Revisionist History

Revisionist history will tell you that the Nebraska/Oklahoma rivalry was one based on respect. I’m here to tell you that it wasn’t. As a Nebraska fan, I don’t miss Oklahoma. I miss hating Oklahoma.

I narrowly missed OU taking nine of ten games from Nebraska during the stretch of 1972-1980. But being born in Nebraska, the loathing of Oklahoma was innate. The PTSD that my forefathers suffered from Sooner Magic was passed down in the stories of those agonizing moments, if not the DNA.

The most harrowing of those tales was in 1978, when behind six fumble recoveries, Nebraska upset OU 17-14 in Tom Osborne’s sixth try against Barry Switzer. The monkey on Osborne’s back was evicted . . . for about six weeks. The win clinched a share of the Big 8 title and an Orange Bowl berth for NU. However, Missouri knocked off the Huskers the following week, allowing OU to share the conference crown and gave the Sooners another shot at Nebraska. Orange Bowl officials gut punched NU and paired the two rivals for a matchup in Miami. OU won the rematch 31-24.

Shortly after I was born, Mike Rozier, Irving Fryar and Turner Gill arrived at NU and turned the tide in Nebraska’s favor. But once the “Triplets,” as Switzer referred to them, were gone, OU started another run. The Sooners went to four straight Orange Bowls from ’85-’88 and our television was tuned into each one of them. My dad cheered as hard for OU to lose as he did for Nebraska to win. He cheered for Miami over Oklahoma, which was like Patton cheering for Italy over Germany. The camera would pan over to Switzer taking a drag of a lung dart on the sidelines, and Dad broadened my vocabulary with words I was not to repeat. One of those words graced hats, T-shirts and buttons and preceded “OU” on merchandise sold in our wholesome state.

At least among the Nebraska fan base, there was no “respect” for Oklahoma. In Switzer’s autobiography “Bootlegger’s Boy,” he talks about coming off of the field after another episode of Sooner Magic at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Nebraska fans (and I hate this) pride themselves in being gracious hosts, win or lose. Bobby Bowden wrote a letter to the Nebraska football coaches after Florida State upset NU in 1980, praising our fans for applauding the Seminoles as they left the field. Switzer said when he left the field, young and old alike were flipping him the bird. We hated him, we hated them, we hated the color crimson, we really hated The Boz, we hated that stupid wagon that they paraded on the field and we hated that damn “Boomer Sooner” song. Does the OU band know anything else?

To listen to Nebraska fans today, you would think that OU and NU fans gathered prior to the game for a Thanksgiving bonfire and sang “Kumbaya,” then hugged and wished each other luck before taking their seats at the stadium. That didn’t happen. What happened is we would find out which hotel the Sooners were staying, get the room numbers of star players and keep them up all night by calling every hour.

So where did the rhetoric of a respectful rivalry come from? Colorado. In 1982 Bill McCartney arrived at CU, a floundering program that had no rival. At the time, the “Big 8” conference was accurate numerically, but the adjective was misleading. There was nothing “Big” about Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State or Oklahoma State. Once in a great while, Colorado or Missouri would challenge for the conference title, but from 1968-1996, either Nebraska or Oklahoma represented the Big 8 in the Orange Bowl 21 times (22 if you count both teams in ’79). It was the Big 2 and Little 6. Subtract either Oklahoma or Nebraska from the conference and you have a sober, more boring version of the WAC.

McCartney targeted Nebraska by making the Huskers CU’s red letter game. For the Huskers it was laughable. To be a rivalry, one team couldn’t win all of the time. CU did win in 1986, a fluke. Then they won in ’89 and ’90 and forced a tie in ’91. Nebraska’s response? “Oklahoma is our rival, we just don’t like you.”

See, despite our hatred for OU, they were a beauty queen in the college football world. Our association with them boosted our credibility. CU, on the other hand, was the girl with the bad reputation. Their program lacked prestige and their fans were classless, snowball chucking drunks. Though Nebraskans hated CU as much, if not more than OU, any association with the Buffs would only drag down our own reputation.

But Colorado rose up at the right time for Nebraska. The NU/OU rivalry lost its luster when Switzer left the program in scandal after the ’87 season. Nebraska rolled OU to the tune of 69-7 in their last Big 8 matchup and 73-21 the year before. The annual game came to an end when the Big 12 was formed in 1996 as the teams were split into separate divisions.

OU had a new girlfriend in the form of Texas. They had been discretely seeing each other in the Cotton Bowl for years, but OU let Nebraska finally know where their allegiance lies. Oh well. I hear the two of them are happy and moving to the south in the near future. Meanwhile, Nebraska relocated to the Great Lakes and the success that the Huskers experienced in the Big 8, and Big 12 hasn’t followed them. Part of the problem is NU hasn’t found its OU. I mean, it’s hard to get amped for an 11:00 a.m. kickoff against Northwestern with fourth place in the West Division on the line.

It’s a different world than it was 50 years ago when Nebraska and Oklahoma played the Game of the Century. Saturday reminds me of an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” where Andy reunites with his high school sweetheart at their class reunion. Once again the sparks fly and the memories are fond, but as they spend more time together they realize why they split up in the first place.