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Game of Week: Nebraska at Oklahoma

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OU/Neb fans memories

 Nebraska vs. Oklahoma: 1971
Kinney TD for Neb win.
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 Nebraska vs. Oklahoma
Johnny Rodgers returns punt for a touchdown.
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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
This year's game is great, but it can't compare to '71
By Beano Cook
Special to

Back in 1971, the Oklahoma-Nebraska game was played on Thanksgiving. Both teams entered the contest 10-0, with the Cornhuskers coming in ranked No. 1 while the Sooners were rated No. 2. Nebraska was also the defending national champion, adding to the intrigue of the matchup.

This weekend, these two powerful football schools meet again, but frankly, I feel going into the 1971 game, that was a more important scenario. That's not to take away from this meeting, or the job Bob Stoops has done to revitalize the Oklahoma program.

The '71 game was much bigger because of a number of factors. This year's contest is on the last Saturday of October and there are still a lot of games remaining to determine a national champion. The winner this Saturday isn't even guaranteed a spot in the national championship game; the '71 victor was almost a given to win the national championship.

When Nebraska beat Oklahoma 35-31 in '71, that was the greatest game in the history of college football. Nebraska went on to face an undefeated Alabama team (11-0) in the Orange Bowl, a game which was supposed to rival the Oklahoma battle for "Game of the Century". It didn't, and Nebraska won 38-6. That game was 28-0 at halftime and didn't live up to its hype.

The same can't be said for that OU-Nebraska showdown. Think about how many great players were in that showdown. Johnny Rodgers came up big. Greg Pruitt was a star. There was Jack Mildren and Jerry Tagge. Do people remember that this was before Tom Osborne and Barry Switzer? The coaching match-up featured two giants in Bob Devaney and Chuck Fairbanks. This was a big deal.

The best lead written about the '71 showdown came from Dave Kindred, who currently writes for The Sporting News and back then wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal. He wrote, "They can quit playing now, they have played the perfect game." It was a great game because Nebraska had to make a late drive, down 31-28. They converted a key third down play and scored the winning touchdown with under a minute left on a one-yard run.

For a game to be great, it has to have meaning and something special has to happen in the last two minutes. Nebraska won it on that late drive.

Back in those days, television selected its games differently. The Nebraska-Oklahoma match-up was picked back in February or March that year by ABC President Roone Arlidge. All the games were picked early, except for one national wild card game, plus one regional game left open for November.

Nobody had any idea this would be so outstanding when it was selected for television. But when Oklahoma killed Texas, everyone knew it would be for the national title.

This year's game was also boosted by the domination of the Sooners over the Longhorns. That game opened up a lot of eyes. Then when Oklahoma won at Kansas State, it gave Stoops' team another big lift.

Another reason this game has renewed interest is the fact these teams don't meet every year any more. When the Big 8 and Southwest Conference blended to form the Big 12, this rivalry was cut back due to scheduling, so these teams haven't met since 1997. They basically play two out of every four years, and at least these schools will meet in Lincoln next season.

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