Even as Oklahoma’s annual marquee non-conference games go, this week stands out.
“I think you can feel that there's something unique and special about this game,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said on Thursday.
OU can play Tennessee and LSU and Miami and Washington and even Alabama and Notre Dame every year. But nothing gets Sooner Nation stirred up quite like Nebraska has.
Not only has it been 11 years since the old rivals have rekindled the fight, but this week’s game — Saturday, 11 a.m. at Owen Field — is a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1971 “Game of the Century.”
So many stories, back stories and tales of yor have surfaced or resurfaced this week. There have been more players interviewed from a game that was played five decades ago than there have been players interviewed from this week’s game.
Riley said the pageantry of it all actually hasn’t detracted from or even cut into his team’s usual (and highly regimented) routine of game week preparation.
“Other than a few minutes in a team meeting,” he said. “I don't know, honestly, that this changed one part of my week for our guys. And I don't say that to knock down the importance of this game or the rivalry or the history at all.”
Riley emphasized that history is nice — even a 35-31 loss in a 1 versus 2 showdown half a century ago — but his focus is on making new history.
“Our job is to make sure that this year's version of this team and fans and everybody that loves Oklahoma has a great memory this year,” he said. “And that's our job. So, we've been trying to keep our focus there.”
While these kinds of games are good to educate the current OU players and coaches on the stature of the program of which they’re stewards, Riley said the Sooners' rich heritage is never something that gets lost inside the Switzer Center.
“I know how important OU football is to our fans in this state — and, I mean, people all over the country and really all over the world,” Riley said. “So I don't feel like I've ever really lost that. I mean, I think a week like this, more than anything, just helps remind you of the history.
“I think it just continues to add, for me, a greater appreciation of all those that came before us and all that this program’s been able to do throughout the years. Yeah, just probably, more than anything, fuels me to want to make sure I do my part that we continue to put this program in a good position and continue to make it one that people are proud of.”
Participants from both sides of the 1971 game are descending on Norman this weekend. They’ll attend various functions, including a grand reunion, that they’ve been looking forward to for years. And all week, both athletic departments have put together stirring social media and video tributes — not just to 1971, but to the enduring excellence and unparalleled intensity of the rivalry.
“Yeah, it’s been cool, you know, just seeing all the different things coming out around the game,” Riley said. “And again, I think everybody on both sides of the fence here, you know, understands and appreciate what this is and the fact we haven't had this for a long time. And so it's kind of cool seeing all the different things come together for the game.”
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