Published: Sept/Oct 2003

The numbers for
The Big 12
• Norman, Okla.
Norman Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-800-767-7260 or
• Austin, Texas
Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-800-926-2282 or
• Columbia, Mo.
Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-800-652-0987 or
• Manhattan, Kan.
Manhattan Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-800-759-0134 or
• Lincoln, Neb.
Lincoln Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-800-423-8212 or
• Ames, Iowa
Ames Convention & Visitors Bureau,
1-800-288-7470 or

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The Big 12
College football may be king,
but there’s more to do in these cities

Football is serious business in Norman, hometown for the University of Oklahoma. A Sooner home game is a ritual football fans don’t like to miss. (above) /Karen Gibson photo
The University of Missouri at Columbia was the first pubic university west of the Mississippi. (below) /Missouri Tourism photo
By Karen Gibson

Football is serious business in America’s heartland. Covering seven states–Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Colorado–few conferences have won more championships or appeared in more bowl games than the Big 12.

More than a game, football is an event. Fans come from all over the United States to cheer on their favorite college teams. Football weekends turn into a great time for family reunions, get togethers with old friends, or a well-deserved vacation.

The cities of the Big 12 provide a complete package for the visiting fan: a small town atmosphere, culture and diversity, plus abundant shopping, dining, and accommodation choices. Take a look at what some of our Big 12 cities offer.

Boomer Sooner

Oklahomans eat, drink and breathe football. They have a long history of being winners, from the days of Bud Wilkinson through the championship years of Barry Switzer and now the magic of Bob Stoops. With the stadium undergoing renovation, it won’t be long before more fans can be accommodated.

Early arrival on OU (University of Oklahoma) game days is a tradition with plenty to do in Norman until kick off. If it’s a nice day, a walking tour of the landscaped campus might be in order. The OU Visitors Center offers various tours, like the self-guided audio tour. With a portable CD player, listen to a 64-minute CD that recounts campus history with anecdotes about the architecture and sculptures. Notable alumni even regale listeners with tales of their university years.

North of campus is Campus Corner, an eclectic mix of shops and dining. Game days find the main thoroughfare blocked to form a pedestrian mall that comes alive with a festival atmosphere.

Another campus hangout south of the stadium is O’Connell’s Irish Pub where the burgers and beer are good and inexpensive.

The University of Oklahoma is also home to several museums, including Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. The Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History is among the finest natural history museums operated by a university. Popular exhibits include the world's largest Apatosaurus specimen, extensive American Indian artifacts, and a hands-on Discovery Room.

Red River Rivalry

For 55 years, Oklahoma Sooners have crossed the Red River, while University of Texas Longhorns head north from Austin to converge on the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, neutral territory for these football rivals and midway between the two campuses. Simultaneously, the Texas State Fair encircles the Cotton Bowl with a Texas-style celebration.

Back home, Austin comes alive with live music. The Sixth Street Entertainment District contains more than 50 clubs and restaurants, including Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, a great venue for blues and rock. Stop by for Sunday brunch and enjoy some of the most powerful voices in gospel music.

One stop worth seeing is the Congress Avenue Bridge, where the largest urban colony of Mexican free-tailed bats in North America spend summer from April through October. Try catching a glimpse at dusk from the Austin American-Statesman Bat Observation Center.

For a different view, try the 307-foot University of Texas Tower. Originally constructed in 1937, the tower recently reopened with a new observation deck. Tower tours offer views of the campus and beyond Thursday through Sunday by reservation (1-877-475-6633).


About midway between Kansas City and St. Louis, Columbia adds its own flavor to the state of Missouri. The University of Missouri at Columbia became the first public university west of the Mississippi when it was founded in 1839.

A charming historic downtown area offers unique places for dining and shopping. Visitors wanting a true sample of Missouri arts and crafts head to Bluestem Missouri Crafts where more than 210 artisans and fine crafters exhibit their wares.

Outdoor enthusiasts should stop at Fourth and Cherry streets. This urban trailhead leads to the Katy Trail, a 225-mile trail converted from the old Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad that stretches across the forests and valleys of Missouri.

The Little Apple®

Manhattan, Kan., hosts a variety of activities in the scenic Flint Hills, home to the Kansas State Wildcats. It’s easy to see why "Men’s Journal" (March 2002) named Manhattan one of the 50 best places to live.

Located near Interstate 70, 125 miles west of Kansas City, Manhattan is surrounded by rolling hills, open prairie and blue skies. Golfers might think this sounds like a great location for golf and they would be right. Manhattan is home to several golf courses, including Colbert Hills with a PGA Tour recommended stadium design.

The KSU (Kansas State University) campus maintains a park-like setting with mature trees and idyllic pathways. It’s easy to understand why one of the top draws is the KSU Gardens.

The campus becomes a sea of purple early on game days. The tailgate parties are well-known, but many fans hang out in Aggieville. Located at the southeast corner of campus, Aggieville is one of the oldest shopping and entertainment districts in the state of Kansas with more than 100 stores, restaurants and clubs.

Football on the frontier

The Sixth Street Entertainment District in Austin, Texas, has a wide variety of music clubs to visit following a Longhorns’ game. (above)
/Ausitin Convention and VIsitors Bureau photo
Visitors to Lincoln will want to stop at the Haymarket District and Iron Horse Park. (below)
The University of Nebraska is no slouch when it comes to winning football games. Game days are said to turn the Lincoln Memorial Stadium into the third largest city in Nebraska.

You know you’re coming to Lincoln long before you arrive, thanks to one of the more unique state capital buildings. Standing more than 400 feet tall, the dome of the Nebraska State Capitol is topped with a 19-foot bronze statue known as “The Sower.”

You can still see evidence of the Old West in Lincoln, yet a cosmopolitan air is found in attractions like the Zoo Bar, a jazz and blues club, and James Arthur Vineyards, one of the finest wine producers in the area.

Younger football fans prefer the Lincoln Children's Museum, ranked in the top 20 children museums in the country. The rules here say touching is required for learning and for fun. Featured exhibits include a three-story apple tree, prairie dog town, and more than 60 other interactive exhibits.

One of Lincoln’s highlights is the historic Haymarket District where restored 19th-century warehouse buildings have been transformed into specialty shops, art galleries, international restaurants, and a microbrewery. Nearby is Iron Horse Park with a restored steam engine. A fascinating three-dimensional brick mural pays tribute to Lincoln's railroad legacy.

The Cyclones

The campus of Iowa State University is popular with everyone, especially the swans residing on lovely Lake LaVerne bordering the campus. Assorted pairs of swans known as Lancelot and Elaine have been a familiar campus sight since 1935. Considered one of the most beautiful campuses in the United States, ISU has received recognition for its landscaping.

More horticultural wonders can be viewed at Reiman Gardens, the largest public gardens in Iowa. The many outdoor gardens of the 14-acre complex have assorted themes–a children’s garden, butterfly house, herb garden and more.

One of the more unique college museums is the Farm House Museum. The first building on the ISU campus and a National Historic Landmark, the Farm House Museum shows what life was like in Ames, Iowa between 1860 and 1920.

See the countryside in style on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad vintage 1920s passenger cars. The view of the Des Moines River Valley when crossing the 156-foot trestle is breathtaking.

Karen Gibson is a contributor from Norman, Okla.

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