Saturday’s Big 12 championship game will be a historic affair. Texas and Oklahoma will meet for the Big 12 title for the first time since the conference was established in 1996, and the contest at AT&T Stadium in Arlington will mark the first time Texas and Oklahoma play twice in one season since 1903. The matchup has significant historical implications.
The grudge match will affect more than bragging rights. Oklahoma has a strong chance to make the College Football Playoff with a victory. Barring an Alabama loss to Georgia or the committee salivating over an Ohio State blowout of Northwestern, the Sooners’ revenge will come with a second-straight playoff appearance. Texas’s stakes aren’t as high. It’s nearly-impossible for the Longhorns to jump from No. 14 to No. 4 in the CFP rankings, but a win does put them in the Sugar Bowl, which would be their first New Year’s Six bowl since losing the BCS championship to Alabama to 2009. Beating Oklahoma twice and sending the Sooners packing from the playoff would be a sweet double dip for the burnt orange.
Even with the potential playoff implications, don’t assume Saturday’s matchup is the most important in the Red River Rivalry’s 113-game history. So which previous games are in the conversation with Saturday’s Big 12 championship? Here are the five best games in the history of Texas vs. Oklahoma.
1984: Texas 15, Oklahoma 15
The 79th iteration of the Red River Rivalry marks the only time Texas and Oklahoma were the top two teams in the nation. The Sooners stormed back in the second half to take a 15–10 lead over No. 1 Texas, but head coach Barry Switzer’s decision to take a safety with 2:10 remaining quickly backfired. Longhorns kicker Jeff Ward booted a 32-yard field goal as time expired, keeping the Longhorns’ season alive in a driving rainstorm at the Cotton Bowl. The Sooners didn’t have to suffer a season of torment, though. Texas lost four of its last five games, capped by a 55–17 defeat to Iowa in the Cotton Bowl.
2008: Texas 45, Oklahoma 35
The best Red River Rivalry matchup of the century pitted a pair of high-octane 5–0 squads. Sam Bradford led the No. 1 Sooners, facing off against Colt McCoy and the No. 5 Longhorns. Bradford lit up the scoreboard, throwing for 387 yards and five touchdowns. But wasn’t enough against the Longhorns. Wide receiver Jordan Shipley reversed Texas’s fortunes with a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown in the second quarter, producing one of the best highlights in the rivalry’s history.
Oklahoma got the last laugh at the end of the regular season. While the Longhorns defeated the Sooners in October, they lost to Texas Tech in November on the infamous Michael Crabtree catch. Oklahoma created a one-loss triangle after beating the previously-undefeated Red Raiders. And with three Big 12 teams sporting one loss, Oklahoma got tabbed for the BCS national championship game. The second chance didn’t result in Bob Stoops’s second championship, as Florida cruised to a 24–14 win.
1994: Texas 17, Oklahoma 10
While Red River Showdowns in this decade have been defined by offensive explosions, 1994 gave Dallas fans the best defensive play in rivalry history. The Longhorns led Oklahoma by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, trying to hold on as Oklahoma marched into the red zone in the final minute. The Sooners stood four yards from the Cotton Bowl’s south end zone with 43 seconds remaining, facing a fourth-and-goal. Head coach Gary Gibbs dove into his playbook and called a reverse, and running back James Allen was stood up at the one-yard-line by an unlikely defender, 343-pound defensive tackle Stonie Clark. The highlight is remembered as the “stone-cold stop”, the kind of play you don’t expect to see on Saturday.
2004: Oklahoma 12, Texas 0
In another battle of unbeatens, No. 5 Texas failed to score on No. 2 Oklahoma in Vince Young’s second Cotton Bowl appearance. The Longhorns’ legend threw for just 86 yards on 23 attempts and averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. Oklahoma, however, didn’t have such trouble on the ground. Adrian Peterson exploded for 225 yards on 32 carries, one of three 200-plus yard games in his freshman season, to lead Oklahoma’s fifth-straight win over Texas. Young wouldn’t lose again in college, winning 20 straight, including the 2005 national title game.
1976: Texas 6, Oklahoma 6
The drama off the field outpaced the action on it, featuring a bitter feud between Texas head coach Darrell Royal and Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer. Royal—who had lost five straight to Oklahoma—accused Switzer of spying on Texas practices, and challenged Switzer to take a lie detector test. Don’t expect Tom Herman and Lincoln Riley to do the same on Saturday.
The early-week bluster didn’t dissipate on gameday. President Gerald Ford held a chat between the two coaches before the coin toss, but neither would address the other in an icy détente. Neither team generated much offense after kickoff, ending in a 6–6 tie. The Sooners tied the game with 1:38 to play, finding the end zone on a one-yard run. But kicker Uwe Von Schamann didn’t get a chance to put the Sooners over the top, as a botched snap flew over the head of Oklahoma’s holder. It was the third tie in series history, but not the last.