Oklahoma-Nebraska: The Greatest Rivalry Ever Forgotten
I contend that the great rivalry between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Nebraska Cornhuskers is the greatest in all of college football and one of the greatest in all of sports.
The great rivalry began Nov. 23, 1912. Saturday marks the 84th meeting of the teams in a series that OU leads, 43-37-3. However, the series has seen long streaks of dominance from both teams.
From the first in 1912 to 1942, Nebraska won or tied all but three games. From 1943 to 1958, the Sooners (under Bud Wilkinson) responded by winning every game. From 1971 to 1976, both teams were ranked in the top 10 before the matchup, and seven times during the 1980s the Big Eight Conference title was decided by the OU-Nebraska game.
Finally, from 1991-2000 (right before, during, and right after the formation of the Big 12 and the discontinuance of the annual series), Nebraska won seven straight meetings, capped by spectacular wins in 1996 (73-21) and 1997 (69-7).
The rivalry was a big part of my life, growing up. My mom grew up in Nebraska and attended the University of Nebraska. My dad grew up in Oklahoma and went to OU for med school.
I remember watching bits and pieces of OU-Nebraska games as a child and wondering why sometimes Daddy was happy and Mommy was sad, and other times Mommy was happy and Daddy was sad.
In school, most of my friends were OU fans (but I love you, too, O-State fans) and I was one of a small handful of Husker fans in the state. When it came time to choosing colleges, I passed over OU and applied to OSU and Nebraska. I went with my heart and chose Nebraska. I'll probably end up going to OU for grad school, if I choose to do so, because its journalism building is like a goddess of beauty.
Those OU-Nebraska games' memories from my childhood never left. I understand the importance of a healthy rivalry and am amazed at the amount of respect both sides' fans hold for each other. When the teams would play, it was almost like a friendly (but warring) family reunion for the fans.
It is that lack of burning hatred for the other side that makes this rivalry different.
I respect Oklahoma fans, and I know they respect me. I respect the Sooners, and they respect my Huskers. I don't have a desire to run over Sooner fans with my car like some Wolverines wish they could run over Buckeyes. And, even though I understand Nebraska is likely to be murdered Saturday, I'm still looking forward to going because I love Norman and I love seeing the Sooners succeed (yes, even sometimes at the expense of my Huskers).
I present to you some of the top games from this series and a few that are personal favorites of mine.
OCT. 31, 1959: No. 19 Oklahoma at Nebraska
With just one win all season in 1957 and only three more in 1958, the Huskers (who started 2-4 in '59) seemed unlikely to defeat Wilkinson’s Sooners, who were going into the game with a 74-game conference winning streak.
Not surprisingly, OU took an early, 7-0 lead. Early in the second quarter, the Huskers scored on a fourth-down fake play and missed the extra point, drawing to within one. The Huskers scored again on a blocked field goal recovery to lead, 12-7. The Sooners responded to take a halftime lead of 14-12.
Nebraska quarterback Harry Tolly led the Huskers on a 13-7 run in the second half as the Huskers held off the powerhouse Sooners, 25-21.
"The Game of the Century"—NOV. 25, 1971: No. 1 Nebraska at No. 2 Oklahoma
On Thanksgiving Day, Johnny Rogers struck first on a 72-yard punt return to put the Huskers ahead early, 7-0. For most of the game, the teams scored back and forth. The Sooners scored midway through the fourth quarter to go up, 31-28.
An impressive five-and-a-half-minute, 74-yard drive by Nebraska to respond was capped off by the fourth rushing touchdown of the day for Huskers running back Jeff Kinney. Nebraska's "Blackshirts" defense went on to hold the Sooners and win, 35-31, taking the Big Eight title and the Huskers' 21st consecutive victory (30 without a loss) for Bob Devaney’s dynasty. Nebraska went on to win the national championship.
Dave Kindred of The Louisville Courier-Journal wrote of the epic tilt, "They can quit playing now—they have played the perfect game."
NOV. 11, 1978: No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 4 Nebraska
Nebraska scored on two Oklahoma fumbles, capped off by Billy Todd’s 34-yard field goal to close the game, 17-14, giving Tom Osborne his first victory over the Sooners as head coach. The Sooners fumbled nine times on the day and lost six, the last coming on the Nebraska 3-yard line at the very end of the game.
The Sooners went on to beat Nebraska, 31-10, in the rematch in the ’79 Orange Bowl that same season.
"The Game of the Century II"—NOV. 21, 1987: No. 1 Nebraska at No. 2 Oklahoma
The first OU-Nebraska contest in my lifetime (I was a day short of six months old) did not bode well for my Huskers. In Norman, the Sooners allowed Nebraska to cross midfield only three times during the game. OU’s tough defense held the nation’s leading scoring offense to only 235 total yards, very shy of Nebraska’s 524 average. OU won, 17-7.
OCT. 28, 2000: No. 1 Nebraska at No. 2 Oklahoma
Nebraska was rolling and seemed unbeatable, led by future Heisman Trophy-winner Eric Crouch. Fans around the country were anticipating another classic No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup from the greatest rivalry in college football.
The Huskers traveled to Norman and scored on their first two possessions, causing many to think the game would be a runaway victory for the top-ranked Cornhuskers.
However, the Huskers did not score again as an impressive Sooner team, led by Heisman-should-have-been Josh Heupel, rolled to a 31-14 decisive victory that led to the Sooners' first national championship in 15 years.
OCT. 27, 2001: No. 2 Oklahoma at No. 3 Nebraska
Nebraska was out for revenge for the loss in Norman the year before. The Sooners were seeking to repeat as national champions, but Nebraska was hoping to get there instead.
Nebraska head coach Frank Solich was looking to prove himself after taking control when coaching great Tom Osborne retired. The game proved to be a classic—and my personal favorite.
The Huskers defeated the Sooners at home, 20-10, capped by a trick pass from Mike Stuntz to Heisman-winner Eric Crouch for a touchdown—the same play OU had tried and failed with Nate Hybl.
OCT. 29, 2005: Oklahoma at Nebraska
My first experience in person with the OU-Nebraska rivalry was unfortunately the first time the Sooners won in Lincoln since the year I was born. It was also the first time in decades neither team was ranked.
Adrian Peterson carried the Sooners to a 24-3 lead, seemingly putting the game away. The Huskers responded by scoring three of the game's next four touchdowns, pulling to within one score at 31-24, but they could not overcome the superior Sooners team. My first time in historic Memorial Stadium, the Huskers fell by the 31-24 margin.
Big 12 Championship—DEC. 2, 2006: No. 8 Oklahoma vs. No. 19 Nebraska
At the beginning of 2006, each team was favored to win its respective division and meet in the conference championship. Throughout the season, however, both teams seemed to falter, and it appeared neither would be going to Kansas City.
But, through a series of crazy events, both teams backed in to the game to meet in Arrowhead Stadium. Zac Taylor, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, played very poorly and Oklahoma's defense played solid all game, picking off Taylor three different times—two of which led to Oklahoma scores.
Oklahoma also forced Nebraska to fumble the ball twice, setting up the last Sooner touchdown to seal a 21-7 victory. Oklahoma wide receiver Malcolm Kelly had 10 snags for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
This Saturday's matchup is most likely not going to become one of the great OU-Nebraska games. The No. 4 Sooners host the unranked Huskers and, short of a miracle in which Nebraska's defense keeps Sam Bradford from ever throwing, will likely roll to a resounding victory.
But I'll still be at the game with my Nebraska-fan mom and Sooner-fan dad, cheering on my Huskers because there is no rivalry in college football like Oklahoma-Nebraska.
I invite comments from Huskers, Sooners, Michigan-Ohio State enthusiasts and anyone else that might think I'm dead wrong. I value your opinions!
Note: The history portion is touched-up from an article I wrote my freshman year of college as a preview for the Big 12 Championship matchup.
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