- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - When Charlie Strong leads Texas through the Cotton Bowl tunnel to play No. 11 Oklahoma, he’ll get his first taste of one of the fiercest rivalries in college football.

He’ll hear the sounds of the State Fair and get his first whiff of the aromas of the corny dogs and turkey legs and the latest hot item off the midway: funnel cake beer.

Saturday will also be Strong’s first matchup as a head coach against the Sooners’ Bob Stoops, whose 15-year rivalry with Mack Brown tended to overshadow the legions of future NFL players who did the blocking, tackling and scoring touchdowns on the field.

Brown was 6-9 against Stoops and took a beating from fans and media mostly for how he lost. Lopsided Oklahoma wins of 63-14, 65-13, 55-17 and 63-21 rank among the worst defeats in Longhorns history and scarred Brown’s legacy in Texas’ most important rivalry.

In his weekly news conference, a reporter reminded Strong of how much criticism his predecessor took over this game, and given Texas’ 2-3 start this year, seemed to be setting him up for more of the same.

Strong took it in stride.

“So you’re saying I’m going to get killed?” Strong asked with a laugh.

Brown and Stoops were always careful to not make the game a personal grudge match, at least publicly. In the summer of 1999, Brown sent Stoops flowers as congratulations after the birth of Stoops’ twin sons.

But the rivalry quickly turned with the 63-14 blowout in 2000, the first of five consecutive Oklahoma victories.

For the record, Strong said this week he likes Stoops, and called him a “good person.” Stoops said he’s got “great respect for Charlie Strong and the way he coaches.”

They come from similar roots. Both won national championships as defensive coordinators at Florida before earning their first head coaching jobs. They coached against each other when Strong’s Gators beat Oklahoma in the 2009 BCS championship game.

“We’re really good friends. I respect him and the job he’s done there in Oklahoma,” Strong said. “He’s an unbelievable coach.”

The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry is seldom so friendly. It turned quite bitter between former coaches Darrell Royal and Barry Switzer, even though it didn’t start that way.

In 1970, Royal’s Texas teams were dominating opponents - Oklahoma included - with the wishbone offense. Royal then agreed to send assistant Emory Bellard up to Norman to teach the offense to the Sooners.

The lesson may have been the biggest mistake of Royal’s Hall of Fame career. Switzer beat the tutor at his own game as Oklahoma ran off five consecutive victories. In 1976, his final season, Royal accused Switzer and Oklahoma of spying on Texas practices in what became a bitter public spat.

Even with the lopsided losses, Brown reveled in the spectacle of the rivalry at the Cotton Bowl. Strong noticed this week he’s coached in some pretty big rivalries before he came Texas, most notably Florida-Georgia, dubbed the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” and Florida-Florida State.

Strong said he wants to embrace the emotions of the rivalry and won’t try to treat it as just another game.

“You’ve got to be a step faster, you’ve got to hit a little harder,” Strong said. “This is just one of those special games that has so much significance to it that we have to get out and go play well.”

Strong was asked if he was told when he was hired if he had to beat Oklahoma to keep his job.

“They told me I had to do more than beat Oklahoma,” Strong said.

AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma contributed to this report.

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