The universities of Oklahoma and Texas joined the league together and prospered.
Then OU got an itch and moved on without the Longhorns.
The year was 1920. Woodrow Wilson was in the White House. The Reds didn't yet know their World Series title was a fraud. The 18th Amendment gave women the right to vote.
And the Sooners left the Southwest Conference for the Missouri Valley, which became the Big Six. It was a mistake then to split from Texas; it would be a mistake now.
Amid the turbulence of conference realignment earlier this month, Oklahomans adopted a common belief that the Longhorn brass had become some sort of puppeteer, making the Sooners and other Big 12 South schools step to their command.
Not altogether true but not altogether false, either.
OU fans responded in choruslike fashion. Tell Texas to go jump in the Red River while flying a kite. The Sooners, they said, should have joined the Pac-10 anyway after the Longhorns lost interest, or taken the SEC's offer and absconded with Texas A&M.
That's why cool heads are assigned to run universities. For separation from Texas — the school and the state — would have been madness.
Texas the state is pivotal to OU's academic mission. OU gleans thousands of students from Texas high schools; many of those Texans return to their homeland as distinguished alumni, who would not be thrilled by routine OU-Mississippi or OU-Arizona State games.
This is not an Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry that interacted only on a November football field. OU and Texas alums share the same cities and same office buildings, be it Oklahoma City or Tulsa or Houston or San Antone or the battleground of Dallas.
Texas the school is pivotal to OU's athletic hopes. And vice versa. Since the bitter rivals became conference cousins again almost 15 years ago, their athletic fortunes have soared. Which means mostly their gridiron glory.
Both OU and Texas have posted a century of football excellence. But only now, joined at the hip by conference ties, have the Sooners and Longhorns both consistently been great at the same time.
UT was dominant in the 1920s, then faltered. OU became dynamite in the late '30s. Texas asserted itself in the '40s under Dana X. Bible, when the Sooners stagnated under Snorter Luster. OU became a dynasty for the ages under Bud Wilkinson in the '50s, when UT dipped far.
Bud disciple Darrell Royal took Texas to its greatest heights in the '60s, while OU stumbled. The Sooners rebounded with their own greatest decade in the '70s, while the Longhorns started sliding, trends that continued in the '80s.
Neither program was worth beans in the '90s. Then the Big 12 formed, and you know the rest.
Bob Stoops and Mack Brown have pushed each other to where both programs now reside in college football's inner circle of success.
In the olden days, OU and UT could fall behind and still have conference supremacy to chase. Not so now. Red River bragging rights usually brings the Big 12 trophy.
The ancient foes challenge each other, and both have answered the challenge. Texas is good for Oklahoma, and Oklahoma is good for Texas.
It doesn't mean they like each other. Doesn't mean Sooners can stomach Longhorn arrogance (although OU hides its exasperation much better than do the Texas Aggies). Doesn't mean the Longhorns have changed their impression that Sooners are trailer trash.
They don't love each other. But they've learned to live together.
Sure, it's frustrating to Okies that Texies drove the realignment stagecoach. But television sets are a fact of collegiate life.
It's no commentary on either program that Texas gets the first call from conference headhunters. It's a population issue. Texas' 2009 estimate: 24.8 million; Oklahoma's 2009 estimate: 3.7 million.
That's why every conference thirsts for Texas. It's not the Show Band of the Southwest. Not Mack Brown's charm. Not Austin's music scene. It's no more complicated than Texas television sets.
You could justifiably argue that Texas could have drawn the Sooners into Pac-16 talks earlier than the 11th hour (had the 'Horns been so considerate of Texas A&M, the deal would have been consummated).
But Texas also showed respect the Sooners' way. No chance was UT going anywhere without Oklahoma. The 'Horns wanted a Southwest constituency, and while yes, that's 100 percent self-serving, none of this is about brotherhood. It's all business, and an Oklahoma/Texas collection of schools sticking together — be it Big 12, Pac-16 or SEC — makes sense for both Sooners and Longhorns.
It's an alliance, really. Like the U.S. and Russia in World War II. Football makes strange bedfellows.
So yes, the Sooners could have revolted. Could have rejected Texas' original Pac-16 plan or even hightailed it out West without the Longhorns. But that would have cutting off your chinstrap to spite your facemask.
Where would Oklahoma find a rival to match Texas? A&M? Please. Arkansas? You've got to be kidding. Where would Texas find a rival to match the Sooners, who can't be pushed around the gridiron the way any replacement would be?
These peanut butter cup rivals are two great programs that go great together. Partners in many ways.
Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.