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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Oct. 27, 2000)
Former wearers of scarlet and crimson cherish NU-OU rivalry
It was probably
one of the sweetest
for Nebraska’s football
program and its
coach, Tom Osborne.
The fact Osborne
had finally one
upped Switzer and
Oklahoma surely was
n’t lost on anyone in
the Nebraska pro
gram on the joyous
day when Osborne’s
teiepnone rang wun me gooa news.
Word came to Osborne from then-Nebraska
Defensive Coordinator Lance Van Zandt that a Texas
prep star quarterback named Turner Gill was going
to sign a letter of intent with the Comhuskers and
not the Sooners.
Perhaps this option-magician Gill would ease
the minds of Husker fans who were growing restless
with Osborne’s unsuccessful 1-8 record against the
Osborne and Van Zandt weren’t about to take a
chance on losing Gill to some late Switzer sweet
They had good reason to worry. Switzer had
taken a speedy road trip to Gill’s house with
Oklahoma Baseball Coach Enos Semore, who was
interested in Gill the baseball player.
“They were at my house all afternoon and all
night, “ Gill said of OU’s coaches. “They just wanted
one more chance to talk.”
To keep OU’s coach from getting too close to Gill,
Van Zandt hid out with Gill at a friend’s house that
day while Sooner coaches waited patiently for the
star prep quarterback to return home.
Meanwhile, Osborne was on his way via private
plane to greet his new quarterback savior, not know
ing that Switzer was in town.
“We picked up Coach Osborne and didn’t tell
him that the Oklahoma coaches were waiting at my
' house," Gill said. “We drove him back so he could
visit my parents. We had him at the door, and he saw
the coaches there. He looked at me and said, ‘What’s
“I said ‘Everything’s fine, Coach,’ but you can all
imagine Coach Osborne’s little stare,” Gill said.
It’s the Osborne stare, the same determined look
that focused across the field from Switzer on cold
Everyone had the stare when NU and OU got
together. If you didn’t have the determined, passion
ate, kick-your-butt attitude, you might as well not
take the field.
"Nothing else in your life mattered in Nebraska
week,” said Brian Bosworth, two-time Butkus
award-winning linebacker for the Sooners and 1986
.A#. - — r ’ ’
graduate. “When you were taking the field in that
game, you were now a part of history. The fear of los
ing that game far outweighed anything else around
This was Nebraska-Oklahoma.
^ “It was nothing nasty,” Gill said of the day
Osborne and Switzer stared at each other in his
kitchen. "It was cordial between both parties. They
just happened to be in the same house together.”
Regardless of the tenacity on the field, the NU
and OU match-up has always been about respect,
according to those involved in the programs.
"Oklahoma and Texas players couldn’t stand
each other. If they got together in a bar, there’d be a
fight,” Bosworth said. “Meanwhile, Oklahoma and
Nebraska players would probably sit down, share a
few brewskies with each other and talk about the
There was no need to trash talk. Both teams
knew what was at stake.
“There was never any jawing,” 1978 Nebraska
middle guard Jim Pillen said. "It was just flat intensi
ty by both programs, knowing it would take their
best shot to win.”
Bob Barry, long-time voice of the Sooners, called
it the “healthiest rivalry in college football."
“This is not Florida State-Miami trash talking.
This is not Terrell Owens’ spiking the ball on a team’s
50-yard line,” Jack Milden, 1971 Oklahoma quarter
back, said. “It’s about a respect, a genuine and hon
est feeling between two schools. There’s a common
ality, and I think we both admire what each other has
Sometimes Nebraska didn’t as much admire the
Sooners’ talent as they did marvel at OU’s late game
“I remember distinctly my sophomore year,
1976. They stole that game from us with a flea-flicker
on the last drive. We had dominated all day long. It
was Switzer magic,” Pillen said of OU’s 20-17 win
Stealing wins wasn’t new to Oklahoma.
Throughout the state, Oklahomans called those
comebacks “Sooner Magic."
"Sooner Magic” was never more prevalent than
in a 1986 game in Lincoln in which Nebraska seemed
to have sealed awinl7-10with4:10 remaining.
Sooner quarterback Jamelle Holieway passed
OU down the fidd from its six-yard line, tying the
game with a touchdown strike to tight end Keith
The Sooners got the ball back after shutting out
* . . •
“Oklahoma and Nebraska has so much more meaning than just a game.
It builds character. You’re sticking 18, 19-year old kids out there in front
of 85,000 people and you're out there making memories. It's a lot like
being on a battlefield in a war."
Former Oklahoma linebacker
NU on three plays and drove for a 31-yard Tim
Lashar field goal to win the game.
It was magical all right. “Sooner magic with a lit
tle bit of luck,” Switzer said after the game.
Perhaps, it wasn’t as much magic for Switzer’s
Sooners as it was divine intervention.
Before the 1976 NU game, Switzer took his team
in huddle for a traditional pre-game prayer. Only,
this prayer had a slightly different twist at the end.
Those present said it ended something like this:
“Dear God, just please don’t let the best team win
And finally, in 1978, it happened. Nebraska won
17-14, when Billy Sims fumbled the ball inside the
five-yard line as time was expiring. Pillen recovered.
Sooner Magic no more.
"We had to win,” Pillen said of that year’s
Nebraska-Oklahoma game. “We had a few games
that had slipped away that we should have won.
They were starting to get a swagger and creating
doubt in our minds.”
Nobody was more relieved then Osborne, who
had finally beaten OU for the first time as a head
“It was a huge win for Tom,” said Don Bryant, for
mer Nebraska Sports Information director. “It kind
of got that monkey off his back.”
And then, the monkey climbed back on.
The week after beating OU, NU fell to Missouri
35-31. The loss forced an Orange Bowl rematch with
“That was such a bad deal. I remember my dad
came down to the locker room after we lost to
Missouri, and (Osborne) took my dad in his office
and told him we had to play Oklahoma again,” Pillen
said. "(Osborne) was absolutely devastated.”
NU lost the rematch to the Sooners 31-24.
Osborne started beating those Sooners regularly,
though, after he discovered a nifty playmaker
story by brian christopherson photos courtesy of nebraska sports information
Nebraska won from 1981 to 1983, concluding a
perfect regular season in 1983 with a 28-21 win.
“It was always an intense football game whete
you just go out there and knock each other around,”
Gill said. “You always want to play against the best,
because it brings out the best in you, and that is what
those types of games brought out.”
And there were those certain players who
pushed the envelope, making bold predictions that
intensified the rivalry.
NU linebacker Broderick Thomas guaranteed a
victory in 1987. Oklahoma scoffed at Thomas’
quotes and ran over NU in a 17-7 Sooner win.
But a linebacker by the name of Bosworth from
Oklahoma could grab the headlines as well as any
player in this series.
Bosworth was the guy Nebraska fans loved to
hate. The Boz was the headband wearing freak show
to the 76,000 fans who crammed Memorial Stadium
to see the Sooners come to town.
Only it was Bosworth who always got the last
laugh, winning all three games he played against the
Huskers. He lived for the attention, and he loved
those November games with NU “when you put
yourself on the line.”
"There is no other game that matches
Oklahoma-Nebraska in tenacity, physicalness, and
the implications that were there,” Bosworth said.
“And I remember that crowd in Lincoln was so
frickin’ loud, you had to put your hands over your
earholes in between plays.”
Bosworth said his Sooners simply knew how to
“You had to keep them in third and long because
they weren’t good on those downs,” he said. “If they
got you third and short, they had you.”
The Boz wouldn’t trade those November classic
duels for anything.
“Oklahoma and Nebraska has so much more
Please see BATTLES on 11
Two games, two losses: Several Husker fans remember the back-to-back home games against Oklahoma in 1986 and 1987, both
Sooner victories.The first, in which NU wore all red, was a 20-17 thriller as OU quarterback Jamelle Holieway led two fourth-quarter
drives to erase a 17-7 deficit, earning the Sooners a trip to the Orange Bowl. In 1987, Keith Jones and Nebraska struck first with a touch
down in the second "Game of the Century," but Oklahoma rolled past the Huskers 17-7 with 14 second-half points.
1 * * %
BY JOHN GASKINS
The 1983 University of Iowa
football team photo is one of the
most impressive gatherings of the
modem college football coaching
Coach Hayden Fry stands
with his assistants, a unit that
took Iowa from the basement of
Big Ten football to the penthouse.
Scan that row, and you’ll find
a few coaches who took Fry’s lead
and turned around sagging pro
grams of their own.
On the far left stands Bill
Snyder, who spearheaded the
greatest turnaround in college
football history at Kansas State.
Near the middle is Fry’s suc
cessor, Kirk Ferentz. Farther
down the line and standing next
to each other are current Iowa
State rebuilder Dan McCarney
and the messiah of Madison,
Wis., Barry Alvarez.
On the far right stands the
baby of the staff - 23-year-old
graduate assistant Bob Stoops,
one year removed from his hon
orable mention All-American
senior season as a Hawkeye
Stoops quickly grabbed the
attention and respect of his veter
“From the moment he joined
the staff, we could all tell he had
head coach written all over him,"
“He just has all the tools to
lead a program - his winning atti
tude, his ability to be a great com
municator to his players, his
enthusiasm, you could always
see that in him.”
Seventeen years later, Stoops
has leapfrogged all of those elder
program-builders and in 18
games has put Oklahoma back
near the top faster than they did.
“It’s no surprise to me he’s
taken Oklahoma where he’s taken
them already,” McCarney said.
When Norman’s Memorial
Stadium comes alive like the
Barry Switzer glory days on
Saturday, a win over old arch-rival
Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops has taken the Sooners to the doorstep of the No. 1 rank
ing in just his second year at the helm.
and top-ranked Nebraska will put
this 40-year-old golden boy on
top in near-record time.
“I’ve said all along that we’ve
never had a date we set to be in
this position,” Stoops said. “The
sooner, the better. We’ve taken
the approach to get better each
and every week, each month.
How have we progressed? Well,
we re still not there yet. We need
to continue to grow and com
It’s been quite a growth spurt.
After six straight non-winning
seasons under three different
coaches, OU went 7-5 and played
in its first bowl game since 1994 in
Stoops’ debut season last year
and this year has jetted to a 6-0
mark that Included mammoth
wins over then-No. 11 Texas (63
14) on Oct. 7 and at then-No. 2
Kansas State (41-31) two weeks
The formula for Stoop’s quick
success is simple and well-docu
mented: tutelage under pro
gram-builders in Fry, Snyder and
Steve Spurrier at Florida, a four
star group of assistants - three
gobbled up from Snyder and K
State - and a blazing quarterback
with a gun-slinging offense.
All Stoops is doing is letting
the offense run wild under the
system of former Offensive
Coordinator Mike Leach - now
the coach at Texas Tech - and arm
of Josh Huepel, Heisman candi
date and breaker of at least 20
school and Big 12 passing
Stoops helped Snyder resur
rect K-State and lead the nation’s
best defense there in 1995. From
there, he moved on to Florida,
where the “Stun-n-Done
Defense" helped complement
Spurrier’s Fun-and-Gun offense
to win the 1996 national title.
Naturally, Stoops became a
hot commodity when coaching
vacancies came up. Iowa
approached him after Fry retired
in 1998. So did Oklahoma, and for
Back in Norman, a once
Please see STOOPS on 11
Unorthodox Heupel drives OU
BY SAMUEL MCKEWON
He throws a pass at 110
degrees. Then 130. Then his arm
drops down to nearly sidearm
position as he pumps one across
the middle to his tall, lanky
receiver in white.
He throws, but that ain’t the
half of it. He’ll flip a pass. He’ll
jump it. He’ll toss it; he’ll scootch
it. He’ll dump it or drift it or lead
it or loft it or short-arm it. Just as
long as he completes it.
“He has the ability to maneu
ver around in the pocket and
throw on the run,” Nebraska
Coach Frank Solich said. “You
couldn’t ask for a better quarter
back for their offense.”
And on one Saturday after
noon at Kansas State University
in Manhattan, there’s genuine
question as to whether
Oklahoma’s Josh Heupel could
have been any better at what he
does than he was in that 41-31
win. The drool-worthy perform
ance - 29 of 37 passes complet
ed, 384 vards, two touchdowns,
no interceptions - thrust the
South Dakota Sidewinder into
Heisman Trophy talk, which the
senior from Aberdeen, S.D., gen
tly tosses aside.
For now, anyway. A similar
performance against No. 1
Nebraska on Saturday - along
with a victory not many expect -
would likely cement his name
firmly among a still-open field of
candidates. And the way Heupel
will go about his performance
Saturday is to duck and dive and
dart his passes into the little
nooks of Owen Field. An inch
here, an inch there. An
impromptu dance in pads.
Heupel’s media persona
doesn’t match his on-field
improvisational skills. He speaks
in platitudes, labeling a not-so
consistent NU defense “great”
and boiling the execution of
OU’s offense to "mastering our
assignments.” Then, he flatly
states he reads no newspapers,
watches no television and hears
no radio, therefore knowing
nothing, not one thing, of his
team’s popularity, or his.
Heupel also observes the
Sooners have improved on their
1999 record "by eliminating
OU quarterback Josh Heupel will lead
the top scoring offense in the country
against Nebraska on Saturday.
Boring, but true. Heupel is a
coaches’ son who is the nerve
center of the Oklahoma attack,
the major distributor of mental
bliss and pain. His career
swooned at Weber State
Please see HEUPEL on 11
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