Why We Wish Nebraska's Real Thanksgiving Rivalries Would Come Back

Erin Sorensen@erinsorensenContributor INovember 25, 2013

IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 23:  Long snapper P.J. Mangieri #92 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers carries the Heroes Game trophy after the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes on November 23, 2012 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. Nebraska defeated Iowa 13-7.  (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Gone are the days of the post-Thanksgiving rivalry for Nebraska.

It's unfortunate, too.

The day-after-Thanksgiving game was always one worth looking forward to for Huskers. That's not to say fans still don't look forward to it.

Instead, it's just not the same as it once was.

A simple Google search of "Nebraska Thanksgiving rival" says a lot. Nearly every result on the first page mentions the "good ol' Nebraska vs. Oklahoma" rivalry.

What a rivalry it was.

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 04:  An Oklahoma Sooners fan holds up a sign as the Nebraska Cornhuskers play their last game in the Big 12 during the Big 12 Championship at Cowboys Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Gett
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Nebraska and Oklahoma first faced off in 1912. However, the real rivalry began in 1921. The Huskers shut out the Sooners 44-0 in that matchup.

Nebraska owned the first two decades of the rivalry. Oklahoma then dominated it in the 1940s and 1950s. The two then ebbed and flowed, winning and losing, until the formation of the Big 12 in 1996.

Despite who won and who lost, Nebraska and Oklahoma forged a rivalry built on respect.

Splitting the two up was one of the biggest mistakes the Big 12 ever made.

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In fact, when the Big Ten considered splitting Ohio State and Michigan up in 2011, many compared the significance of the potential loss to that of losing Nebraska and Oklahoma.

That just goes to show that even fans outside of Lincoln and Norman understood what that rivalry meant.

When it ended, Nebraska was left to face Colorado on the day after Thanksgiving.

Former Nebraska head coach and athletic director Tom Osborne famously summed up the matchup in 1994, as reported by Philly.com:

Over the last six or seven years, Colorado has been a very good football team, and we've hung in there, so obviously there's a lot of importance attached to this game. There are certain games like Harvard and Yale, USC and UCLA, and maybe, Michigan and Ohio State that have geographical and historical backgrounds that no matter how the teams are playing or what their records are, they're still so-called big games. I don't think Nebraska and Colorado have that kind of history.

The Buffs did always tend to look at Nebraska more as a rival, whereas the Huskers longed for the glory days with Oklahoma.

However, with time, Nebraska and Colorado did end up feeling like a bit of a rivalry. If anything, the two programs loathed each other enough that it felt significant regardless.

That all changed once again when Nebraska decided to leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten.

Many mourned the loss of the Nebraska and Oklahoma rivalry, but Husker fans knew it was long gone.

Colorado was also happily departing to the Pac-12, so fans worried less about losing that matchup.

Once in the Big Ten, Nebraska needed its new day-after Thanksgiving opponent. The hope was for the Huskers to view the program put in place as a rival.

The Big Ten chose Iowa.

It geographically makes sense. Plenty of Nebraska fans live right next door to Iowa fans. There was good reason to believe the two would find a way to make it a rivalry game.

It hasn't exactly felt like one yet. Instead, it's felt more like an easy "Senior Day" matchup.

To be fair, Nebraska is only in its third year of Big Ten play and rivalries can't be forced.

It's just difficult to see when this matchup becomes one.

The Des Moines Register suggests all it takes is Iowa winning. That would certainly help.

Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey made a statement that showed even winning may not be enough. In the same article from the Des Moines Register, Kirksey talked about playing Nebraska:

"Every Big Ten game feels like a rivalry, to me. When two teams get together and battle, it’s always fun for people to watch."

That's a part of the problem. Neither team sees it as a rivalry.

Prior to the 2012 matchup, former Nebraska linebacker Will Compton spoke to the Lincoln Journal Star about the rivalry game. "It feels like another game," Compton said.

How are fans supposed to view it as a rivalry if the players and coaches don't?

Plus, the matchup has been pretty lopsided in its short time in existence.

Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the Huskers have a 27-11 record. Iowa, on the other hand, has gone 18-18.

The Huskers have also won both matchups with Iowa thus far. In 2011, Nebraska won 20-7. In 2012, it was 13-7.

The Hawkeyes could definitely make it more interesting by winning on Friday. It's hard to know if it would make enough of a difference.

Rivalries can't be forced. Time could definitely help. However, Iowa would need to start contending for the Big Ten title, or at least winning more, to make it really interesting.

With that said, it's understandable that Husker fans long for the rivalries of the past. Those matchups with Oklahoma were the ones worth talking about for years and years to come.

Those matchups created history.

In fact, one of the most memorable games for Nebraska and Oklahoma fans is the 1971 "Game of the Century." On Nov. 25, 1971, Nebraska, the defending national champions, were ranked No. 1. The Sooners were ranked No. 2.

The score went back and forth a couple of times. Oklahoma looked like it would walk away with the win.

Nebraska ultimately won 35-31 in the final minutes of the game.

To this day, Husker fans talk about that game.

It was the epitome of the Thanksgiving rivalry. That's what Husker fans miss. That's what Husker fans want back.

The rivalry, deemed the "Heroes Game," has a trophy. It also has Nebraska's annual day-after-Thanksgiving date (even if the kickoff time was moved from the usual 3:30 p.m. ET to 12 p.m. ET).

It's only missing the rivalry.

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