Texas-Oklahoma rivalry regaining national importance

Friday, October 6th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ For 100 years, the Red River Shootout has been a border war, played during the hoopla of the Texas State Fair in a stadium evenly divided in Texas orange and Oklahoma crimson.

Home field advantage doesn't exist in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Depending on which team you root for, it's either Texas-Oklahoma or Oklahoma-Texas. The preferred team comes first. Always.

In its heyday, winning was considered key to recruiting the top high school talent. It could make or break a program's future.

But it's been a long while since the game meant much to anyone outside of Big 12 country. Saturday's matchup will be the first time since 1984 in which both teams are in the top 15, with Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) at No. 10 and Texas (3-1, 1-0) at No. 11.

The rivalry dates back to 1900, before Texas was known as the Longhorns and Oklahoma was still called the Rough Riders. Texas leads the series 55-34 with five ties. Nine times, either Texas or Oklahoma has come in ranked No. 1 in the nation.

``It's always important regionally, and this year it has more national attention,'' said Texas coach Mack Brown. ``And now that both programs are improving, I think it will be good to get it back on the national level.''

The fans, however, never wavered. The October game brings out their best, or perhaps their worst.

Texas cornerback Roderick Babers learned that last year when he played Oklahoma for the first time.

``When little old ladies are giving you the bird, that's when I knew there was some bad blood in this game,'' Babers said.

Fourteen years since he last laid out a Longhorn, Brian Bosworth still gets worked up about Texas.

Ask him about playing the Longhorns and the former Oklahoma All-America linebacker starts talking faster and louder.

``I lived and breathed that rivalry,'' said Bosworth, a Texan who crossed the Red River to play for the Sooners.

``It was good vs. evil .... And you know who was evil.''

Never one to mince words _ he once referred to the Longhorns' color as ``puke orange'' _ Bosworth sounds like he'd love one more game in the annual Red River Shootout.

His first came in 1984, when Texas was No. 1 and Oklahoma No. 3 _ a game that ranks as one of the oddest ever.

Texas had walloped Penn State 28-3 two weeks earlier, and Longhorns fans were talking national title.

Rain fell, players slipped and slid about on the field's artificial turf, and the teams combined for just 347 yards of total offense.

``I thought what a shame for that game to be played on that field because you couldn't hardly stand up,'' said Brown, then the Oklahoma offensive coordinator.

After Oklahoma took a safety to make it 15-12, Texas got the ball back with 2:10 left to play.

The Longhorns drove the length of the field looking for the winning touchdown. But after a pass into the end zone failed _ Sooners fans insist to this day it was intercepted by Keith Stanberry _ Jeff Ward kicked a 32-yard field goal in a downpour on the final play for the tie.

``I have never seen or heard a crowd like that. The end of the game was just surreal,'' Ward said. ``Oklahoma fans were mad. Texas fans were mad. Everybody was shouting. You felt miserable because of the rain.

``I looked over at the sideline and (Oklahoma coach) Barry Switzer is fuming and sloshing around because he's all caught up in the cords of the coaches' headsets.''

Bosworth oozes contempt for the tie.

``They came and did the unthinkable, trying to tie it up,'' he said. ``They were the No. 1 team. That was like shooting themselves in the head.''

The tie didn't feel good in the Texas locker room either, Ward said, remembering the actions of coach Fred Akers.

``Akers jumped up on a bench and says, 'I don't like it either. If I could, I'd go out and meet them in the parking lot,''' Ward recalled.

By playing favored Texas to a tie, the Sooners set the foundation for their great teams of 1985-1987 that won one national title and played for another.

But the success didn't last. Bob Stoops is the fourth Sooners head coach since Switzer departed after the 1988 season. The Sooners have won nine games in a season just twice since.

Texas would go on to lose four of its last five games in 1984 and finish out of the rankings. In the 16 years since, three more head coaches have stood on the Texas sidelines. The Longhorns have won nine games or more four times and posted five losing seasons.

Brown and Stoops have revitalized the near-dormant programs.

Texas won the Big 12 South title in 1999 and climbed back into the top 10. Stoops went 7-4 in his first year and changed the face of Oklahoma football with a passing attack never before seen in Norman. His first season broke a three-year streak of losing records.

Darrell Royal, who played at Oklahoma in the 1940s before coaching Texas for 20 years, said both programs _ and the rivalry _ are reliving the glory days.

``Both schools are on the climb,'' said Royal, 2-2 against Texas as a Sooners player in the 1940s and 12-7-1 record against his alma mater as a coach.

``Anytime both of us went into the game undefeated, usually we were both in the top 10,'' Royal said. ``And I think we're getting closer to it being that way again. When they both get to the top 10, that's as big as it gets.''