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Tell Us Why You Think NU-OU Rivalry Still Transcends Time, Loyalties

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider 

To "Respond to Randy" click on the link below and choose "Randy York's N-Sider" under "Area of Interest" on the new screen. Please include your name, residence (city/town/state) and share your favorite memories or current thoughts on the NU-OU rivalry. Your comments may be published at the bottom of this column.

Nebraska's biggest football rival makes its once-every-four-year stop in Lincoln Saturday, and the Cornhuskers aren't about to waste a golden opportunity like this to show Oklahoma how much the Huskers respect their program, especially since the Sooners have played a big role in NU's own rise to national prominence.

The level of competition, of course, will determine if ABC made a good decision to put this game in prime time under the bright lights of its television cameras. But one thing is certain. It's a unique chance to showcase what a good rivalry stands for and how much one program respects the other program.

Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne decided last spring to invite Oklahoma's major individual award winners to Lincoln for a Friday night banquet at the Champions Club. Then, at halftime, OU's marquee players and coaches will be honored at the same time we introduce our own legends to another record sellout crowd.

It would be nice to say that only in Nebraska can something like this happen. But the truth is, Osborne's decision is merely a reciprocating gesture to a class move made last year by OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione to honor the 1971 Game of the Century participants in Norman.

So get ready Husker fans. Start warming up now to show your appreciation for OU's four living Heisman Trophy winners - Steve Owens, Billy Sims, Jason White and Sam Bradford. They will be introduced Saturday along with Nebraska Heisman winners Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier and Eric Crouch.

Other Husker major award winners who will attend this weekend's festivities are Trev Alberts, Tommie Frazier, Larry Jacobson, Dave Rimington, Will Shields, Dean Steinkuhler, Aaron Taylor and Zach Wiegert. Other Sooner major award winners who will be in Lincoln are Tom Brahaney, Josh Heupel, Greg Pruitt, J.D. Roberts, Derrick Strait and Joe Washington.

Osborne, Switzer Equally Popular in Rival States

This is just a guess, but look for Barry Switzer to get the same kind of ovation that Turner Gill, Barry Alvarez and Frank Solich got when they popped up on the big screen in Nebraska's NCAA record 300th consecutive sellout celebration.

Memorial Stadium will be rocking, and Switzer will be smiling, waving and ingratiating himself to Husker fans who had a hard time liking him when he kept breaking their hearts. But they respect him now because the emotional wounds have healed, and they realize that he set a benchmark that forced Nebraska to get better and better and better.

Saturday night, tradition will frame a pair of 5-3 teams that have always set higher standards for themselves and will never lose sight of those who have won so much before them. Bob Devaney and Chuck Fairbanks may have been the icons for their respective programs in the early 1960s, but Osborne and Barry Switzer certainly continued the unparalleled standards of excellence set by their predecessors.

And believe this - both states have a healthy respect for each other. "When Barry comes to Nebraska, he's still one of the most popular attractions for banquets and other events," Osborne said last week, adding that he gets a similar reception whenever he speaks in Oklahoma.

Osborne thinks he knows why Nebraska and Oklahoma play every game against each other with respect instead of rancor. "For almost 30 years in a row, the winner of the Nebraska-Oklahoma game determined the Big 12 champion and an Orange Bowl berth," he said. "Most of the time, we were both in the Top 10, and sometimes, we were both in the Top 5.

"OU went through a dip in the '90s, and we went through ours more recently," Osborne said. "Most of the time, the games were highly competitive. They were never nasty. There was never any trash talk. Games were always played very hard with proper respect shown on both sides. The fans of both schools picked up on that healthy respect for each other, so this has been a great rivalry, but never a bitter rivalry."

And that fact alone puts the NU-OU football rivalry in a league of its own.

A month ago, a poll asked fans to name Nebraska's biggest rival in football. A total of 12,310 of you cast a vote, and 7,159 - or 58 percent said Oklahoma is our biggest rival. Colorado and Missouri each received 19 percent of the total vote with CU edging Mizzou by 80 votes - 2,376 to 2,296. Kansas (228 votes) finished fourth with 2 percent of the vote, and K-State (131) and Iowa State (120) each garnered 1 percent.

Osborne: Rivalries Cannot Be Declared

Rivalries, Osborne said, cannot be declared like Colorado tried to do with Nebraska when he was still the head coach. They must be earned through tradition, a consistently high level of play and an acknowledgement from both schools that they are indeed rivals.

Unlike Michigan-Ohio State and USC-UCLA, the NU-OU rivalry thrives and prospers because the Huskers and Sooners have decidedly different recruiting bases. OU recruits Texas primarily, and NU recruits the entire country to complement the Huskers' base that includes important forays into Texas.

"While we have recruited many of the same players, we've never been embroiled in recruiting battles like Oklahoma-Texas or some of the other big rivalries," Osborne said. "We recruit a lot of the players they don't and vice versa."

Last year, when OU hosted Nebraska the night before the game in Norman, Switzer said: "We could never do something like this with Texas."

Recruiting was one big reason why, but former Husker All-America defensive tackle John Dutton was struck by something else Switzer said that evening - that OU coaches, players and fans have never quite grasped how Nebraska has been able to beat the Sooners so often with players they never would have considered recruiting themselves.

Dutton's answer to that is a simple one. "We were always in better physical condition than the teams we played against," he said, "and everyone pushed everyone in practice every single day. It was a relentless mindset. From the scout team to the first team, no one would even think about losing."

The NU-OU rivalry proves that respect can be an integral part of an intense rivalry, and Osborne said Nebraska lobbied to keep the annual game intact when the Big 12 was organizing into two divisions. "It was my understanding that most of Oklahoma's recruiting and most of their livelihood, so to speak, was directed more toward Texas, and so they essentially said they wanted to go to a South Division," he said.

"We thought it was possible to structure across division lines and carve out a game that we would play traditionally every year, but it would kind of throw things out of kilter," Osborne acknowledged. "So we are where we are now now. We still have the same respect for each other, but the rivalry just isn't the same when you don't get to play each other every year."

What do you think? Does the NU-OU rivalry still transcend time and loyalties and if so, how and why?

Respond to Randy

To "Respond to Randy" click on the link above and choose "Randy York's N-Sider" under "Area of Interest" on the new screen. Please include your name, residence (city/town/state) and share your favorite memories or current thoughts on the NU-OU rivalry. Your comments may be published at the bottom of this column.  

Voices from Husker Nation

The NU-OU rivalry is special to a lot of fans and players, but it has always held a special place in my heart amid the frustration, tears, and finally cheers! I just felt it was different than most other rivalries. RESPECT!! That is what the teams, players and fans had for each other!! Once I wrote Barry Switzer and told him how I felt! When some friends and I were invited down to Norman to attend a Husker-Sooner Shootout (that is what some tried to moniker the game, but I don't think one ever caught on), we were treated great by everyone - from the football office to the regular fan on the street! Yes, we wore Husker Red all weekend! Every Sooner fan yelled good luck to us! Wouldn't hear that from Boulder, Manhattan, Stillwater, Columbia or any place else!! That was the year we won in the rain!! Charles Thompson broke his leg on the last play. A couple of years later, on behalf of our booster club, I invited Barry to Kearney to surprise Bob Devaney on his birthday.  I kept it a secret to everyone!  Coach Osborne, Dennis Claridge and a few others came, and it worked like a charm. Made news all over the country and not just in Nebraska!! Great memories ... I still have it on DVD!!!  A classic moment, but Barry made it possible. I know he won over a lot of Husker fans that night!!! Definitely a players' coach!! You can see that Tom and Barry are great friends!! What an evening - one that we will never forget. Only problem was, if I hadn't kept it a secret,we would have had a much larger crowd! Some just missed out, but the surprise and look on Bob's face was really worth it. That is what the Husker - Sooner rivalry is. Like Tom says, you can't just make a rivalry. It has to be EARNED!! That's why our fans will treat the Sooner fans this weekend just like we want to be treated ourselves. Wayne Garrelts, Kearney, Nebraska

As an OU graduate of 1968 now living in Gaithersburg, Maryland, I have nothing but the fondest memories of the Nebraska-OU games. In all the years of watching the game in Norman and now seeing it on television here on the East Coast, I can remember great games won by both played by some of the greatest athletes to ever play college football and coached by fantastic head coaches and their staffs. The thing that I take a great deal of pride in is the fact that I have never seen players from either team play dirty or intentionally try to hurt an opposing player. Neither have I ever heard the fans at either university boo the visiting team. The respect that the players have for one another and that the fans have for great athletes playing a clean and highly contested game to the final seconds is unique. I don't think there is another rivalry not only in college football but in all college sports where that can be said. I really miss not seeing our Sooners play your Huskers every November for the conference championship. I always knew that whichever team won the contest would represent their university and the conference well in some of the biggest bowl games of the year. It's great to see the Huskers coming back with Bo Pelini leading them. I know this year's game will be a great one, regardless of who wins.  Thank you, Husker fans, for the class you always show when OU comes to Lincoln. Roy Simmons, Gaithersburg, Maryland

Thanks for a great article.  I went to Norman last year for the NU-OU game.  I have never, ever been treated as well by the home team at any game I have attended.  The Sooner fans were so friendly and accomodating.  They all said they liked Coach Bo and it was only a matter of time before the Huskers get back to where they, the Sooner fans, expect Nebraska to be.  The Sooner fans are so classy and the school's tribute to the '71 game, which they lost, was awesome. Robb Bunde, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1987 NU undergrad, 1990 law school graduate)

I liked Tom Osborne's comments about what makes a rivalry ... certainly "high level of play over many years" is one reason Colorado never supplanted OU as our rival. But another aspect you did not touch upon is the quality of the fans. OU fans are a lot like Nebraska fans: They are, for the most part, respectful, knowledgeable, and devoted to their team, win or lose.  I am continually amazed when I attend games in Lincoln and some woman my mother's age starts remarking about how well the backup middle linebacker is playing this year, that he's only a sophomore, went to high school in Grand Island, etc. She's read the paper; she's looked at the program; most important, she watches the game. By contrast, CU fans are notoriously bad. When they bother to show up, they often don't watch the game; they certainly don't have the understanding of college football that NU or OU fans have.  And we all remember what happened a couple years ago in Boulder when the entire student section had to be escorted out of the game - in front of a national television audience. So I think that's why CU is not our rival. In order to be our rival, not only do you have to satisfy certain conditions, you also have to have fans as classy as ours.  That's a tall order, but OU fans have fulfilled this requirement the best over time. And they still do so, even though we don't play OU every year anymore. Brad Carlin, Edina, Minnesota (BS, UNL, Math and Actuarial Science, 1984)

I just want it back "the way it SHOULD be" ... Thanksgiving dinner and NU vs. OU for dessert the next day. Mmmm ... Lisa Miller, Pittsburg, Kansas

As a kid in the '70s, it seemed like every season would end with me in tears, not comprehending how NU could let another win over OU slip away. One of my favorite bumper stickers read, "Bury Switzer". As much fun as it was taking revenge on the Sooners in the '90s, the victories seemed shallow by comparison to the painful losses we had endured in the previous decades. I think my fondness for the old rivalry pops up now in the form of OU being one of my favorite, non-NU teams. I was frustrated with the Sooners in the national championship game last year when they didn't just line up and punch the Gators in the mouth - the way they used to punch NU in the mouth.(And the way NU once punched people in the mouth.) To me, this respect based on true competition is the essence of a good rivalry. By comparison, if CU stopped hating NU with every breath it takes, the "rivalry" would evaporate over night. Time has shown that NU-OU is on a much higher plane. It, too, could evaporate with time, though. If things continue as they have, younger generations will remember the rivalry the same way they remember the Vietnam War: They'll understand it intellectually, but they'll never feel it. That feeling is what we're losing, and I regret that. Jeff Walz, Littleton, Colorado

We're longtime Sooner fans and so excited to be coming to our first Nebraska-Oklahoma game in Lincoln!  We enjoy the insightful promotion of Nebraska sports online and have been told that Nebraska fans are truly some of the best in the Big 12!  Please be nice to us Sooners. Mick and Linda Vena, Overland Park, Kansas


As a kid growing up in North Platte, Nebraska, we always played football at the park, and we always played as Nebraska vs. Oklahoma. Nobody wanted to be Oklahoma, but somebody had to do it or Nebraska would not have had them to beat up on. As we got older, we only watched the games, yelled at the TV, and it seemed like the winner would always play for the national championship ... only to lose to the much more hated teams from Florida. I still hate those teams from Florida, but I do love it when we play Oklahoma. I would love it even more with a Nebraska win this year. Frank Skufca, Mitchell, South Dakota

The NU-OU game will always be special with the Boomer-and-up age group. Some of the younger people will never grasp what it meant because we don't play them every year anymore. I always hold out hope that something will happen that we could win against Oklahoma, but until we get that tough mentality described in your article, it isn't going to happen. We will be there, though, because we love Cornhusker football. I remember being in Lincoln the night before the NU-OU game, being at Misty's and trading barbs with Oklahoma fans while the pep band marched through the restaurant. It was great. Here's a side note: Why not skip this North and South crap and play everyone in the Big 12 with one additional good non-conference game. Then we would have the NU-OU matchup every year. Who needs Florida Atlantic? The only reason we have the North and South Big 12 is because of money. And who isn't tired of money running everything? Rebecca Plambeck, Hastings, Nebraska 

Growing up in Hastings, almost every recess at school included a football, and all of the boys trying to tackle the one that carried it. Every kid out there would call out the name of the Husker player he liked best (I was Rich Glover).  I don't ever remember the name of a pro ball player being mentioned. On the days NU and OU played, the atmosphere in the house was electric and intense as the game went on.  When NU won, there were cheers and joy. When OU would win, the house was quiet, but only for the rest of that day. The next weekend, we were back cheering for OU to beat whoever they were playing. Rick Schumann, Hawthorne, Nevada

The NU-OU rivalry is one of the best in the nation. I'm a 1980 NU electrical engineering grad from Lincoln, and man, that game was always a blast!! I still think we could get this annual rivalry back by simply eliminating the North-South segregation and combining all 12 teams to a random play with the exception of the rivalries; NU-OU, KU-MU, Texas-A&M, etc., or whatever. Hopefully, the whole BCS debacle will eventually end up with a playoff system anyway, which logically decides the national champion. Yes, I really miss the NU-OU rivalry. Let's bring it back. By the way, I agree that Colorado was NEVER a rival in my book, and NEVER will be. Rick Lewis, Buena Park, California 

The memories of past football games played over the Thanksgiving holiday ... the fiery attitude of the players and the coaches, and the very high level of play between OU and NU will forever cast these two schools as rivals. And I'm not talking about just rivals in football. NU players, coaches and fans know that when we defeat any OU team, we are playing at a very high level. Almost without exception, the competition can be used by both schools of where each program is, relative to other schools in the Big 12 and throughout the country. May OU and NU - the two classiest athletics programs in the NCAA - continue to excel in all of their sports and academic endeavors! HERE, HERE!! Paul Jensen, Omaha, Nebraska

A few months after the Game of the Century and my graduation from Nebraska, I moved to Houston with a U-Haul trailer. I believe the trailer had New Jersey plates. I felt they were necessary for me  to travel through Sooner Country. I was wrong. The Oklahoma fans I've come to know here in Texas remain incredibly respectful of the Huskers. Although they have a bitter rivalry with the Longhorns, I'm not certain that shows their true colors. Last Saturday here in Waco, I was sitting next to one of the few Baylor faithful. Impressed with the Sea of Red, he said he was amazed how classy Nebraska fans were. He went on to say how ugly every school is when visiting, especially Texas. Then he caught himself and said, "No, Oklahoma has class."  I shared with him that my first Oklahoma-NU game was in 1963 (thanks for the video), and although there were heartbreaks, I never remember any ugliness. Charles Packard, Waco, Texas

Growing up as a Nebraska fan, I remember always looking forward to the Oklahoma -Nebraska game. I learned to hate Oklahoma when they beat us and learned to thrive on winning when we prevailed. As I have grown older, I have learned to turn that hate into a respect for both teams and even though I still hate to lose to Oklahoma, I respect them for who they are. I surely do miss playing them every year and hope that situation can be changed somewhere down the road. Maybe we can both do well and play in the Big 12 Championship game every year!  Either way, let this Saturday night be a tough game, a fair game, and one with respect from both teams. Go Big Red! Greg Norton, Bellevue, Nebraska



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