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COMMENTARY

Shatel: Man, woman and child! It's time again for Nebraska-Oklahoma

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Tom Osborne

Maybe there will be a Tom Osborne-Barry Switzer reunion when Nebraska and Oklahoma meet again next week.

This one’s for me. Maybe it’s for you, too. Maybe not.

It starts in the Oklahoma locker room, where a younger version of myself was looking for winning quarterback Jamelle Holieway.

Around the corner came coach Barry Switzer, with three good-looking dudes. The Sooner backfield?

“Hey Tom, meet ‘Earth, Wind and Fire,’” Switzer said.

You wouldn’t meet Earth, Wind and Fire in the Nebraska locker room. Not even Neil Diamond.

It’s Oklahoma Week, again, and most of you know what that means.

We’ll round up the usual suspects, starting with the 1971 Game of the Century — an oldie that should be playing on Turner Classic Movies.

You’ll hear about Johnny Rodgers and the greatest return in history, the alleged clip, Jeff Kinney’s torn jersey and pickup trucks and cream gravy for breakfast.

You’ll hear about John Ruud introducing himself to Kelly Phelps, Rick Berns dodging oranges in the end zone, Billy Sims and Jim Pillen falling on a legacy.

There’s Buster Rhymes sprinting down the sideline in 1980, backup Mark Mauer saving the day in 1981, Neil Harris saving the season in 1983.

And Broderick Thomas’ famous key to “our house,” which worked until Switzer changed the locks.

You’ll hear how for nearly two decades, Oklahoma-Nebraska was the game of the year in college football, how writers from every city knew Norman and Lincoln so well they had favorite bars and restaurants.

You’ll hear how it was more of a Greek saga than a rivalry, a clash of titans who were polar opposites: irresistible Switzer vs. immovable Tom Osborne. How they pushed each other up the ladder to greatness.

You might see a video where Switzer brought a bag of tacos to the Bob Devaney show the night before a game on TV, see a photo of Osborne on his knees, pounding the turf in anger in one Husker-Sooner clash.

You might hear some bar room historians say the classic era ended in 1988, Switzer’s last year. But there were memorable moments in the Big 12. Josh Heupel’s magic in 2000. Eric Crouch making a stadium shake in 2001.

There were moments the old rivalry let itself go, like the 1997 blowout in Lincoln when NU coaches stopped by the OU coaches’ booth at halftime to show them how to stop the option. True story.

I suppose some are looking at next week’s game in Norman as the bookend to that one.

Bottom line: Everyone of a certain age will be going on about their favorite memory this week. Let them go. Patronize us.

My favorite memory, one that defines this series, wasn’t a play or a quote. It was the opening line to a Mike Kelly column after a particularly brutal loss to Oklahoma in the 1980s.

“It’s OK to cry.”

I love this series. It’s my favorite thing in sports. I have a wall in my home office dedicated to it, including a photo of Switzer interrupting Osborne’s pregame radio interview before one of the games.

But sorry, Mike, I’m not that emotional about this reunion.

Maybe it’s all that distance. Maybe it’s how Oklahoma ended the annual series in 1996 and Nebraska tried to get out of this game last spring.

Maybe it’s OU moving to the SEC, and soon neither old rival will be connected to the league they once defined.

I can’t wait to drive down Lindsey Street to Memorial Stadium/Owen Field again. But I don’t know many people there anymore.

Hey, it’s been 13 years since NU last played in the land of the Ruf Necks and the Sooner Schooner.

This series has moved to the classic channel in our memories, a place where the older we get, the better it was.

A place where the younger generation doesn’t understand the fuss.

The younger fans probably didn’t mind that much when NU tried to bag this game. To them, OU is a machine that wins the Big 12 annually and has a Heisman Trophy winner or candidate every year.

Nebraska, well, they know.

Hopefully the young folks will at least pretend to listen as we break out the Switzer stories this week and the TV types and radio talk shows roll out the videos and the Game of the Century guests.

We hold these memories dear. These stories are our heirlooms. Many grew up on this series, the scarlet and crimson and gray skies. To them, this is Nebraska football, or one that they choose to remember.

Not to be flippant, but the younger set can’t appreciate the concept.

Nebraska hasn’t had a rivalry or series that has come close. There hasn’t been a time when you would write “Go ahead and cry” after a game in the past 30 years.

Not Miami. Not Florida State. Not Colorado.

That emotion, that intensity, belongs to one rival. One game.

Now there’s potential in the Big Ten West. Iowa and Wisconsin evoke certain emotions.

The games need to mean something. The key ingredient to any rivalry is pain. It needs to be felt. Both ways.

Maybe over time one will develop. First Nebraska needs to get itself back in the game, in the big games. Play for something.

I hope so, because every generation deserves to have those games, those feelings, pain, euphoria, the champagne and scars that last forever.

And mostly the ability to tell boring, old stories of glory days to the next generation coming up.

Man, woman and child, have a great week.


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