50 years later, the Recreation of the Century resonates as Nebraska, Oklahoma rekindle light rivalry

They’re going to play a sport Saturday morning wherein the house crew is a 22-point favourite. The sport was deemed so non-competitive that the visiting crew tried to cancel it a scant six months in the past.

Overlook concerning the label as soon as affixed to essentially the most notable sport on this rivalry’s historical past: Recreation of the Century. Nebraska-Oklahoma just isn’t even the sport of the day headed into Week 3 of the 2021 faculty soccer season.

The rivalry is a shell of its former self, the threads of historical past yanked aside by time and convention realignment. A rivalry that used to measure itself in opposition to any Iron Bowl or Ten-12 months Conflict you may identify has dimmed, however it isn’t … fairly … gone.

Look into the 70-year-old eyes of Johnny Rodgers. Saturday marks the fiftieth anniversary the Recreation of the Century, which ended with No. 1 Nebraska on prime of No. 2 Oklahoma, 35-31, on Thanksgiving Day 1971.

That is why Rodgers is in Norman, Oklahoma, this week to relive and have fun and hug. The Cornhuskers’ legendary wingback from the early Seventies loves a reunion, and on this collection, Saturday’s is among the largest.

The anticipated blowout nonetheless means one thing if solely as a result of there are nonetheless two Massive Reds on the market who used to hate one another.

“I do not know if I am the one to say this,” started Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, the person who oversaw this system’s migration to the SEC this summer time. “Historical past and custom, typically that will get kicked to the curb. Typically, it is solely concerning the second.”

Nebraska and Oklahoma used to combat bitterly for turf and Orange Bowls within the previous Massive Eight. They have not met since 2010 when the Sooners squeezed out a 23-20 win within the Massive 12 Championship Recreation. Two years later, the Huskers have been within the Massive Ten. Someday within the subsequent 4 years, Oklahoma is anticipated to begin play within the SEC.

So yeah, it is loads concerning the second.

However half a century in the past, Rodgers may need made the largest play within the largest sport that featured 9 touchdowns, 829 mixed yards and went right down to the ultimate minutes. It was Rodgers’ 72-yard punt return within the first quarter which will have been the distinction in Nebraska’s victory.

“Time glided by previous,” he stated. “We actually did suppose we had one thing particular with Nebraska and Oklahoma at the moment. It was the largest sport we had ever performed in and folks had ever seen.”

Shake arms with Castiglione. As a 14-year-old in South Florida, he remembers watching the Recreation of the Century at his grandmother’s home. Again then, a 23-inch black-and-white tv was thought-about an enormous display screen.

“That was my first actual recollection watching at Oklahoma soccer sport,” Castiglione stated. “That is after I turned aware of Oklahoma. It was that sport.”

When he was launched as OU’s eleventh athletic director in 1998, Castiglione famous in his introduction that quantity matched the uniform of Jack Mildren, Oklahoma’s quarterback within the Recreation of the Century.

When it was revealed Nebraska coach Scott Frost had tried to drop Oklahoma earlier this yr for Previous Dominion or New Mexico State to select up a simple win, Castiglione’s jaw dropped.

“Dissatisfied wasn’t the appropriate phrase,” he stated. “It was surreal. It did not make any sense.”

You do not play catch with effective china. You do not put on white to a mud combat.

Nebraska-Oklahoma is a jewel that should not be scratched. Not less than not the one which shone so brightly for many years earlier than the annual conferences stopped greater than a decade in the past.

Have a drink with Barry Switzer. Sports activities Illustrated legends Dan Jenkins and Bud Shrake definitely did that week. That is one in all Switzer’s fondest recollections from the Recreation of the Century: going out in town.

As for the precise sport, Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator that day nonetheless laments not getting the ball extra to halfback Greg Pruitt, a two-time All-American. Switzer went on to win three nationwide championships in 16 seasons at OU’s head coach, however name him this week, and it is what did not occur that Thanksgiving Day a half a century in the past that also bothers him.

“Tracks meets each week,” Switzer recalled of the Sooners dashing offense that also holds the single-season file at 472 yards per sport. “That may by no means be damaged. Simply take into consideration that: 472 yards per sport.”

On that uncooked, 47-degree day, the halfback who completed third in Heisman Trophy voting after averaging 9 yards per carry that season, contributed solely 53 yards on 10 rushes.

“I used to be a younger offensive coordinator. I most likely ought to have made certain Greg Pruitt carried it 25 instances,” Switzer stated.

There have been no different goats that day, solely G.O.A.T.S. Nebraska’s offensive coordinator, Tom Osborne, had two nationwide championships on his resume earlier than he changed Bob Devaney — the beloved Bobfather — as coach in 1973.

Huskers center guard Wealthy Glover posted a defensive efficiency for the ages: 22 tackles going in opposition to All-America middle Tom Brahaney, who went on to play 9 NFL seasons.

Nebraska I-back Jeff Kinney etched himself into program historical past with 171 yards and 4 touchdowns. Midway by way of the primary quarter, Mildren was taking part in together with his jersey midway ripped off. The longer term lieutenant governor of the state carried it 31 instances for 130 yards, accounting for 4 touchdowns himself.

“It was most likely the best offensive soccer sport I’ve ever seen,” Alabama coach Bear Bryant, who already had 4 nationwide championships to his identify, stated on ABC’s postgame present.

Bear would bear witness. Nebraska went on to thrash Alabama 38-6 within the Orange Bowl to clinch a second consecutive nationwide title.

The Recreation of the Century was that huge, that surprising, that incredible. Kinney scored the game-winning landing with 98 seconds left. Rodgers stored the successful drive alive catching a third-and-8 move from Jerry Tagge, inches from the bottom, at Oklahoma’s 35.

“Our rule was, when you contact, you may catch it,” stated Rodgers, who gained the 1972 Heisman. “I caught it.”

Look it up; the grainy footage continues to be there. Over the 5 many years since, the “Recreation of the Century” label has been tossed round like unfastened change. However Saturday’s anniversary reminds there may be nonetheless just one. The nation’s No. 1 offense (Oklahoma) went up in opposition to the nation’s No. 1 protection (Nebraska).

Fifty-five million individuals watched on ABC, the biggest faculty soccer viewers at the moment. The telecast was laden with automotive commercials, not an excessive amount of completely different than at this time. The primary advert was for Brylcreem. (Ask your grandfather.)

Two ABC broadcasters referred to Oklahoma’s Owen Subject as “Owen Stadium.” Analyst Bud Wilkinson, Oklahoma’s legendary former coach, was prescient. He broke down Nebraska’s I-formation offense noting it typically shifted into “the unfold.” The graphic confirmed a four-receiver set that’s all too acquainted in 2021.

The wishbone, utilized by Oklahoma, was nonetheless new, adopted by coach Chuck Fairbanks on the urging of Switzer.

“We would have been that good in 1970 if Chuck had let me go to it within the spring,” Switzer stated. “It was one thing about copying Texas. If it really works, who provides a shit?”

You would set your soccer clock to Nebraska-Oklahoma. They performed 86 instances, yearly from 1921 to 2010. It was a time when coaches have been gods, not residing belief funds. Osborne used to make filibustering a effective science, happening the whole roster in preseason pressers so he would not should reply questions.

That was the polar reverse of Switzer, who as soon as held courtroom with writers at Kansas Metropolis’s Union Station the evening earlier than the 2003 Massive 12 Championship Recreation. His wingman that evening was a fur-coat carrying Tony Casillas, a defensive sort out who gained championships taking part in for Switzer at Oklahoma and with the Dallas Cowboys.

There was the 1987 sport known as “Recreation of the Century II”. No. 1 Oklahoma beat No. 2 Nebraska, 17-7, finally shedding the nationwide championship to Miami within the Orange Bowl. There was the 2001 sport when Eric Crouch just about gained the Heisman in October. Nebraska’s quarterback caught a 63-yard landing move.

Osborne turned the Nebraska AD, then a U.S. Senator. He was the impetus behind the Texas-loathing transfer to the Massive Ten. How has that one labored out?

Nebraska has misplaced its means exterior the Massive 12.

5 many years in the past, the Massive Eight was the nation’s strongest convention, and it wasn’t shut. The league completed the season with groups ranked No. 1 (Nebraska), No. 2 (Oklahoma) and No. 3 (Colorado). The Thanksgiving Day sport marked solely the fifth such No. 1 vs. No. 2 sport ever. That is routine today given the BCS and Faculty Soccer Playoff.

“… it’s unimaginable to stir the pages of historical past and discover one wherein each groups carried out so reputably for thus lengthy all through the day,” Jenkins wrote in his sport account the subsequent week. He was proper.

The stakes have been so excessive, Nebraska introduced its personal consumables to Oklahoma simply to keep away from meals poisoning.

“We do not wish to take any possibilities on something,” Rodgers stated.

Rodgers claimed to have by no means truthful caught a kick or punt. He definitely did not on this sport, returning the opening kickoff from 6 yards deep in the long run zone. On punts, Rodgers theorized, defenses would commerce a 15-yard private foul by hitting him early reasonably than danger an extended return.

“Fifteen yards was a smaller quantity than what I’d have gotten had I returned it,” Rodgers stated.

It was a distinct TV age. In these days, solely a handful of video games have been aired. Cable TV was nonetheless about 9 years away. Nebraska-Oklahoma was adopted by Georgia-Georgia Tech at evening. The Heisman was awarded at halftime of the latter sport. Two days later, it was Military-Navy and Auburn-Alabama. That was it.

Saturday’s sport shall be a part of the standard 12-hour blizzard of televised matchups. By the top of the day and the anticipated Oklahoma rout, historical past could also be however a footnote.

Ten years in the past, when Nebraska was making its means from the Massive 12 to the Massive Ten, Oklahoma’s Castiglione wished to seize a bit of that historical past. He approached Osborne, then Nebraska AD, with a proposition: Let’s play once more.

It turned out the primary opening for each groups was Saturday, 50 years after the Recreation of the Century. The Cornhuskers will get a return sport in Lincoln, Nebraska, subsequent yr.

However on Friday evening, they’ll snort, drink, shake arms and speak about historical past that also must be talked about 5 many years later.

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