NORMAN — The caretakers of Oklahoma football tradition celebrated a defeat Friday night. And no one is apologizing. OU hosted a reunion of the players from the Game of the Century, Nebraska’s epic 35-31 victory over the Sooners on Thanksgiving Day 1971. A reunion of players from both teams.
"This is incredible,” said Joe Wylie, an OU halfback in 1971. "This has got to be a unique event, to invite the opposing team down when you lose.” But that’s the magic of this masterpiece game that refuses to die. "It just shows what we always thought,” said former Husker defensive tackle Larry Jacobsen. "We always respected the hell out of Oklahoma.” More than 30 ex-Sooners and more than 20 ex-Cornhuskers attended. Chuck Fairbanks, who coached OU in that game, returned. Offensive coordinators Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne were in attendance. Superstars Johnny Rodgers and Greg Pruitt were back. It was a night of stars. And a night of great memories. "Two classy opponents played about as well as they could play,” Jacobsen said. Rodgers, whose 71-yard punt return remains that game’s signature play, likened the game to "buttered popcorn.” Rodgers hadn’t been back to Owen Field since that day, Nov. 25, 1971. "When we left here that day, we felt like we were national champions,” Rodgers said. Those Huskers indeed finished No. 1 in the nation. OU finished No. 2. "It was such a great game,” Rodgers said. "Such great mutual respect.”