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Texas-OU legends weigh in on game

Texas-OU is an event -- not just a game -- played in one of the best atmospheres in college football. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Charlie Strong has coached in the Florida-Georgia rivalry. He has taken part in the Louisville-Kentucky feud. But he has never been a part of something like this.

"The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry is a special rivalry," Strong said Monday. "We know how big it is."

If he doesn't know, he'll find out fast. But really, there's no easy way to teach Texas' first-year head coach the entire rich (and violent) 108-year history of the Red River Showdown before he makes his rivalry debut Saturday.

In an effort to help Strong catch up, ESPN.com interviewed nearly 20 legendary players and coaches this week -- half of them Sooners, half of them Longhorns -- and offered them a chance to share their favorite Red River lessons and memories. We also asked them to give Strong a little advice before he steps into the crimson-and-orange filled Cotton Bowl for the first time.

What makes the Red River Showdown different?

Roy Williams, S, Oklahoma (1999-01): It's OU-Texas. You don't have to say anything more than that. No one has the home-field advantage. The game is rich in tradition. Two great schools going to battle. All the festivities outside the Cotton Bowl, all that fat food you should never be eating, but you eat anyway.

Doug English, DT, Texas (1972-74): It has everything. It has the obvious rivalry and each of our schools representing our states. And then you do it over and over, you do it in a special place and in a special way, and it becomes a big game.

Mack Brown, head coach, Texas (1998-2013): I've often said it's like a bowl game at midseason. So you have to play that game and start over. There's so much emotion. The game before it and the game after it are very, very dangerous games.

Bob Stoops, head coach, Oklahoma: The stakes all increased when they put us in the same division. Not only in the same conference -- in the same division. So as opposed to being an out-of-conference game ahead of that, to me, that increased the stakes tenfold. And then for I don't know how many years, one of us was going to represent the South in the Big 12 championship game. You knew that was a big part of getting to that game.

Jordan Shipley, WR, Texas (2004-09): In years past, it's honestly kind of been the slugfest for whoever was going to have a legitimate chance of winning the Big 12.

Peter Gardere, QB, Texas (1989-92): This game can make or break your season.

Jason White, QB, Oklahoma (2000-04): You have to get through this game to get to the other goals you have. A Big 12 championship. A national championship. You have to win that game. It has the atmosphere of a championship game. If you were a normal person and had never heard of the game, and you went to it, you'd think there was some major hardware on the line -- which there is I guess with the Golden Hat. There are major bragging rights in this one.

Jamelle Holieway, QB, Oklahoma (1985-88): When I played, the majority of our team was from Texas. The kids that do not get recruited from OU that go to Texas have a chip on their shoulder. The kids that did get recruited from Texas that go to OU, they want to show Texas up.

Thomas Lott, QB, Oklahoma (1976-78): You know something about the guys on the other side. People ask me about playing Nebraska. Nebraska was business. Texas was always personal.

Mack Brown: When Bob and I showed up, it wasn't really the national game anymore. That's one thing both of us were fighting to do. Kids came to each of our universities to play in that game.

Tony Casillas, DT, Oklahoma (1983-85): If you go to Oklahoma or to Texas, it's because of a signature game like that. Not too many people can be part of a rivalry like that. It represents so much. My son goes to UT now and that doesn't resonate well with me.

Derland Moore, DT, Oklahoma (1970-72): We have so many Texas players that play for Oklahoma. It's pretty emotional for them. For the most part they came up to Oklahoma because they wanted to play with a winning program. Nothing against Texas. Texas is used to getting anybody they wanted. But a lot of Texas players go to Oklahoma for that opportunity.

Barry Switzer, head coach, Oklahoma (1973-88): [The Longhorns] are playing [against] a program, in my estimation, that has a greater tradition than them. That's something that isn't easy for Texas to swallow. But all you got to do is check the records. Check the record book. Go back to the war. Don't give me this 1800s bulls---. Oklahoma has more national championships, won more games than they have. We're a step better.

Steve Worster, FB, Texas (1968-70): It's a hell of a weekend, I know that. It's a hoedown. It's a big time of the year for both schools and we have one hellacious rivalry, and now that we've lost A&M, they're about the only heavy-duty rivalry Texas has from the past. It probably means a little more since we lost the Aggies.

Case McCoy, QB, Texas (2010-13): The magnitude of the OU game increased when we lost the A&M game. It took two rivalries and smashed them into one. It made it that much more dramatic.

Johnnie Johnson, DB, Texas (1976-79): You know exactly what you're going to get from your opponent. This is usually the first true test for each program. You just know your opponent is going to bring everything they have on every play.

Doug English: The intensity level, I remember it today. I don't remember that much about the games, looking back, but I remember the intensity level, especially the first couple plays. It really elevates your game. You've got to step up in that game or you'll get washed away.

Billy Sims, RB, Oklahoma (1976-79): You can throw out the records. Both sides are going to come to play.

• • •

What do you remember most about playing in this rivalry?

James Brown, QB, Texas (1994-97): Riding through the parking lot of a fair on the way to the game just gives you a different feeling. You know this is an event.

Barry Switzer: Riding the bus through the crowd, moving slowly through the crowd with all the orange and red and the fans -- I always told my team to enjoy it. I've never been one of those guys to say, 'Get that smile off your face.' Enjoy it. It's an experience. When kickoff came around, we were ready to play. We got ready all week along. But I enjoyed that ride to the stadium. Because it's different. Nothing like it in college football.

Tony Casillas: It gets you choked up when you go down that ramp and see the sea of people. It makes you do things you usually can't without being in a bowl game or national championship. Every player plays at a different level in that game.

Case McCoy: Just talking about it gives me chills. There's really no words to describe it unless you can actually go experience it.

Thomas Lott: There's no feeling like coming down the ramp. No feeling like it. My first year, I knew nothing about the pageantry playing in that game. When you walk down that ramp, step out into that stadium, you see all that orange, all that red. ... Nothing in the world like it. Those guys that haven't been in it, they'll find out how electric it is. There's Alabama-Auburn, Michigan-Ohio State, whatever. There's not a game where there's 50 percent and 50 percent.

Mack Brown: The fans taunting and trash-talking each other on the 50-yard line all the way around the stadium makes it even more unique. It's never quiet. There's someone screaming all the time, like a home game for both teams.

James Brown: When you do something good, you hear that decibel of noise. And if you do something bad -- if I throw an interception -- I hear that same cheering. It's a little different but it's exciting all the way around. The fans are always yelling, good or bad.

Ricky Williams, RB, Texas (1995-98): You're battling for the crowd and usually, if one team is winning by a couple touchdowns, that half of the stadium starts to empty out and you own the stadium.

Billy Sims: They had more people in that stadium than they did in the whole city in Hooks, Texas. It was a new experience for myself.

James Brown: It was my first college start. That's what makes it so memorable for me. I didn't have time to get nervous. When we won the game, I thought, 'OK, so this is college football.' That really set me up for the rest of my career. Big game, biggest venue, biggest atmosphere, national television. That game did a lot for me. Win that game, and the media, the city, the fans will do the rest. It means so much more to the eyes of Texas. You can really set yourself up to be a Longhorn legend, but you don't understand that at the time.

Jordan Shipley: It's a game where you can make a name for yourself in a hurry.

Roy Williams: When we played in '99, Major Applewhite came in and beat us. I remember him taunting us going up the tunnel. I remember telling myself, "Never F'ing again am I going to let this happen to us." The "Superman" play was great, yeah. Us blowing them out was great, yeah. But that [Applewhite] moment sticks with me the most. How could we let this skinny old boy talk all this noise to us? I won't talk noise unless someone provokes me. He provoked me. And we couldn't say anything because we lost. After that, I was like, "Never again are we going to lose this game."

Peter Gardere: I can understand on their side why they didn't like me. Especially Gary Gibbs. I think I was partially responsible for his short-term job. Seeing me win all four years, I bet they didn't like that, especially the fourth one when they chanted, "Graduate!"

Jason White: Never losing to Texas is one of the things that stick out. OU-Texas was kind of the first game I got in and got to play in 2001. That has always been special to me, that I came off the bench and that was my first game. The crazy thing is, my mom and dad didn't go to the game, because I wasn't getting to play much before that. Then in the second quarter, I go in.

Tony Casillas, on the game 30 years ago when Texas scored a 15-15 tie by kicking a late field goal after an apparent Oklahoma interception was ruled incomplete: What sticks with me is 1984, and when I think about it, it's like a scab that gets ripped off. We won the game. Just know if there was instant replay, hands down we would have won that game.

Case McCoy on last year's 36-20 upset by unranked Texas over No. 12 OU: I knew going into that 2013 game, if I didn't win it, I'd be in a couple record books for a few things but ultimately I wouldn't be remembered for much.

Ricky Williams: It definitely goes toward your legacy on campus. One of the things I loved about the game is how many students drove up for the game. It's always a good time that weekend, especially after you win and you get to hang out in Dallas and see your classmates. You go back to class after it and people recognize you more. It brings football into the social milieu of university life.

Mack Brown: It's one game that, if you make poor plays, they talk about it the rest of your life. If you make great plays, you have a legacy for the rest of your life. This game makes heroes.

• • •

What must you expect going into this game?

Mack Brown: When I was [an assistant coach] at Oklahoma, Coach Switzer told me it was like two Mack trucks running into each other for three and a half hours. I think that's the truth.

Derland Moore: The hard hitting. The emotion. The lack of cheap shots. It's straight-up. Everyone hits you between the hashes. Texas is a very, very worthy opponent. I remember some teams we played would cheap-shot you. But Texas, nope, they're coming right at you. They're going to let you know they mean business.

Jamelle Holieway: Coming from California, I didn't understand it. But the intensity of the game, the electricity inside the stadium is awesome. It might overwhelm you the first time you're doing it.

Ricky Williams: They talk about this in the NFL, that when the playoffs start the game is faster. When I got to college, they said that about the Oklahoma game. It's a faster game. It really is. The intensity is way up. The competition is way up.

Peter Gardere: The games, to me, seemed a lot faster and hit a lot harder. You were playing guys you knew. You just wanted that win even more.

Doug English: This is not a game where you get into a rhythm. You're fighting for your life on every play, attacking with everything you have. It's like every play is the first play.

Tony Casillas: It's such an emotional game. It's really important for the underdog to come out swinging. Hit the other team in the mouth. Once you do that, and you come out with an arrogant attitude, you're like, "Hey man, we're Texas" or "Hey man, we're Oklahoma. We're not as bad as anyone says." Once you hit the other team in the mouth, you start believing in who you are. Then you can win the game. Just look at Texas last year. The physicality they came out with. Oklahoma could never get in sync.

Derland Moore: A lot of emotion. It's the greatest game in the world. There's nothing more exciting. Nothing riles the fans up more than this game. It's a classic. And it doesn't matter who's better. It matters who wants it the most.

Roy Williams: You don't understand or know about the tension between the two teams until you walk down that tunnel. Then you see the stadium. And hear people chanting, "Texas sucks!" or "OU sucks!" It becomes real life once you walk out that tunnel.

Jordan Shipley: One of the main things you can expect is to get harassed. You have to laugh, because it's funny. The stands are right on top of the field. I caught a touchdown my freshman year and stepped a few steps out of the end zone and I was right at the stands. People are either patting you on the back or spitting on you, depending on where you end up.

Billy Sims: Expect a great game from top to bottom. They'll be a lot of exciting plays on both sides of the field. But the team that makes the fewer mistakes usually wins it.

Case McCoy: It's like a three-week game. You can't start preparing too early for them. As soon as it's over -- win, lose or draw -- you've gotta go prepare the next week. It's so hard because it's such a high. If I had any advice, I'd just say that it's a game that you're going to remember the rest of your life. As I sit here talking to you, twirling my T Ring [a ring awarded to Longhorn letterwinners who graduate] on my finger ... when people see the T Ring they ask, "How many times did you beat OU?" That's what people want to know.

Mack Brown: Senior leadership, in this week, was probably as or more important than any other. Momentum changed in the game so much because of the crowd. You're never up enough and you're never down too far to get back in that game. They've got to understand the momentum in this game will change so many times. Don't get too high, don't get too low. Just play.

James Brown: Don't think about the game, the venue, the atmosphere -- which is hard to do. Focus more on what you have to do in that game and focus more on playing well so that, when it's over, you can celebrate in that venue and in that excitement. You've got to put it aside until after the game. Then the stories are told about it.

• • •

What advice would you offer to Charlie Strong?

Barry Switzer: Charlie has coached in big games. Florida-Georgia. Florida-Alabama. But the OU-Texas game is unique. Fans split up the tickets. The state fair, a half million people outside the stadium who don't even have a damn ticket. It'll be a different experience than anything he's had before.

Doug English: The very first game I started was the Texas-OU game. I knew it was going to be intense. I remember my position coach, Coach [R.M.] Patterson, was waiting for me at the end of the tunnel. By the time I hit that wall of light and sound, I looked over at him. He pulled his hat off, scratched his head, looked up at the stands and said, "This ain't no place for a timid man, is it?" If I had any advice for Coach Strong, and he's anything but a timid man, it would be that. The Cotton Bowl in October is no place for a timid man.

Jamelle Holieway: Charlie is fixing to get a surprise. What I mean by surprise is both sides play like they've never played before. Whatever game plan you've got, stick with it. Don't go away from it.

Roy Williams: Truthfully, it's tough to give advice about this game. I'd tell him don't get overly excited. It's an important game. But enjoy it. Soak it in. Embrace what it means.

Jordan Shipley: Whenever Texas has come in and there's been so much on the table, at times there's been an uptightness to the team and their play. Seems like the years when we go out and have fun, and you can tell the guys are having fun, that's when we usually play well.

Ricky Williams: There's going to be some big plays, probably some big turnovers, a lot of back-and-forth. The team that doesn't get rattled has the best chance to win.

Peter Gardere: Just relax. Take it all in. It's just another game, but it is a conference game and this can change your season. If you win this one, they can forget about some of the other ones like Baylor. Just enjoy it. Stick to the game plan. Don't try to do anything too crazy.

James Brown: He'll have many more. Don't get caught up in the venue or the long history of the Texas-OU rivalry. He needs to make his own history and he can start on that Saturday.

Derland Moore: This is the game ultimately you'll be remembered by. This game is how you will be judged. I was an unknown until this game. A lot of players are judged by how they play against Texas or against Oklahoma. Coaches are judged by how they coach in this game.

Case McCoy: I think Coach Strong knows what this game means. He understands the magnitude of it. He's an incredible ball coach, a smart ball coach, and I don't think there's really much he has to do to get guys fired up to play. Those guys are going to show up and come ready to play. Everyone's counting them out. And when you count some guys out, that's when they become dangerous.

Johnnie Johnson: I'm not certain that I can give him any advice. Knowing Charlie, he'll have the team ready to play.

Thomas Lott: I don't want to give him any advice. I'm a Sooner. I'm from Texas. I have relatives in Texas. When I see them, I want to be able to hold my head up. I don't want them to be able to say, 'Texas beat your butt.' That OU-Texas game, that's the one game I need OU to win. I need it for my own sake. So I'm not trying to give them no advice whatsoever.

Jason White: I think I'll let him figure it out on his own.

Tony Casillas: I would say to not to eat a lot beforehand.

Barry Switzer: No one gives him a chance to win this ballgame. This is an easy game for him. He can just go out there and coach. Just go out there and put it on the line. He can just smile, and get after it and take chances. There's no pressure on him. He's been in big games. He knows what to do.

Billy Sims: Get ready for a great war.

• • •

We'll leave the last word for the victor of this rivalry's most recent chapter.

"Ultimately, when these guys get back together in 20 years and you get together with your buds on that team -- I'm going to get in trouble for saying this -- you're not going to talk about the Baylor games," Case McCoy said. "You're not going to talk about Iowa State. You're just not. You're going to talk about the OU game. That's what it is."