Thanks NU AD Tom Osborne and OU AD Joe Castiglione for renewing series.
By Randy York
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 Century.
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 TV
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 the country.
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, Emotions
“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, NU
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 until two 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 Going
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 maturity.
The Jet Will Still Leave Pruitt in the Dust
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 interesting.
“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 popcorn.”
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