Nebraska-Oklahoma a blast from the past
LINCOLN, NEB. (AP) - Something will be lost after Nebraska and Oklahoma square off on the football field Saturday night _ something intangible yet dear to the traditionalists who get sentimental about a bygone era when the two teams were titans of the old Big Eight Conference.
To a younger generation of fans and players, the final Big 12 championship game will decide which team goes to the Fiesta Bowl and which goes to the Alamo or Insight Bowl. They don’t, and can’t, understand what Nebraska-Oklahoma means to older folks, those who remember tear-away jerseys and actually watching Johnny Rodgers and Greg Pruitt play live, not on some grainy video.
Rodgers‘ punt return in the 1971 Game of the Century? That’s so last century.
“Back in the day,” Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead said, “I guess it was a big-time game.”
Yes, it was. The 45-and-older crowd can remember all the classic moments in the traditional Thanksgiving week games that decided the Big Eight championship all but three seasons between 1970-88. Both programs have had down cycles since. Now they meet one more time, not on a cold afternoon in Lincoln or Norman but indoors at the billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“It’s just fitting it’s us two here at the end,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.
Nebraska and Oklahoma have been in the same conference every year since 1928, when they and Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Missouri joined to form the Big Six. Colorado came along in 1948 to make it the Big Seven, and Oklahoma State’s entry in 1960 created the Big Eight.
Next year, Nebraska leaves the Sooners and the rest behind for the Big Ten. Colorado is going away, too, to join what will be the Pacific-12.
“This is it. This is definitely the parting,” said the 59-year-old Rodgers, his “Johnny the Jet” days well behind him. “When the Big Eight was the Big Eight, during our time, it was the toughest conference in the country.”
In 1971, the year before Rodgers won the Heisman Trophy, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado finished 1-2-3 in the final Associated Press poll. National championships often were decided in the Orange Bowl, back when the Big Eight had an automatic tie-in with the bowl.
The Big 12 formed in 1996 with the Big Eight and four Southwest Conference members, splitting into North and South divisions. The division alignment more or less ended the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry since they played only two times every four years.
The Big 12 has had its moments, with Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas having won national titles in football. But Switzer said the league hasn’t been as powerful as the old Big Eight, in part because of scholarship limitations that led to the dispersal of talent.
“I know this: Without Nebraska in the league, I just don’t know how they can sell it anymore,” Switzer said. “Losing Nebraska is a hell of a blow.”
Switzer said Oklahoma, Texas and possibly Texas A&M are the only drawing cards when commissioner Dan Beebe negotiates what he promises will be a more lucrative television contract in the spring.