’s other major tenant, the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic on New Year’s Day, is considering making the move.

And others have pushed for the 106-year-old rivalry to become a home-and-home series.

But for many fans Saturday, taking the game out of its unique environment amid the State Fair of Texas would make it seem like less of an event.

“I don’t think anything in Arlington could be as big a deal as this,” said Annie Schuler, who was finishing off a mustard-topped corny dog as she entered the stadium before kickoff. “I don’t want to go out to the suburbs.”

Several cited the stadium’s 50-yard-line split between teams. “There’s something about having all the opposing fans here,” Mr. Marburger said. “In Norman, we’d have 80,000 of our fans and 5,000 of theirs.”

But don’t confuse the Marburgers’ enthusiasm for blind affection. “The bathrooms,” raised his wife, Joan. “They don’t work.”

The Cotton Bowl has seen some recent renovations, such as the new video scoreboard that made its Texas-OU debut Saturday. More substantial improvements are on the ballot Nov. 7, when Dallas voters will consider a bond issue that includes about $30 million for work on the facility.

If approved, the renovations will raise seating capacity to over 92,000 and improve restrooms, concession stands and the stadium’s sound system. In addition, a Dallas Area Rapid Transit train line to the stadium is scheduled to open in 2009.

City leaders say they’re optimistic that a renovated Cotton Bowl can attract other college football games during the fair, featuring major state and regional powers. But on Saturday, the focus was on keeping Texas-OU in town.

“No way, they can’t move it,” UT junior Danny Thomason said. “It’s ratty, but it’s tradition.”