It was a different scene at Cotton Bowl stadium for last season’s Red River Shootout.
The stadium holds over 90,000 people, and the classic Oklahoma-Texas rivalry game typically has no problem filling every seat — half by Sooners fans, half by Longhorns’ fans.
But due to COVID-19, stadium capacity for the game was limited to 25 percent. The small number of fans at the game were required to wear masks.
OU coach Lincoln Riley, who’s been on the Sooners’ staff since 2015, remembers how differently it felt arriving at the stadium.
“The ride in and the atmosphere was totally different,” Riley said Tuesday. “Both teams were in a weird place last year. We were both down a lot of people. We were a little bit of a shell of ourselves — both teams.
“Everything about it felt different until we kicked off.”
Drake Stoops, OU receiver, remembers a similar experience.
“Last year was definitely a little bit different,” Stoops said. “Just COVID, the whole everything was different. It was a weird year for everybody. But not seeing it at full capacity, that was odd. And the buses in, not seeing [anybody] at the fair, that was pretty different.”
But once the game started, safety Pat Fields said it felt the same as past games between the two teams.
“Obviously, we noticed the difference because we noticed the occupancy number, but we didn’t even feel a difference in terms of the energy,” Fields said. “I feel like the energy, the emotion, the game was the exact same.”
It took four overtimes, but the Sooners won the game, 53-45. And this Saturday’s game figures to be a much-anticipated return to normalcy for both teams.
The stadium will be full of fans. Both teams are mostly healthy and have a lot on the line.
“I’m excited that we get to get back to the Cotton Bowl with a more normal atmosphere,” Riley said. “I missed that in the epic clash last year. We say it every year but I think it can’t go under appreciated. The best part of this job is to get to coach, play and compete in this game.”
Oklahoma and Texas, along with Oklahoma State, remain the only unbeaten teams in the Big 12.
The Longhorns fell out of the Associated Press’ Top 25 after a Week 2 loss to Arkansas, but now sit at No. 21 after a 32-27 win over TCU.
For Texas, a win would give the team an advantage over the Sooners’ in the conference standings.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters Sunday. “It’s a great atmosphere, great event, great game. I’m looking forward to it on that front.”
No. 6 Oklahoma earned its best win of the season last week, defeating Kansas State 37-31. And despite some uneven play through five games, the Sooners still have a viable path to the college football playoff.
A win on Saturday would move them one step closer.
“I think the thing I love the most about this game is that the talent is [equal],” Fields said. “It’s warrior versus warrior, gladiator versus gladiator. It’s just kind of a clash because there isn’t really a talent separation. That’s what we saw last year.”