I’ll be 72-years-old when Nebraska finally meets
Oklahoma again in a regular-season football game, but I can tell you right now
that “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”, I will drive, fly, take a bus, a
train or hitch-hike to get to Norman. Because the NU-OU rivalry transcends time
and surpasses loyalties, I plan to be at Owen Field when the Sooners host the
Cornhuskers to commemorate the golden anniversary of the Game of the
Thursday’s official announcement of a Sept. 18, 2021
game at Oklahoma and a follow-up Sept. 17, 2022 date at Memorial Stadium in
Lincoln has been expected for some time. But let’s give two visionary athletic
directors credit for sealing the deal and making sure that there’s an agreement
for the Huskers and Sooners to extend their 86-year series that dates back to
the Big Six, Big Seven, Big Eight and Big 12 Conferences.
For weeks, we’ve seen countless “Thanks Tom” messages
after Osborne announced his retirement following five years as Nebraska’s
athletic director. But let’s figuratively stand up and cheer for Oklahoma AD Joe
Castiglione, too. He’s a Florida native, a Maryland graduate and a former
Missouri athletic director who was 14 years old when Nebraska outlasted
Oklahoma, 35-31, in college football’s Game of the Century.
OU’s AD Was Glued to Grandma’s
Castiglione wasn’t attached to the Huskers or the
Sooners in any way, shape or form, but he remembers where he was when those two
powerhouse teams collided in 1971 – glued to his grandmother’s black-and-white
TV set in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., along with a record 55 million other fans across
Like everyone else, Castiglione was wondering if the
much ballyhooed 1971 showdown between No. 1 Nebraska and No. 2 Oklahoma could
live up to the game’s week-long, coast-to-coast promotion.
It did, of course, and that’s why Castiglione, best
known for hiring Bob Stoops as a first-time head football coach, was willing to
go out on a limb again. He approached Osborne in the spring of 2008 and
suggested that OU host Nebraska coaches and players from that 1971 epic battle,
so the two programs could celebrate together.
Game Transcended Time,
“That 1971 game transcends time, emotions and
loyalties,” Castiglione told me at the time. “It represents the greatness of
this rivalry, and we enjoy bringing coaches and players together from these two
programs to remember and celebrate as one.”
Think about that a minute. Imagine being in a
conference room when your athletic director suggests you throw a huge party for
the school that beat one of your best all-time teams on your field and then goes
on to win the national championship while you crush Auburn by three touchdowns
in the Sugar Bowl and finish second?
Can you imagine wanting to honor every coach and player
on that winning team and even introduce them to your own 85,000 fans at halftime
of a nationally televised game the next night?
Teams Honored Each Other at OU,
Well, that’s what happened at OU in the fall of 2008
when the Sooners shredded the Huskers 62-28 on national TV. It was Bo Pelini’s
first season as Nebraska’s head coach, and Osborne was so impressed with OU’s
hospitality and sportsmanship that he invited Oklahoma legends to Nebraska the
next fall to celebrate the rivalry in another unique way. The Huskers upset No.
20 Oklahoma, 10-3, on national television. The following year, the two teams met
again in a Big 12 Championship that saw Nebraska take a 17-0 lead only to lose
23-20 at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington.
Most saw that as possibly the last regular-season game
Nebraska and Oklahoma might ever play untiltwo progressive-minded
athletic directors, who have great respect for each other and each other’s
programs, came up with a meaningful solution.
Osborne doesn’t use the word great often, but he did in
the press release to describe the traditional matchup that generally decided
conference championships and often determined national titles. “Those matchups
were always played with great intensity on the field,” Osborne said, “but with a
great deal of respect from both sides and among both fan bases.”
Osborne Tried to Keep Rivalry
Osborne lobbied vigorously but unsuccessfully for the
NU-OU rivalry to continue on an annual basis when the Big 12 was formed. He
wanted to protect what he considered to be one of the best, if not the
best rivalry in college football. The Big Ten would have found a way to make
something like that happen for two college football legends, just like the
league did for leaders Michigan and Ohio State.
NU-OU forever would have been ideal, but we’ll settle
for the only compromise on the table – the satisfaction of waiting nine years
until the next NU-OU kickoff.
I’ll be there … with bells on and ready to cheer for
all NU and OU players who were part of that 1971 game. Who knows? Come 2021,
maybe a 70-year-old Johnny Rodgers will find his way to the same end zone that
greeted the shoes that “just tore ‘em loose from the aisles” on that classic
72-yard punt return touchdown. Johnny might consider going into his Heisman
stance in Norman, but even he would change his mind.
Age, after all, is a very high price to pay for
The Jet Will Still Leave Pruitt in the
Bottom line, it’s a shame that two programs like
Nebraska and Oklahoma split up. For all of us who remember, NU-OU is one rivalry
that deserves more than two curtain calls, especially when they come 11 years
after their last game.
For someone my age, time goes by way too fast, yet in
this case, way too slow when you have to wait so long for something so
“By the time that game rolls around, we may have to
have a wheelchair derby,” Johnny the Jet quipped Thursday. “If we do, Greg
Pruitt (OU’s All-American running back and Rodgers’ friend) will want
it to be a 20-yard dash instead of a 40-yard dash. Whatever he agrees to, I’ll
beat him. I’ll spank him like a 4-year-old in K-Mart .. it’s on like buttered
Randy, you are old, but not as old as I am (65). I was a
student of Architecture at the University of Nebraska when the Game of
the Century took place...nothing new so far? The only difference is
that I am reading and writing you from Costa Rica and my tee shirts and
my red cap are probably the only ones in the country. I don't know if you knew the first thing Johnny Rodgers did right after
scoring a touchdown with his 72-yard return punt...he threw up, the
same feeling OU fans had watching that game. I was at work that day at King's Food Host on 27th Street, where I often had a
very special client stop by to enjoy one or two of our
double cheeseburgers. Jerry Tagge became my friend as well as the quarterback of the National Champions at the same time I became an architect. I remember with warmth in my heart my years in Nebraska. I was the
only foreign student in the School of Architecture and not once did I feel different or discriminated against. Those years changed my life, and I
will be grateful with you for the rest of it. Hopefully (God
permitting), we can see the Game of the Century again from Norman,
Lincoln or Costa Rica. Saludos! Carlos Arias, Enviado desde mi iPad
you, Coach Tom Osborne, for showing us Husker fans what tradition and
rivalry really mean over the years. Your effort is greatly appreciated
in restoring a two-game series between the Huskers and Sooners! GO HUSKERS! Joseph P. Sokolovsky, Fremont, Nebraska
I, too, will never forget where I was watching the Game of the Century - in Denver, at my grandma's house, where some members of the family were Colorado Buff fans rooting for Oklahoma. They admitted later that they rode our coattails to a No. 3 final rating. Reality bites, but at least they know why they were held in such high esteem. Steve Thomas, Chicago, Illinois
OU's AD may not be in Tom Osborne's league, but he's a class act. What a gesture! What great sportsmanship! May the Game of the Century be celebrated every 10 years from 2021 and beyond. Jim Adams, Omaha, Nebraska
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