Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry finds respect again Print
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Thursday, 30 October 2008 10:55
NCAAF Headline News

 LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -Nebraska's last visit to Oklahoma was an embarrassment to one of college football's great all-time rivalries.
Former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan's ``hillbilly'' comment? The collision of a Nebraska player and an OU spirit group member that resulted in a felony assault trial? Callahan's throat-slash gesture the next year?
The Cornhuskers and Sooners insist there's no bad blood in advance of Saturday's game in Norman, Okla.
Instead, players on both sides have educated themselves on the classic battles that took place in the years before most of them were born. Coaches are reminiscing about watching Nebraska-Oklahoma games while eating Thanksgiving leftovers.
And, to show the ties that bind run deep, a reunion dinner will be held Friday night for players and coaches from the 1971 ``Game of the Century'' - won by Nebraska.
ed in 1996 and put the two in separate divisions. The scheduling format matches the teams in consecutive years, then puts the series on hiatus for two years before they play again.
Sentimental fans hearken to the glory days in years like this.
``I'm very respectful of all that's been here before we arrived here 10 years ago, and it's amazing - the conference championships, national championships, all of it,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. ``I love it and I do respect it, appreciate it and realize that you don't get it a lot of places.''
For all the history, things hit a low point in 2004.
Darren DeLone, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive lineman, collided with a member of OU's heckling Ruf/Neks spirit group during pregame warmups and was charged with, and later acquitted of, felony aggravated assault. As Callahan walked off the field that night, he called Sooners fans ``hillbillies.''
``That's not anything that's going to happen again,'' said first-year Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, who was the Sooners' defensive coordinator in 2004.
The next year in Lincoln, Callahan didn't directly insult the Sooners, but he brought unwanted attention to himself and the Nebraska program by making a throat-slash gesture toward an official with whom he disagreed. He was reprimanded by the Big 12.
rmer Nebraska All-America linebacker Broderick Thomas said.
``That was really foul for him to say something like that,'' Thomas said. ``You wouldn't expect a coach at the University of Nebraska or a coach at the University of Oklahoma to stoop that low. You just don't.''
Johnny Rodgers, the 1972 Heisman Trophy winner who starred in the '71 game for Nebraska, said decorum will be restored under Pelini. Rodgers said Callahan, with his NFL pedigree, didn't truly understand the reverence with which the rivalry is held.
``Bo isn't going to be verbally abusive (toward OU). He's going to appreciate all our history and try to make more so we can get that rivalry going again,'' Rodgers said. ``Callahan's attitude was on the professional side. He hadn't lived it. We lived it.''
Nebraska and Oklahoma played for 71 consecutive seasons between 1927 and 1997, with the game deciding the Big Eight championship most years from the 1960s on. The series helped produce 13 national championships.
Fourth-ranked Oklahoma (7-1, 3-1 Big 12) leads the series 43-37-3, winning the most recent meeting 21-7 in the 2006 Big 12 championship game. Nebraska (5-3, 2-2) has lost three straight to the Sooners since a 20-10 win in 2001.
Stoops on Monday showed his players footage of past ``Battles of the Big Reds.'' He said Rodgers, OU's Greg Pruitt and others are as impressive today on film as they were 35 or 40 years ago.
``The kids chuckle at the shoes they're wearing and all of that. But I guarantee you, at different times we show our players some of the clips of Greg Pruitt turning a corner or Joe Washington making eight people miss him. They get excited, they have great respect and they ooh and ah at some of the guys and the way they played.''
Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford said his father, Kent, an offensive lineman for OU in 1977 and '78, told him more stories about his games with Nebraska than the ones with archrival Texas. While Sam Bradford's teammates point to Texas and Oklahoma State as the big games of the year, he said they have a growing appreciation for Nebraska after watching the video this week.
``We know that it's been a longtime rivalry and it's a big game for a lot of people in this state,'' he said.
Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz said, ``Just the name, Nebraska-Oklahoma, kind of brings a chill up your spine.''
``It'd be nice to play them every year,'' Ganz said. ``It would be better for college football if we did get to play every year, but I don't see that happening.''
Neither does Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne, who matched wits on the sideline with Barry Switzer when the rivalry was at its height in the 1970s and '80s.
Osborne prefers to remember those days rather than the ugliness that marked the 2004 and '05 games.
but I always thought there was a lot of respect on the side of both programs,'' Osborne said. ``I can hardly remember any incidents where we had anything before, during or after between the players coming on the field that was a discredit to both programs or college football. It always was a very intense, hard-hitting game, always the way it should be.''
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