|Old friends open new chapter in Big Red rivalry|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 31 October 2008 05:00|
They share the background of a being a kid in Youngstown, Ohio, of going to school at Cardinal Mooney High School, of getting their coaching start under Iowa's Hayden Fry and of spending a brief time on the same staff together.
The years and miles have reunited them again, and this time it's on opposite sides of one of college football's most storied rivalries.
It's time for a new chapter in the Battle of the Big Reds: Stoops and the Sooners, Pelini and the Huskers. Longtime friends become momentary foes for a few hours on a Saturday night.
At least it's a friendly rivalry. That's how Tom Osborne and Barry Switzer built it in the 1970s and '80s and that's how it stands, for the most part, today.
(7-1, 3-1 Big 12) back into a national power after their dormancy of the 1990s. Nebraska (5-3, 2-2) started to fade from the top just as Stoops arrived in Norman, and Pelini is in his first season of trying to get them back.
It's not the rivalry it once was, when even Stoops - in the heart of Big Ten country - made it a day-after-Thanksgiving tradition to tune in. But maybe it can be again soon.
``It's just kind of ironic, two guys from the same town are at Oklahoma and Nebraska. With all the different ties we have, it's exciting,'' said Stoops, who first got his Sooners to the No. 1 ranking by beating a top-ranked Nebraska team in 2000. The Huskers haven't been back since.
The Big 12 can be blamed for taking some steam out of a rivalry that played a role in determining the Big Eight championship 31 times in the conference's 36 years and the national championship a handful of times as well. Oklahoma and Nebraska now play only twice every four years, unless both teams make it to the league championship game as they did in 2006.
But as much as anything, the rivalry has been tempered by the teams taking turns out of the spotlight. Oklahoma was unranked for six of the teams' eight meetings in the 1990s, and Nebraska hasn't been ranked for the last three games this decade.
ons and having a couple years off changes it to some degree than the Big Eight days when it's just the eight teams and so much of the time playing after Thanksgiving with those two teams deciding who's going to be the Big Eight champion.''
That friendly aspect of the series took a downward turn in recent years, too. The Cornhuskers' visit to Norman in 2004 started with an Oklahoma RUF/NEK spirit squad member getting teeth knocked out when a Nebraska lineman went hurtling off the field during warmups and ended with coach Bill Callahan calling Sooners fans ``hillbillies'' and dropping an expletive as he ran off the field.
With Stoops and Pelini on opposite sides now, all bad blood is water under the Big Red bridge.
Separated by seven years, the two were familiar with each other by going to the same events around Youngstown with their families. Stoops played basketball and football with Pelini's older brother, Vince, and the two graduated the same year from Cardinal Mooney.
Stoops went on to play at Iowa and start his coaching career there, and another of Pelini's brothers, Carl, wound up as one of his graduate assistants at Kansas State.
Pelini's path took him to Ohio State for college, to Iowa for a year on Fry's staff and then through stints with four NFL teams before he came to the Big 12 as the defensive coordinator - and eventually interim coach - at Nebraska in 2003.
assed on giving him the job at that time, Stoops hired Pelini as a coordinator. Together, they helped the Sooners to the Orange Bowl, where they lost to Southern California with the national title on the line.
Pelini, who went on to win a national title last season as the defensive coordinator at LSU, said one of the main things he learned in his time at Oklahoma was how Stoops balanced making time for his family and still being a great coach.
That's particularly useful in his first chance at being a head coach, even as he prepares to face his former boss for the first time.
``It's never anything that's personal. It's a professional deal,'' Pelini said. ``You try to do the best job you can and that's the bottom line. When the game is over, it's over. Nothing you can do about it either way.
``It isn't going to change my personal feelings toward him, and I'm sure Bob would say the same thing. It's just part of the deal.''