ARLINGTON, Texas — Most agree that this is the way Oklahoma’s and Nebraska’s days as conference rivals should end: a season-ending game for the conference championship. That’s what made Sooner-Husker games so meaningful for decades. The 15-year football history of the Big 12 Conference will end when the two historic programs meet at 7 tonight at Cowboys Stadium.
The history hasn’t been lost on either the Sooners (10-2) or the Huskers (10-2).
“We talked about it in our Monday scout report ,how many times through the years this game decided the Big Eight championship, and you want them to appreciate it,” OU coach Bob Stoops said Friday afternoon at the final press conference before the game.
“I have not addressed that much with our team,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “Our team is well aware of everything that kind of goes with the rivalry. It’s a tremendous rivalry that’s been going on between OU and Nebraska for a long time. Just because of the tremendous tradition with the two institutions.”
Any attempt to hide from it was hard this week for either team. Turning on a television, listening to a radio, reading a newspaper, checking out a sports-related website or even walking down a street in Norman or Lincoln, Neb., meant hearing about what OU-Nebraska games have meant.
The day before the game was no different.
History was the topic of the day and it went much deeper than the 86th meeting between OU and Nebraska and the 21st that will decide a conference championship. There is the history between the Stoops and Pelini families that runs deep back in the hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
Sitting in the crowd for Pelini’s press conference was Ron Stoops, Jr., the oldest of the Stoops brothers and a defensive backs coach at Youngstown State.
As soon as Pelini walked off the dais, there was a handshake and hug for the Husker coach from the Sooner coach’s brother. The coaches shared one as well.
“You know, we obviously share a lot of mutual friends,” Pelini said.
Friends whose loyalties get tested when Stoops and Pelini meet. The Nebraska coach admitted he’d prefer not having to face his friends on the football field.
“The good part of it when you’re in a game like this is one of you has to win, so one of you is going to win a championship,” Stoops said. “That part of it, when you’re playing in a championship game, is good.”
But unless it’s in a national championship game, there won’t be any more Sooner-Husker games for championships in the foreseeable future.
The tapestry of a great rivalry, woven together by great games and great players will run out tonight. The Huskers begin play in the Big Ten Conference next season.
Most conference members have taken their shots at Nebraska for the defection. OU hasn’t been among that group. The history and the relationship between the schools run too deep.
“Maybe that’s the case,” Stoops said when asked whether the Sooners are carrying the conference banner tonight. “I’ll take all the good vibrations I can get.”
John Shinn 366-3536 firstname.lastname@example.org