NORMAN — Clichés describe rivalries.
When certain teams play, you can “throw out the records” and “rankings don’t matter.”
When it comes to Oklahoma-Nebraska, their rivalry is different. The rivalry, when it was in peak form in the 1970s and 1980s, was always about records, rankings and, most importantly, championships.
From 1971-1988, only twice was either team ranked lower than No. 11 for their traditional Thanksgiving weekend meeting. During that period, the winner claimed the old Big Eight Conference’s berth in the Orange Bowl 14 times.
It’s fitting the ninth-ranked Sooners (10-2) and the 13th-ranked Huskers (10-2) will meet for the final time as conference foes for what their rivalry has always been about — conference championships.
“Couldn’t be better. It’s really exciting,” OU coach Bob Stoops said Monday. “I grew up watching the series like everyone else. The tradition, the history, the rivalry. It goes back a long way with a lot of special players, coaches and games. To be a part of it in this situation is really special. It’ll be an exciting week.”
Stoops turned 50 this year. His passion for college football predates the formation of the Big 12 Conference (1996). People who followed college football prior to the 1990s have a certain gleam in their eye this week.
But the players who will be playing Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, weren’t around for the rivarly’s heyday.
“For me personally, I didn’t really grow up watching college football. I didn’t really watch Oklahoma-Nebraska,” Nebraska tight end Mike McNeill said. “For our fans, I know it’s a big deal. For this state, it’s a big deal.
I think in that essence, it’s big rivalry and it will obviously be a good game. As far as the way we’re looking at it, it’s just the next game on the schedule.”
Times have changed, the schools play in different divisions with Nebraska shifting to the Big Ten Conference next season. It’s hard to have an intense rivalry against a team you don’t face every season.
“Ever since the Big 12 became the north and the south, it hasn’t been as much of a rivalry because we don’t play each other every year,” Nebraska defensive back DeJon Gomes said. “I know last year it was more of the fans getting up for the rivalry than the players.”
Saturday’s game will mark the program’s second in the Big 12 title game, but that meeting in 2006 was the last time both teams were even ranked heading into the game.
The schools don’t share a geographic border. The fans don’t spend time in each other’s state. The programs compete in recruiting every year, but not on more than a handful of players. OU wages many more battles for players with Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.
Even the fans have treated each other with respect over the years. When the teams met in 2008 and 2009, former players from both teams were given standing ovations at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln and Owen Field.
The Sooner and Husker Nations share the same history.
“Anytime you play a rival it’s going to be a big game, especially all of the big games OU and Nebraska played back in the day. It’s also about a Big 12 championship,” OU defensive end Jeremy Beal said. “You’re trying to win that. It’s a rivalry and a Big 12 championship on top of each other.”
In that sense, Beal fully grasps the tradition of OU-Nebraska games. They’re not about bragging rights or being able to wear a certain shade of red with a little more pride.
It’s about championships. To great programs, they’re the only thing that matter. OU and Nebraska figured that out a long time ago.
John Shinn 366-3536 email@example.com