NORMAN — Judging by the pregame jawing, one might be shocked to learn that Oklahoma and Nebraska hadn’t met for more than a decade.
One of the great rivalries in college football history was renewed on Saturday in Norman, and the game lived up to the billing.
When the dust settled, Oklahoma emerged the 23-16 victors, but the tone was set during pregame warmups on the field.
On two different occasions, once as Nebraska emerged from its locker room and once at midfield right before the Sooners returned to their lockers for the final time, players from the two Big Reds came together, kicking up the intensity of the contest as the coaches and referees were left to separate them.
Despite the rivalry being dormant for so long, senior safety Pat Fields said the game ranked right near the top when it comes to his favorite rivalry game memories at Oklahoma.
“I think my two personal favorite games are 2019 when we played Texas in the Red River Rivalry – our first year of Speed D – and I think this one is right up there,” Fields said after the game. “I'm an Oklahoma kid, so I grew up like, knowing (Nebraska rivalry) history. Even if you didn't know it, like, this whole entire week you've seen what OU-Nebraska is.
“You see Fox (Big Noon Kickoff) setting things up. And we're obviously the football players on campus, so like, everybody in class if kind of whispering. You know what I mean? You sense and you feel the buildup all week.”
In today’s age of college football, TV dollars dominate the sport and how decisions are made from the top.
It made financial sense for the Big Eight to expand to 12, in turn dealing a major blow to OU-Nebraska. The Big 12 didn’t have the foresight to protect the rivalry regardless of divisions, much like Alabama and Tennessee in the SEC, ending the yearly holiday meeting between the two sides.
Then a pair of down times, the '90s for Oklahoma and the turn of the century for Nebraska, eroded the national implications of the rivalry, save for a pair of meetings in the early 2000s.
Finally, in another financial maneuver, the Cornhuskers departed for the Big Ten, driving the final nail in the coffin between the two schools.
A game played by a group of players who were mostly in elementary school when the contest was announced rekindled good memories, slugging it out in Norman to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the Game of the Century.
Despite entering as 22.5-point underdogs, Scott Frost’s Nebraska Cornhuskers put in their most inspired performance of the season, in large part due to the magnitude of the game for the two programs.
“No matter what people say on the outside, they aren’t playing it,” OU quarterback Spencer Rattler said after the game. “It was a big rivalry game. They were going to give it their best. They gave it their best.”
After the game, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley said he expected nothing less than a battle from the contest.
“It was just a hard-fought game,” he said. “You knew it would be. There’s a lot of pride in these two programs. Both these programs have won a lot of games, a lot of championships. To bring this game back, I think everybody sensed how special it would be. Both teams rose to the occasion and gave us a great college football game.”
Saturday’s spectacle was more than just a week of buildup. Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione has been meticulously planning the occasion since the home-and-home series was announced all the way back in 2012, and in a rare occurrence, the stars aligned and the close contest was a game worthy of the hype and fanfare.
“You see the Fox stuff being built and then you get to the game and you feel the emotions,” Fields said. “You see Bob Stoops getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. You see Trae Young here. You know what I mean?
“So, it's like everybody felt it. Even if you didn't grow up here and even if you kind of didn't know, everybody felt it. Even for like the recruits, the recruits are probably like 'Hey man, this is different’.”
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