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Bedlam curse? Oklahoma State's tortured history against its in-state rival

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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Excitement was building this week in town for one of the biggest bouts in Bedlam history.

Local landmark Eskimo Joe's was packed for lunch, with more patrons sporting orange than not. Around the corner, on campus, the Oklahoma State band was getting ready to rehearse its pregame routine.

Before long, ESPN College GameDay will begin setting up on the library lawn.

Such excitement is warranted because this showdown of the No. 5 Sooners and No. 11 Cowboys will carry implications for both the Big 12 championship game and the College Football Playoff. But for this small community, and the OSU fan base around the state, there is a tinge of Bedlam trepidation, imprinted onto the collective psyche.

The Cowboys have been here before. Only to leave their fans with broken Bedlam hearts in the wake of a bad bounce, a dropped pass, a missed field goal.

"We feel cursed," Susan Daubeneck said while eating a salad from the bar at Eskimo Joe's. "You want to cry sometimes."

When it comes to beating its biggest rival, no fan base has been tortured to the degree OSU's has.

"We just don't win these," said Harris McCullough, nodding in agreement with Daubeneck, while tending bar.

To be fair, OSU has enjoyed its moments as the spoiler in Bedlam, most notably in 2001, when as a four-touchdown underdog, the Pokes knocked OU out of the Big 12 championship game on Rashaun Woods' touchdown grab.

However, when the game has mattered for both sides -- like it will Saturday -- the Cowboys have flopped, while the Sooners have sailed.

In fact, OU has prevailed in 14 of the past 15 meetings when both teams have been ranked. The only outlier was 2011, when the Cowboys had the far superior team and steamrolled OU 44-10 on the way to their only Big 12 championship.

Three times since, the Pokes have gone into Bedlam with the chance to clinch the Big 12 title; in all three, OU denied them, including the past two seasons.

"When this game is meaningful, it gives Oklahoma State fans zero confidence," said Kyle Porter, who owns the OSU fan site, PistolsFiringBlog.com. "It's super frustrating."

It's a trend of frustration that covers multiple generations.

Chris Norris, the longtime owner of Chris' University Spirit, an OSU apparel store less than a mile from Boone Pickens Stadium, is still haunted by 1988. He was on the sidelines when Mike Gundy's pass bounced off the chest of Brent Parker in the end zone, robbing the Barry Sanders-led team its chance to finally dethrone OU coach Barry Switzer, who lost to OSU only once in 16 seasons.

"A lot of OSU fans look at the OU game with dread," Norris said. "Like, what's going to get screwed up this time? There's been a lot of heartbreak, a ton of 'you gotta be kidding me.'"

Matt Amilian had that same reaction from the stadium in 2013, when Justin Gilbert had what would have been a game-sealing interception roll out of his hands as he hit the ground. Instead, OU scored its only offensive touchdown of the game five plays later, when third-string QB Blake Bell found Jalen Saunders in the corner of the end zone to give the underdog Sooners the victory.

"You just get this sense something is going to go wrong," said Amilian, whose grandmother is an OU season-ticket holder. "There's a feeling of, we're going to lose this in some form or fashion."

Kyle Crawford, captain of the Stillwater fire station just around the corner from the stadium, said he can't take much more. Especially now that his station has been flooded with firefighters who are OU fans in recent years.

"I love OSU, I got a job here, I never left," said Crawford, who as a medic on the OSU sidelines in 2010, watched in disbelief as OU QB Landry Jones tossed two touchdowns in the final three minutes to lift the Sooners to the Big 12 South Division title. "But if I were a gambling man, I would bet on OU."

You can hardly fault him.

Sure, other rivalries have their ebbs and flows.

Anytime Florida State needed to make a field goal to defeat Miami, the Seminoles would miss in agonizing fashion. But then last year, the Noles blocked a Miami extra point for a seventh straight victory in the series.

Auburn has endured its share of excruciating losses in the Iron Bowl. But then in 2013, the Tigers pulled off the most improbable play in the history of their series against Alabama with the "Kick-Six" game-winning score.

When it comes to Bedlam, the nightmare endings have been almost exclusively reserved for those clad in orange.

"You just get this sense something is going to go wrong. There's a feeling of, we're going to lose this in some form or fashion."

Oklahoma State fan Matt Amilian

"It's the reason the 'Poke Choke' term exists," OSU alum Cole McLanahan said. "There's just this sense of, How are we going to mess this up?"

Sometimes, that has included on-field collapses; other times, acts of Mother Nature.

In 1983, OSU led 20-3 with 10 minutes remaining, but a series of bizarre plays fueled an improbable OU comeback, including an onside kick that ricocheted off the helmet of OSU's Chris Rockins. With a minute to go, Tim Lashar nailed a 46-yard field goal for the Sooners win.

In 1985, a winter storm slammed into Stillwater minutes before kickoff, turning the Lewis Field turf into an ice rink. OSU's high-powered rushing offense led by Thurman Thomas was grounded, and OU shut out the Pokes.

In 1987, OSU had possession in the fourth quarter with a shot at a go-ahead. Instead, Gundy was intercepted twice for touchdowns.

"I don't think anybody could debate that run they had in that '70s up through the mid-'90s that maybe there could've been a mental edge," said Gundy, circumventing the term both fan bases know well as "Sooner Magic."

Yet even as Sooner Magic has dissipated, OU's stranglehold on the series has not.

OSU's luck hasn't improved, either, including with injuries or weather.

In 2009, QB Zac Robinson had suffered a head injury the game before Bedlam, which rendered the Cowboys' offense completely ineffective.

In 2015, QB Mason Rudolph had a broken foot, eliminating any hope of an OSU passing attack.

In 2013, temperatures in the teens subdued OSU's offense again. And last year, a rain storm leading up to game time sent the Pokes into another offensive shell.

When the weather has been fine and the Cowboys have been healthy, well, that has mattered little.

In 2012, OSU led by double digits in the second half in Norman. But Saunders tied the Pokes on a punt return in the fourth quarter, Bell sent the game to overtime on a fourth-down keeper and Brennan Clay won it for the Sooners with a scamper over a series of exhausted would-be OSU tacklers.

"What can go bad will go bad," said Brian Denneny, who played baseball for the Pokes. "That's a shared sentiment you can feel throughout the whole fan base."

Well, not entirely.

"I have hope," tuba player Holly Dickens said.

"Someday, the ball has to bounce our way."