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Conflict Resolution: Sugar Bowl Pits Newlyweds Against Each Other

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

There's always going to be conflict in marriage. Normally, though, you'd like to get through the first month before sparring with your spouse.

TJ and Casey Yates were married on Dec. 15, and Thursday night's Sugar Bowl will be a major spot of tension between the two as TJ's Alabama Crimson Tide face off against Casey's Oklahoma Sooners.

The couple began dating in January and got engaged this summer. Unlike a lot of couples, talks about their alma maters facing off on the gridiron was something that came up early on in their relationship, a true indicator of their passion for the game.

"She mentioned it at one point," TJ said. "She said I'm just glad they never play. I said well they could end up playing in a bowl game, like the Cotton Bowl or something."

Even though it seemed like a future matchup was inevitable, Casey wasn't expecting it to come this soon.

"I assumed that some day we'd (OU) have to play them, like 15 years from now, not this year, the way Alabama was playing and the way we were playing," Casey said. "I would not have expected it."

TJ grew up in Alabama, but his parents went to Southern Mississippi and weren't Alabama fans when he was younger. TJ joined the ranks of the Crimson Tide when his was four years old, courtesy of the gift of an Alabama hat from his cousin, Nathan.

"I've been rocking Bama since then," TJ said. "I wore that Bama hat for the longest time. It said Bama across the top with an elephant in the middle. Plus, we lived in Alabama so it was easy to get Bama gear."

His parents would call themselves Alabama fans now, he says, but his father won't let him live down one bit of Southern Miss history.

"He's always sure to tell me that the last team to beat Bear Bryant at home was Southern Miss," TJ said. "I'm reminded of that every time he talks about Southern Miss. He takes great pride in that."

Casey on the other hand, was Sooner born and Sooner bred. Her grandfather and parents all went to OU, but she never felt pressure to go there herself. In fact, she almost went to another Big 12 school.

"We went and looked at Baylor and I started crying while we were there because I thought I was supposed to go there and I didn't want to go there at all," Casey admitted. "Right before I graduated, I changed my mind and said I was going to OU. I bleed crimson."

When the couple found out a week before their wedding day the Sooners and Crimson Tide would be facing off in New Orleans, the news was met with mixed reactions.

"I was pumped we were going to a BCS game," Casey said. "After Bedlam, it kind of seemed like it breathed a bit of life into our season. So I was excited. Now that we're playing Alabama, well." At this, Casey threw a sheepish glance at TJ and laughed. "It's probably not going to go in our favor."

TJ, on the other hand, was still feeling the pain of Alabama's stunning loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl and like most Crimson Tide fans, wasn't looking for any sort of consolation prize.

"I didn't really mind," TJ said. "After we lost to Auburn, I figured the season was over anyway. I didn't really care."

TJ and Casey's passion for football is something they display both at the games and when watching on TV. There's a lot of yelling involved, something they say they get from their respective dads. And when they're at games, things go to another level.

"She makes up these words," TJ said about Casey. "On kickoffs she nudges me and does her OOOOOO-U!"

TJ mimicked the gesture OU fans make on kickoffs, his index finger extended.

"I just start to say one thing and then change it halfway through because something happens," Casey said in defense.

As for TJ, the couple traveled to Tuscaloosa in November to see the Tide play LSU. It was Casey's first time to experience an Alabama home game and seeing TJ in that atmosphere was something to behold.

"He was like a giddy little schoolboy," Casey said, laughing. "He just sat there smiling the whole time. Even when something bad happened, he was just sitting there smiling because he was so excited to be there."

Since there's a lot of passion, the smack talk has been ramped up in the last week or so and there should be plenty of it as kickoff draws near.

"She lit me up the other day," TJ said. "‘Boys arrived in NOLA. Hope you're ready to lose. Blah, blah, blah.' Then Parker (Casey's brother) got a Christmas gift and it had the seven national championships for OU. Her dad was like, ‘Oh look at that. Seven legitimate national championships.' Obviously, I had to get him back, so I was like, ‘That's ok. We still have nine legitimate ones out of our 15.'"

The only small disagreement has been the mindset from Casey and Oklahoma fans thinking the Sooners don't have a snowball's chance in hell of knocking off an angry Alabama team. TJ said that lack of faith and satisfaction in simply getting to a BCS bowl is disrespectful.

"We might just surprise you, surprise everyone and beat your sorry tail," Casey said in response, smiling.

While most Oklahoma fans are wary of facing Alabama, TJ isn't overlooking the Sooners himself, especially one particular guy on defense.

"OU runs an offense that apparently we can't stop very well," TJ said, referring to the Crimson Tide's problems with containing Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. "I'm not as scared as the (OU) defensive linemen as much as I am Eric Striker. He's the guy that will beat us. We have big tackles. They're not fast enough to get out there and block him."

The couple isn't foolish enough to allow the game to actually come between them, but it does make for a good bit of fun early in marriage.

"I think it's more as see it as our separate teams, not as something we have to get through," Casey said. "I think there's a little bit of, well one of our teams has to lose so that's a bummer, because we'd cheer for the other team if they were playing someone else."

At this, TJ looked at his new wife with a smile and a raised eyebrow and simply asked, "Really?"

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