It is rivalry week. There are a lot of great rivalries in college football, including many within the same state. I can think of only two cities, however, where there are cross-town rivals who both play NCAA Division I football. UCLA and USC are both in Los Angeles, and Rice and U of H are both in Houston. I think the Houston schools, a mere 6 miles apart, have the distinction of being the closest in terms of distance. You can actually see the taller buildings on each campus from the higher points of the other one.
Though they are geographically close together, the two schools are very distinct from each other in just about every way. Rice is a noted academic institution, with the majority of its students in residence on the campus, and a high percentage of them from outside the state of Texas. It is not a large university, with something like 5,000 students, and probably 2,000 of those are enrolled in graduate studies. The University of Houston, on the other hand, is one of the largest, four-year commuter schools in Texas, with an enrolment of about 23,000, a small residential community in dorms, with a high percentage of in-state students, most of whom drive to campus from home. Many UH students are adults, over 25 years of age who come to class in the evening.
These are not schools that draw the gigantic crowds of alumni and fans to football games like Texas or Texas A&M. However, the football fortunes of both have improved in recent years, with UH making several bowl appearances, and Rice getting its first one in decades year before last, and when they get together, it can be intense. They’ve played for a trophy called the “Bayou Bucket” for about 33 years now.
Rice Stadium, the scene of this year’s game, is historic. Built in the 1950’s, during the glory days of Rice football, the stadium was once able to seat 72,000. Recent renovations, which included installing new aluminum bleachers, also involved closing the end zone seating and covering it with Rice emblems, reducing the capacity to about 45,000. This afternoon, for a game that meant more than any other in the series between the two, more than 35,000 turned out. That may not seem like a lot, especially for two schools from the same town, but when you consider the nature of both schools, it was. It is probably one of the largest crowds ever to turn out for the Bayou Bucket game, and it was a loud, raucous crowd on both sides of the field.
It was also the kind of game that kept us out of our seats. The final score, with Rice winning 56-42, tells you that it was a game of offensive production. It is exciting when both teams are moving the ball, and the outcome of the game isn’t a certainty until late in the 4th quarter. It was a great way to spend a chilly Saturday afternoon, and excting for Houston. Both of its Division 1 rivals are headed to bowl games.