DALLAS — Who doesn’t like a little pregame ruckus?
The rivalry game between No. 11 Texas and No. 6 Oklahoma got off to a frisky start on Saturday morning. With the teams barking at each other around the 30-yard line at the end of pregame warmups, referee Mike Defee took matters into his own hands.
Defee flagged both programs for unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, barking into the microphone at a volume fitting for the carnival outside at the Texas state fair. It’s unclear what started the jawing, but it didn’t appear to be much different than the normal trash talk before a heated rivalry game.
While the moment appeared genuinely benign, it could have impacted the game in a big way. The double unsportsmanlike foul call on both teams meant, according to Defee’s loud declaration, that any player flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct foul would be thrown out of the game. Defee then had this to add before the pregame coin toss.
It loomed over the game because it meant that any Oklahoma player flashing the “Horns Down” symbol would be thrown out of the game. The specter of “Horns Down” loomed large prior to the game.
Oklahoma’s 34-27 victory didn’t feature any actions that required Defee to call another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. We learned during the game that Defee enjoyed hearing the sound of his own voice booming through the Cotton Bowl. He kept speaking to a pool reporter after, including calling the pre-game jawing “an embarrassment” and an “unfortunate mess.”
“What happened out there is an embarrassment to everyone,” Defee said. “It shouldn’t happen. At the end of the day, that’s why we did what we did and issued a warning.”
Defee added that he has jurisdiction from an hour before the game to administer penalties. He said it was the first time he’d ever executed double penalties like that before the game.
He reported the actions this way: “They both came together and started jawing and started pushing. I’m not sure there weren’t punches thrown. I got hit a couple times. My head linesman got hit. It was just clear cut because I warned both coaches prior to the start of the game about how we were going to manage pregame and we wanted to get this game started without incident.”
He went on to add that in games like this, stadiums “ought to have ropes that create clear separation” between the teams pre-game. He said the Cotton Bowl only having one tunnel to exit complicates the pregame exit. “It just turned into an unfortunate mess in a very good rivalry game,” Defee said. “It’s completely unnecessary.”
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