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Fierce Rivalry Between Oklahoma and Texas What College Football Is All About
Barry Switzer coached Oklahoma to 157 wins and directed the Dallas Cowboys to the Super Bowl XXX crown, so he’s enjoyed life on both sides of the Red River.
Bring up the Red River Rivalry, however, and Switzer still bristles.
“It bothers me and frustrates me so much that I got screwed out of two wins,” Switzer said in his famously animated style, still regretting ties — not losses — to the Longhorns in 1976 and 1984.
Beating Texas is a big deal, and not just for Switzer.
Always has been.
Always will be.
And that, along with so many other factors — ranging from legendary recruiting wars to an electric atmosphere to the classic games themselves — assign OU-Texas the status of the greatest rivalry in college football, if not all of American sports.
“It’s what college football is all about,” said Switzer. “None bigger. Anybody who’s walked on the floor of the Cotton Bowl knows the exhilaration, the excitement, the emotion, the electricity that’s there.”
And anybody not so lucky to tread that hallowed ground surely dreams about it.
College football features several marvelous rivalries.
Southern Cal-Notre Dame.
None offers all that the Red River Rivalry delivers.
The excitement never wanes, not even in retirement.
“I don’t view it any differently,” said Switzer. “The only difference for me is now I get to sleep at night when the game’s over.”
Oklahoma radio play-by-play man Bob Barry Sr., who has called 50 seasons of football as a broadcaster, including two stints as the voice of the Sooners, pegs the intensity of the rivalry on the state’s dividing lines, both real and imagined.
“From statehood, Texas has lorded over Oklahoma,” explained Barry, entering his final season of calling games before he retires.
“They’re bigger, richer, have more land, everything. They just sort of lorded over Oklahoma over the years, because Oklahoma was way behind in so many ways.
“So along comes Oklahoma football. And Bud Wilkinson. And all the sudden it’s, ‘Hey, we’ve got something you haven’t got.’ That’s why football took off in this state, because it’s something Oklahomans could be proud of, with Texans or anybody else.”
But especially Texans.
“You had so many people who came to Oklahoma from Texas,” said Barry, “that was typical of the early days. There’s such a connection between the two states.
“To me, that is the keystone.”
Texas won the first meeting in 1900 and dominated the early years.
Wilkinson began turning the tide, collecting wins over the Longhorns while establishing Oklahoma as one of college football’s dominant teams of the 1950s.
Soon, Sooner pride — school and state — swelled.
And the rivalry was on.
The basic numbers are interesting: Texas leads the all-time series 59-40-5, with a 46-36-5 edge in Dallas. Since 1946, the series has tightened, with the Longhorns up three games, 32-29-3.
Beyond the raw data, however, is the tale of two titanic programs whose clash has weighed heavily on the national landscape.
During the postwar era, or since ’45, one or both of the teams has been ranked in the Top 25 for 60 of the 65 clashes.
And more recently, six of the last 10 meetings featured a team bound for the BCS title game, with Oklahoma winning in 2000 and Texas in 2005. During that stretch, the game has often served as a national elimination game.
“That game has a lot of implications about how your season is going to go,” said former OU linebacker Rufus Alexander. “The team that wins that game usually plays for the Big 12 championship, and more.
“So every play counts.”
Most rivalries offer hardware to the victor.
Georgia-Florida has the Okefenokee Oar.
Notre Dame-USC has the Jeweled Shillelagh.
Michigan-Michigan State play for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
Army, Navy and Air Force vie for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
OU-Texas is so big, it rewards three trophies.
The oldest and most celebrated trophy claimed on the Cotton Bowl turf is the Golden Hat, regularly passed around by the players to pose under in the postgame celebration before being presented to the athletic department of the winning school.
The Red River Rivalry trophy, created in 2003, goes to the winning side’s student government.
And the Governor’s Trophy is exchanged by the governors of the two states, to reside at the respective state capitols.
Of course, all of that is nice, but it is the greater spoils — the Big 12 and national title chase, the elevated status — that matters most to the players and coaches.
That and pride and bragging rights, especially for the guys who cross state lines.
“We had so many players from Texas, even back in that time,” explained Sooner legend Jerry Tubbs, now 75 and living back home in Texas. “And it became big for us because we left the state, and if we didn’t win that game, back in our hometowns we weren’t respected as much. To gain the respect, we really wanted to win that game. So we tried hard.
“You always think you try as hard as you can, but with a little extra motivation, you bring a little extra out. And playing Texas did that.”
A neutral field.
The 50-50 fan split, creating a clash of crimson and burnt orange.
The State Fair of Texas, with Big Tex and the ferris wheel and the Fletcher’s corny dogs and the fried Twinkies and fried butter — fried butter? — all create an atmosphere unique among all American sports.
Alexander’s first impression:
“’Wow.’ It’s half-and-half, with the fans split. It’s crazy. And all the things that are tied up in it are crazy.
“Nobody can prepare you. There’s nothing a coach can tell you before the game, because when you go out there and you see the people, you see the stadium. The ride up there, you get inside the State Fair, people are banging the buses, flipping off the buses, yelling stuff.
“It’s really like no other.”
Consider an all-time team from the Red River Rivalry and you are quickly on the way to compiling a list featuring many of the greats to play and coach the game.
Bud, Barry and Bob Stoops have all won more than 100 games at OU with gaudy winning percentages that rank among the greatest in history. Add in Bennie Owen and that legendary foursome owns a combined 32-25-3 mark vs. the Longhorns.
Darrell Royal and Mack Brown are equal legends in Texas who also claim ties to the other side of the Red River — Royal as a former Sooner quarterback and Brown as an OU assistant under Switzer.
The two teams have combined for seven Heisman Trophy winners and an extensive list of other major award recipients and All-Americans.
The Sooners command the bulk of the Heismans, with Billy Vessels, Steve Owens, Billy Sims, Jason White and Sam Bradford accounting for five.
Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams won the Heisman at UT.
The game in Dallas has produced plenty more legends, some of Hall of Fame stature, some that stood tall for that one Saturday.
Texas quarterback Peter Gardere, an otherwise forgettable figure, became known as “Peter the Great” for his prowess in Dallas. Gardere is the only quarterback in series history to go 4-0 as a starter.
It’s a game that can create a legend of anyone.
“My junior year, I had the best game I’ve ever had in high school, college, pro or anywhere,” offered Tubbs, one of the series greats. “I made a ton of tackles when we played them and I intercepted three passes. I had a great game.
“I think a lot of it is luck — they throw it where you are or somebody knocks a blocker off of you and you make the play. I think there’s a lot of luck involved, but you make part of it.”
Red River Divide
The shirts say Sooners, yet often they’re worn by Texans.
OU coaches have long gone south of the Red River for talent, bringing back some of the program’s most celebrated players.
Switzer reaped a haul in 1975, one that featured Billy Sims and Daryl Hunt and Victor Hicks and George Cumby and Kenny King, among others. All told, Switzer nabbed 13 of the 19 players on the Dallas Times Herald’s Blue Chip list.
“One of the greatest recruiting classes in the history of college football,” said Hicks.
OU’s continued treks into Texas for players only heated the rivalry.
“There was an unwritten rule among Texas and all their schools,” said Switzer, “’Let’s all fight among ourselves and keep the players in Texas. Let’s all be against Oklahoma.’
“Everyone negatively recruited against us. Whenever I’d go into a home, and I’d usually been there before, I always knew exactly what school had been there before me because of what negative things had been used against us.
“There was a party line of every one of them.”
What makes OU-Texas, or any rivalry, so special is the special moments that never fade.
Roy Williams’ Superman act in 2001, flying through the air to force a Chris Simms interception that swung a defensive struggle the Sooners’ way.
Tubbs’ dominant day in 1955, leading to one of his three wins in the series.
All of Gardere’s acts of greatness.
Ricky Williams’ 465 rushing yards, 136 receiving yards and five TDs in his career against OU.
And even in ties, there are moments that matter.
In 1976, with quarterback Dean Blevins out with an illness, the Sooners struggled offensively before finally scoring a touchdown late, needing only an automatic Uwe von Schamann extra point to complete a 7-6 win. Except the snap went bad, the PAT failed and the Sooners left feeling like a loser.
“The ’76 game should have been a victory,” said Switzer. “Von Schamann isn’t going to miss that extra point. We’re going to win that game.”
The 1984 game was worse, with the Sooners falling victim to two missed calls on a late Texas drive to a field goal in a 15-15 tie in a 1 vs. 2 matchup. Three plays after OU recovered a fumble that wasn’t awarded at midfield, Keith Stanberry intercepted a Todd Dodge pass in the end zone, only to have it ruled incomplete.
“It just frustrates the hell out of me,” added Switzer.
That’s because beating Texas is a big deal, and not just for Switzer.
Always has been.
Always will be.
Editor's Note: This feature appears in Sooner Spectator's 2010 OU-Texas Preview issue. To read more or to subscribe, go to http://www.soonerspectator.com/catalog/