'88 classic was Bedlam's most memorable

Brent Parker still sees the ball sailing toward him like it was yesterday.

Charles Thompson remains relieved he wasn’t the Sooners quarterback who let the streak end.

And virtually everyone who saw Oklahoma survive Oklahoma State 31-28 in 1988 still marvels at Barry Sanders' Heisman-clinching performance 25 years later.

While overwhelmingly lopsided in favor of the Sooners, the Bedlam Rivalry, which will stage meeting No. 108 Saturday in Stillwater, has never been short on drama.

Just last season, Oklahoma mounted a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback before prevailing over the Pokes in overtime, 51-48. In the last 12 years, the series has been decided on the final possession five times.

But the '88 edition of Bedlam remains the rivalry’s most unforgettable game for both sides.

“A heck of a ballgame,” said then Oklahoma State coach Pat Jones.

Going into the early-November showdown, Barry Switzer’s Sooners were ranked in the top 10 again.

But the No. 12-ranked Cowboys had their best offense in school history, led by All-American wideout Hart Lee Dykes, a quarterback named Mike Gundy who would become Oklahoma State’s head coach and a 5-foot-8 tailback who had begun to generate Heisman buzz.

Oklahoma State hadn’t defeated the Sooners in 11 years. But the Cowboys had never had a player like Sanders, either.

His first two seasons, Sanders backed up another future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back, Thurman Thomas. Switzer, however, was always more concerned about Sanders.

In 1986, Switzer and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs were scouting the Cowboys on film. When Sanders subbed in for Thomas, each time the freshman carried the ball, Switzer asked Gibbs to run the play back.

“That guy is something special,” Switzer declared.

“We better hope Thurman doesn’t get hurt,” Gibbs replied.

Two years later, Sanders was still a relative unknown. But soon, the rest of the country would see what Switzer saw.

That edition of Bedlam was Oklahoma State’s first national telecast, with ESPN’s Lee Corso providing the color commentary.

Sanders entered the game with 1,141 rushing yards over his previous five games -- an NCAA record. Early on, though, it was another running back who stole the show.

On the first play from scrimmage, Oklahoma freshman Mike Gaddis reeled off a 50-yard run to set up the Sooners’ first score. Then, after the Cowboys were stuffed on fourth-and-short, Gaddis exploded up the middle untouched on the next play for a high-stepping, 44-yard touchdown. Less than five minutes into the game, the Sooners led 14-0. And Gaddis had 110 yards rushing.

“He was obviously a good player,” Jones said of Gaddis. “But the other guy, best to ever play the game.”

In the second quarter, that other guy delivered his Heisman moment to put the Cowboys back in the game.

On an option pitch from Gundy, Sanders finally found a seam. After juking Oklahoma safety Kevin Thompson, who crashed right past him, Sanders dashed 67 yards to set up a touchdown just before the half. Suddenly, the Sooners were in a dogfight.

In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys trailed just 24-21 on third-and-goal. Gundy pitched again to Sanders again, who slid his way in for another touchdown.

“We were a little bit in awe of him,” Charles Thompson said.

But while the Cowboys had Sanders, Oklahoma had Sooner Magic.

After driving inside the Oklahoma State 35-yard line, Thompson pitched to halfback Anthony Stafford, who wasn’t looking. The ball bounced off Stafford’s chest but then right back into his hands.

The next play, Thompson floated a swing pass to Gaddis, who while charging upfield had the ball popped out. But with seven Cowboys surrounding the fumble, Oklahoma lineman Mark Van Keirsbilck slid through all of them to recover it, giving the Sooners a fourth-and-1.

“Looked like we were playing basketball,” Switzer said.

The next play, Thompson stepped back to hand off to Gaddis. Instead, he crashed into Stafford, yet somehow fell forward to just barely get the first down. Three plays later, Thompson swerved around the edge 18 yards on an option keeper for Oklahoma’s go-ahead touchdown with just 2:33 to go.

And the Sooner Magic wasn’t done.

With Gundy, Sanders and Dykes clicking away, Oklahoma State drove right back down the field. Switzer became so stressed he lit up a cigarette.

But at the Oklahoma 19, Cowboys fullback Garrett Limbrick was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after getting tangled up with Sooners linebacker Richard Dillon. Instead of fourth-and-1, the Cowboys faced fourth-and-16.

“A Barry Switzer call,” Dykes said.

Corso questioned the penalty, too.

“The official that made the call was a very good official,” Jones said. “But I thought you might not make that call.”

Jones could have sent Cary Blanchard out for a 51-yard field goal try. But the Cowboys needed the win to stay in the Big Eight title race.

On a rollout, Dykes was double covered. So Gundy heaved the ball downfield to Parker, who had snuck past the Oklahoma secondary into the end zone.

“I wouldn’t have thrown it if I didn’t think he could catch it,” Gundy said.

But as the ball sailed over Kevin Thompson’s hands, it bounced off Parker’s left bicep and to the turf.

“Mike made a great throw,” Parker said. “The safety from OU (Thompson) says he tipped it. I don’t know if he did. But nine times out of 10, I would have caught that ball.”

Instead, Oklahoma prevailed, extending its Bedlam winning streak to 12.

But Oklahoma State didn’t come away empty-handed, as Sanders’ 215 rushing yards captivated the nation.

“The game was still a giant step for us,” Jones said. “When you win the Heisman, that’s something that never goes away.”

Memories of Bedlam at its best don’t either.