Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
Austin, Texas, was my home from mid-2018 through mid-2020 and I got to experience the rabid nature of Texas Longhorn fans (though, as a born and raised Ohio State fan, it wasn’t jarring). Before landing an MLS team in 2021, Austin’s professional team is the Longhorns; the city is doused in burnt orange. The intense passion is why Texas is able to fill a 100,000+ seat megastadium (8th largest) weekly, and this game was no exception.
The drive from San Marcos to Austin is 20 miles– or, in Austin traffic time, about an hour– but still stands as one of the shorter road trips in Road to CFB’s record. Intense thunderstorms swept through Hill Country and across Austin’s southern cities. Fortunately, downtown was spared and I didn’t have to sit in the rain. From my eventual seats up in the truest nosebleeds I’ve ever sat in, I could see the cloud-to-ground lightning over San Marcos. The view, while a bit frightening, was absolutely incredible.
Garages in downtown Austin are in such high demand on game day, that I parked nearly a mile away from DKR and still forked over $25 to park. The hike, while substantial, is worth it as I got to do some sightseeing: the Texas State Capitol, various fan fests held by local radio stations, and thousands of tailgaters. One such crew donned a massive 3-foot straw sombrero and a mage’s staff constructed of 6 tall-boy Coronas (which were already drank by noon). The fellas at the tailgate generously offered me some of the wings off the grill and wished me on my way with a hearty and half-drunk “HOOK ‘EM!”
My real destination is the west side of DKR, which was holding a new massive family-friendly tailgate aptly named “Bevo Blvd.” The street is set aside by two enormous inflatable arches welcoming you to what is essentially the lovechild between a street fair and Texas’ Hook Em mascot. Dozens of vendors have games, food, gear, giveaways and beer to satisfy the thousands of fans that showed up for the inaugural fest. In the spirit of UT, I grabbed a Coors Light to battle early-September Texas.
The anticipation was for one of the longest and most exciting team walks I’ve seen to this day. The Texas Cowboys were around with Smokey the Cannon for photo ops:
as well as athletic director Chris del Conte:
Del Conte is one of the most powerful men in college sports (and looks the part), but spent the better part of an hour mingling and taking photos with fans. No one was turned away from a handshake or a picture and del Conte even held conversation with passers by. There’s no question he’s a great guy.
Ahead of the football team, Bevo was unloaded and taken inside. While still considered a “youngin,” Texas’ live mascot is a massive animal heavier than a grand piano with “a considerable ways to go.” The team followed, lead by budding superstar quarterback Sam Ehlinger (swamped in cameras and press) and coach Tom Herman in his second year with the program (also swamped in cameras and press). The team is followed by the Longhorn Band playing “the Eyes of Texas” on loop. While the diehards of Texas assure me there’s no better band in the country, they fall well behind the likes of Ohio State and other notable bands.
After hours of pageantry, I headed inside the stadium. Kyle Field is one of the most imposing structures from the outside I’ve ever seen, but DKR holds its secrets inside. The bottom fourth of rows sit below the street is sits on. The first good look I got while emerging into the bowl quite literally took my breath away. Normally, I’d upload a photo to show, but there’s no photo on earth that can do it justice.
I climbed what seemed a country mile up to my seats and watched the light show that was somehow far enough away to not evacuate the stadium. The views from the ‘bleeds are something I’d recommend to everyone who visits, even if you have tickets at the lower bowl 50. My seats gave me a striking view of the Austin skyline as the flat expanse to the south. I actually had to adjust to the incredible heights before my head stopped spinning.
The pageantry continued pregame; Texas sets the record for most pregame traditions by a comfortable margin. It’s song after song after chant after formation– The Eyes of Texas, Deep in the Heart of Texas, Texas-this, Texas-that, the state flag, a longhorn formation, a block T, I mean it goes ON and ON. I’m a sucker for traditions and marching band gimmicks, but my attention was fleeting by the end of the show. It’s so long, gates open long after players have exited the field for warmups.
Finally, kickoff. Sam Ehlinger raced his offense down the field for a quick first-quarter touchdown and, well, some people cheered.
This is where I’ll catch flack– DKR Memorial Stadium has to be the quietest gathering of 100,000 people, even for having one of the most dedicated fanbases in the world. Maybe it’s the south end zone having been wide open (note: ongoing construction is set to partly close it for luxury seats), maybe it was the lack of magnitude of the game. I was explained once it was because the Longhorns couldn’t pull away from a vastly inferior Group of 5 school. Whatever it was, I’ll give Texas another chance before slamming it for being quieter than Perry-Castañeda Library.
There wasn’t much to talk about for most of the game– there were few turnovers and few touchdowns. It was just punt after punt after punt. UT went into halftime up 21-0. After three it was 21-7. But as time was ticking away, the Longhorns were clinging by their fingernails to a lead that just seemed to keep getting smaller. Down the stretch, Tulsa had managed to pull themselves within a single touchdown.
I was secretly enjoying the meltdown from donor and alum seats:
In fact, Texas melted so far down that Tulsa should have come away with a massive W. Their kicker missed three first-half field goals (from 43, 36, and 29– yes, 29); it was so bad that it actually became laughable. The Golden Hurricanes scored on their last three offensive drives, which really irritated the UT faithful. I heard words yelled by older folks that would cause my own folks some serious stress should they have come from my mouth.
Texas was able to run out the final nearly five minutes and come away with the win. Anticlimactic and uninspiring, there were no roars of an excited crowd and I went home really unimpressed with my first Texas Longhorns game. No worries– we’ll give it another go.
No question the atmosphere for a game like 2019’s matchup with LSU would have been electric. As for middling games against Group of 5 opponents, maybe look for another game to head to.
Location: DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, TX.
Score: Tulsa 21, Texas 28
Televised: Longhorn Network
Weather: 90º, stormy and windy