Coaches Corner: The greatest rivalry in football

This week Coach Johnson gives his thoughts on why OU-NU is the greatest rivalry in college football

Finally, the week the Sooners play the Cornhuskers has arrived! Everyone can now talk openly about playing Nebraska without prefacing everything with an "If". Both teams have made it into the showdown undefeated and highly ranked. The eyes of all of college football will be watching. Things are finally back in order in this conference and in the national college football scene.

The Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry, is, in my mind, the very best in all of football for all the right reasons. Both teams, coaching staffs and fans, have the utmost respect for each other. The "hype" leading up to the game and the media coverage after the game are complementary, classy and fair. No dirt, no cheap shots and credit where credit is due. The game itself has always been fiercely contested without the "crap" on the field or in the stands that marks far too many rivalries.

Plus, except for 1995, 96, and 97 when we fell off the face of the earth, it has been one great college football contest. In my first ten years at Oklahoma (1979-88) the winner was conference champion, played in the Orange Bowl and played there three times for the National Championship. The entire nation eagerly awaited this game because they knew two of the countries best would go at it in a well-played football game.

The only real regret I have had with the Big XII is that the OU-Nebraska game was not played every year. When the Southwest Conference split into two divisions they made sure all the old "rivalry" games were protected. Surely some scheduling adjustment could have been made by the conference forefathers to have allowed this contest to be an exception. It was the only "big time" rivalry affected by going to the North-South divisions. It would have been such a plus for the conference each year.

I know exactly what it will be like Saturday when the team arrives at the stadium. There will be people everywhere dressed in red just like it is here, except most of it will be that pale red Nebraska wears. The dressing room is fairly spacious and "old school" traditional — just like Notre Dame was. Visiting teams have used those same quarters, probably, for seventy years.

When you leave the dressing room it is about an eighty-yard walk right through the crowd. A narrow corridor is roped through that mob of people who reach out to "give you five" as you walk by. And they are nice! That's what I remember more than anything. They don't yell obscenities, etc. and after the game, win or lose, they say "good game", "good luck" and generally defy what you come to expect from having been to many of the other places we play. When you finally enter the playing field it's like what it must have been for those gladiators centuries ago. The stands surround you as the seats in the end zones occupy as much area as the sides. The fans in red are crammed in everywhere — and very close to the field. You'd have to not be much of a competitor to go in there and not play your best!

In the twenty-three seasons I've been at Oklahoma, I don't think we've ever gone to Lincoln as the favorite. Consequently, some of those victories there were remarkably fabulous experiences. Likewise, a couple of the losses were heart-breaking and a couple were downright embarrassing. I truly felt in 1995 and 1997 we let the Nebraska fans down about as much as we did our Sooner fans because I know they expected so much more from Oklahoma.

Who will ever forget in 1980 J.C. Watts pitching the ball to Buster Rhymes, who raced down the sideline in front of our bench that set up a short game-winning pass to Bobby Grayson? Or the two times our defense stuffed Nebraska on fourth and one to keep us in the game.

How about Brian Hall and the defense holding Nebraska for four downs inside the five in the fourth quarter to keep the score at 10-7? Or Danny Bradley's ensuing 60-yard scamper to win the 1984 game 17-7.

In 1986 the Sooners were 90-yards away and appeared done-in with very little time left. Then, Keith Jackson and Jamelle Holieway performed their version of "Sooner Magic." Jackson and some unbelievable plays and Tim Lasher kicked his second field goal as time ran out to create a 20-17 victory. It all happened in the last five minutes.

The following year, 1987, the schedule change forced us to play in Lincoln again. No one gave the Sooners much of a chance because our QB, Holieway, and FB, Lydell Carr, were out of the game with injuries. Their respective replacements, Charles Thompson and Rotnei Anderson and the Sooner running game have never been better as the good guys won 17-7. Unbelievably, our defense held the great Nebraska offense 12 consecutive possessions without a first down. One, two, three, and out!

Neither team is going to go into the game to lose! But someone will have to. I hope, though, that it will be another of those great games for all the country to see. And I hope, too, that we can have a rematch come December in Dallas.

In his 19 years as an OU assistant coach, he helped the Sooners build a 150-67-5 record, win a national championship and five Big Eight Conference titles and post seven bowl game victories.

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories