College football Week 10: Reunions & Elections
Oklahoma-Nebraska once was the epicenter of college football. The game that you could circle in August as the likely game of the year. The game that more often than not, lived up to such expectations.
It’s still an OK game, because of the history, but it has fallen. It has fallen far. Now it’s not one of the top 100 games in the college football season.
Here’s how far it has fallen. OU-Nebraska, the game itself, was trumped twice over the weekend, not by other games, but by events AT MEMORIAL STADIUM.
Saturday night, the OU-NU rout quickly went to the backburner, and fans focused on Texas Tech-Texas. If the Sooners had displayed the game from Lubbock on the Owen Field video board, it would have been a priceless PR move, though the Huskers might not have appreciated it.
But even before kickoff Saturday night, OU-Nebraska 2008 was overshadowed by OU-Nebraska 1971.
The reunion Friday night in the Switzer Center was one of the coolest things I’ve ever covered. There aren’t a lot of unique events left in sport. This was one.
A reunion of a game from 37 years past, hosted by the vanquished foe.
Have the ’51 Dodgers hosted the ’51 Giants? Has ’92 Kentucky hosted ’92 Duke? Have the Lakers of any years hosted the Celtics?
This was the ultimate show of respect and honor, and the ’71 Huskers were magnanimous in their victory. There was no trash-talking, no bravado.
The only deviation from that script came from the OU side, so far as I know. During the dinner, which was closed to the media, Nebraska star Johnny Rodgers was introduced and a reference was made to his punt return for a touchdown. “Yeah, but there were two clips,” yelled a Sooner from the back. And everyone in the house broke up laughing.
Thirtysomething Sooners and twentysomething Huskers showed for the event. Photo ops were everywhere. Bob Stoops came by; I saw him with Rodgers and Chuck Fairbanks. Jeff Kinney was there, and Greg Pruitt, and 6-foot-7 John Dutton, who played 15 years in the NFL and looked like he still could.
Leon Crosswhite and Joe Wylie and Doug Dumler and, well, the names are too numerous to bear. The only downer was the guys who were missing. OU quarterback Jack Mildren and Nebraska coach Bob Devaney, who have passed. Husker quarterback Jerry Tagge, who was ill. NU nose guard Rich Glover, who didn’t make it from New Jersey.
But at the dinner, the speakers included the game’s offensive coordinators, Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne; Fairbanks; Greg Pruitt and Rodgers.
A special, special night. Nebraska won that game 35-31, but 37 years later, I think we safely can say that nobody lost.
Massive Nebraska defensive tackle Larry Jacobsen said it best: “Heck of a game to watch, hell of a game to play.”
TEN BIGGEST WINNERS OF THE WEEK
10. Utah State: One of college football’s most beleaguered programs now has now two WAC wins. The Aggies beat Hawaii 30-14 and has won four of its last seven conference games dating back to last November.
9. Backyard Brawl: West Virginia beat Connecticut and Pittsburgh beat Notre Dame, reviving the status of the old rivalry’s participants and setting up the possibility that their Nov. 28 showdown at Pitt could be for a BCS berth.
8. Central Michigan: The Chippewas lost a chance to beat a Big Ten foe in Purdue when they fell 32-25, but they didn’t let the chance pass this time. With backup quarterback Brian Brunner throwing for a day-best 485 yards, Central beat Indiana 37-34.
7. Ole Miss: The Rebels’ 17-7 victory over Auburn was big for bowls; Mississippi moved to 5-4 and dropped Auburn to 4-5, and more importantly, seemed to signal that under Houston Nutt, the pecking order in the SEC West might have changed.
6. North Texas: The Mean Green was as good a bet as any as the worst team in college football. But coach Todd Dodge got a much-needed victory over fledgling I-A member Western Kentucky, 51-40.
5. Mardy Gilyard: The Cincinnati flanker – who carved up the Sooners back in September – caught a 26-yard TD pass against South Florida, then crashed into 7-year-old Cincy fan Garrett Monroe. But Gilyard showed his humanity; he immediately picked up Monroe to make sure the kid was all right, disdaining a celebration of what proved to be a huge play in the Bearcats’ 24-10 victory.
4. Miami: The Hurricanes started 2-3 but have won four straight, including a 24-17 overtime win at Virginia. If Miami can beat Virginia Tech in Thursday Night Football on Nov. 13, the ‘Canes could play at Georgia Tech a week later with Coastal Division supremacy on the line.
3. Max Hall: Quarterback U is back. Brigham Young’s QB threw for 389 yards and five touchdowns, including the game-winner with 22 seconds left that gave the Cougars a 45-42 win at Colorado State.
2. Bad blood: Florida beat Georgia 49-10 to stamp itself as perhaps the nation’s best team, and Gator coach Urban Meyer repaid Georgia’s Mark Richt for a perceived slight last season. Meyer called two timeouts in the final minute to prolong the Florida celebration.
1. Graham Harrell: Don’t discount the Texas Tech quarterback from the Heisman race; 36 of 53 for 474 yards and the game-winning drive in the so-far game of the year, a 39-33 victory over Texas. Now Harrell gets two more spotlight games, against OSU and OU.
DARROL RAY’S BARBEQUE
Because of the OU-Nebraska reunion, I didn’t make my usual Friday night dinner pilgrimage. But I’ve got another dining adventure to offer.
On Thursday, I met an old friend, Brent Clark, for lunch. Brent is a Norman lawyer who has authored two books about OU football.
Anyway, he suggested we meet a Ray’s Smokehouse BBQ. It’s a new joint in Norman run by former Sooner star Darrol Ray.
Darrol Ray was always one of my favorite players. A free safety from 1976-79, he was in the great OU signing class of 1975. A superb ballplayer, Ray ranks No. 4 on OU’s career interception list, with 15. He was one of those guys who should have made all-American but didn’t. Then Ray played five years with the New York Jets, starting 69 games and making 21 NFL interceptions.
Ray has been in the restaurant business for years, and Ray’s Smokehouse is very good. I had a chopped beef sandwich that was excellent.
You’re likely to find Ray there; he stopped by to chat, and Barry Switzer stopped in for some take-out while we were there. “A barbeque man!” Switzer said to me.
Caught in the act. A barbeque man indeed. And I’ve got a new place to go. 1514 W. Lindsey in Norman.
College football rankings, based not on what we think teams will do, but what they have done.
1. Penn State: Surprising, I know. But probably can’t stay No. 1.
2. Florida: Gators will be tough to beat in this ranking, with a road game at Florida State and the SEC title game against probably Alabama.
3. Texas: I know, Tech fans will yelp, but this ranking makes sense. ‘Horns beat OU on a neutral field and OSU in Austin. Tech has the big home win over Texas but still faces the meat of its schedule.
4. Alabama: If Bama wins at LSU, it might be No. 1.
5. Southern Cal: Hard for the Trojans to jump a bunch.
6. Texas Tech: If Tech sweeps the Okies, it’s a runaway No. 1.
7. Oklahoma: Sooners still can rise far.
8. Georgia: Bulldogs are pretty much done. They’re living off earlier wins.
9. Oklahoma State: If OSU wins in Lubbock, it moves into top three.
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