NORMAN, Okla. -- When faced with potential conference realignment, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said keeping the Red River Rivalry wasn't necessary.
Stoops also called Saturday's matchup of unbeaten teams "another game," saying playing at then-No. 6 Florida State and against Missouri were also big games.
But as No. 3 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) prepares to take on No. 11 Texas (4-0, 1-0), Stoops cannot deny the importance.
This game is special.
"It's exciting, and you can't help it. It gets the hair up on the back of your neck," Stoops said Tuesday at his weekly press conference.
As soon as Oklahoma defeated Ball State 62-6 last week, the Sooners started gearing up for Saturday.
"It's where you want to be. I could sense it in the locker room right after the game. The players were already anxious about it," Stoops said. "Everybody is anticipating and excited for it."
The Sooners have and will play other crucial games this season -- they beat the Seminoles and Tigers and still have No. 24 Texas A&M and No. 5 Oklahoma State on the schedule. But none of those games take place at the historic Cotton Bowl stadium, in the middle of the Texas State Fair.
No other game in the nation can boast the unique atmosphere the Red River Rivalry has created in Dallas since 1929.
From the ride in on team buses -- "You get all kinds of things pointed at you and flexed at you," Stoops said -- to the stadium's 50-50 fan divide right down the middle, the raucous crowd gives the Oklahoma-Texas game it's own life.
"It's exhilarating, is the best way to say it," Stoops said.
Since Stoops took over at Oklahoma, he is 7-5 against Texas. When asked to recall his favorite memories from his 12 rivalry games against Texas, Stoops paused. He has so many.
There was Roy Williams "Superman" play in 2001. Jason White needing to throw just three passes in the second half as Oklahoma won easily 65-13 in 2003. Then Sam Bradford, who would win the Heisman Trophy the next year, leading the Sooners past Texas 28-21 in 2007 to snap a two-game losing streak to the Longhorns.
"I can't tell you all of them," Stoops said. "It goes on and on. I'm sure Mack and Texas have their own moments."
The game has become a prerequisite for a Big 12 title shot. And as Stoops' rivalry with Texas coach Mack Brown grows, the stakes grow as well. In the 13 years the two coaches will have squared off, both teams have been ranked in the AP Top 25 11 times. Seven of the meetings featured both as Top 15 teams, and this year will make an eighth.
In the Brown vs. Stoops era, both fan bases have maintained a high level of energetic contempt.
"I think since the time I got here in 1999-2000, when we were both fighting to win the division and Big 12, I thought from then on [the fans' hate] couldn't get much worse," Stoops said. "It's what you want in a rivalry game. I think it's great and what you want it to be."
Oklahoma sophomore defensive back Tony Jefferson watched tape from last year's game to get ready for Saturday.
"I just saw what they were doing and what the atmosphere was," Jefferson said. "It made me rejuvenated a bit. It gave me chills getting ready for this game."
As a freshman, Oklahoma wide receiver Kenny Stills wasn't ready for the in-your-face, loud Fair Park environment.
"You can't do anything to really prepare for this at all," Stills said.
Fans like to argue their team's rivalry game is the biggest and most important. Ohio State-Michigan, Auburn-Alabama or even Texas A&M-Texas and Oklahoma State-Oklahoma. When Stoops was on staff at Florida, he considered Florida-Georgia to be the most important.
But none has the deep-fried, lively Texas State Fair as the backdrop. And few can achieve the neutral setting, with each side traveling roughly 190 miles to meet in the middle.
Tuesday, Stoops reiterated his belief that the Red River rivalry is not a necessity for Oklahoma football to survive.
"It's fair to say the two of us complement each other," Stoops said. "But only if it's done properly and harmoniously."
Stoops jokingly compared the Oklahoma-Texas relationship to a marriage.
"Marriages are hard to keep together. You know that, in today's world with all the realignment and family fighting," Stoops said.
For now the two are still together, and that makes for another classic, rowdy meeting at the Cotton Bowl.
Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760