- Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph are pals. So are a host of other Oklahoma and Oklahoma State players. But between the lines, the rivalry is still bitter.
One year ago, the Oklahoma Sooners made a statement.
Baker Mayfield, Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas—the Sooners' three shot-callers—elected to shave fu manchu mustaches ahead of their tilt with in-state rival Oklahoma State. As is the case this time around, it was Bedlam, and the Big 12 championship was on the line.
"Me and Baker (Mayfield) and Cody Thomas shaved fu manchus just as kind of a symbol—just having fun—that we were the only outlaws," Knight, who transferred to Texas A&M in 2016, said. "We were the only cowboys in the state."
It was the type of statement you make when you don't like the guys on the other side. And make no mistake, these two sides don't like each other. Every year, the first week of December divides the state of Oklahoma along blood lines, crimson and orange. But most of the animosity comes from those that aren't active participants in the game itself.
As far as the players on the field are concerned, Cowboys and Sooners are Bedlam buddies.
"It was kind of a cool deal," Knight said. "Coming out of high school one of my best friends growing up— we played little league ball and all the way through high school—ended up going to play receiver at Oklahoma State, and so that was kind of the initial connection."
Knight and Oklahoma State wide receiver Austin Hays were friends in elementary school, they were friends up through high school and still remain friends now despite the fact that Knight has since moved to College Station. When they both called Oklahoma home, they made it a point to go see each other as often as possible.
"That first summer we were up there, we'd make the trip to Stillwater and he'd come down to Norman just to hang out," Knight said.
Knight wouldn't go alone either. He'd bring guys like center Ty Darlington and quarterback Baker Mayfield on that 90-mile drive up I-35. When Hays would visit, he'd bring his own crew, like offensive tackle Zach Crabtree and quarterback Mason Rudolph.
"Over time we got to know his friends and he got to know ours and relationships formed," Knight said.
One of those relationships just happened to be between two of the best the Big 12 has to offer: Rudolph and Mayfield.
Last year, during Spring Break, the group traveled to Florida to vacation together. They rented out a house and had more fun than any rivals are really supposed to have together. They still travel back and forth—now even making the occasional trip down into Texas to see Knight—and continue to draw new people into an ever-growing network of friends that shouldn't be.
Rudolph and Mayfield have ascended to the top of the list when it comes to quarterbacks, and they've grown close. Bonds that have been born out of shared experiences and mutual respect for each other.
"You love the guys on the other side when you become friends with them because you know they go through the same stuff that you do," Mayfield said. "They put in the time and the effort and the work so it's fun to know that they're doing the same thing."
Coaches aren't about to break up the party either.
"It's hard to do what these guys do," Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma's offensive coordinator, said. "It's really, really hard and if you haven't been in it then you can't understand it."
If you think the two sides being friendly off the field makes for a lesser rivalry you'd be wrong. On Saturday, when the lights are brightest and the stakes are highest, competition won't yield to friendship, not between two guys that have grown as close as brothers.
"When it comes down to it it's like playing your brother or your sibling," Mayfield said with a smile. "You never want to lose and they're the exact same way so it makes it intense on the field.
"We're going to be friends after (the game) but until that point it's competition."
Knight will be back in Norman Saturday, watching his buddies duke it out for the Big 12 crown. Every member of the group will be fighting to win, to beat the other, to earn bragging rights. The friendships won't matter for 60 minutes.
Want proof? Look no further than the fu manchu mustaches Mayfield and Knight will proudly be displaying yet again, telling those friends on the other side of the Bedlam divide that there can only be one.
Derek Peterson is SI's campus correspondent for the University of Oklahoma. Follow him on Twitter.