Cornhuskers, Sooners still playing for something

Saturday, November 13th 2004, 11:24 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Even though he grew up hundreds of miles away, a young Bob Stoops was intrigued by the rivalry.

In Chicago, Bill Callahan was watching, too.

As they tuned in so many Saturdays ago, the youngsters couldn't have known the parts they'd play in continuing the legacy the Oklahoma Sooners and Nebraska Cornhuskers were creating before their eyes.

``I always couldn't wait to watch it,'' said Stoops, years later the coach of the Sooners he rooted for decades and miles before. ``As a young person, even all the way in Ohio, I probably looked more forward to watching the Oklahoma-Nebraska game than the Ohio State-Michigan game. I just did.''

He remembers growing up watching Sooners greats such as running backs Steve Owens and Joe Washington. As a freshman in high school, Stoops even had silver shoes resembling the ones Washington sported on his way to one 100-yard game after another.

``I didn't run like Joe, but I had the shoes anyway,'' Stoops said.

Years later, Stoops and his second-ranked Sooners will head into another game against the Cornhuskers, but perhaps with less luster than the ones so fondly a part of his childhood.

On Saturday, it won't be No. 1 against No. 2 as it was in the ``Game of the Century'' in 1971 or ``Game of the Century II'' in 1987. It's not even No. 2 against No. 3 as it was only three years ago. This time, it's No. 2 in the country against, well, No. 2 in the less-than-stellar Big 12 North.

But players and coaches who participated in the rivalry over the years _ even those when Oklahoma briefly slipped from the nation's elite _ warn the players of today that they shouldn't expect any less than the historical games of yesteryear.

``I don't care how they beat down the North Division is this year, Oklahoma needs to be ready to play Nebraska and vice versa,'' said Charlie McBride, an assistant coach at Nebraska from 1977 to 1999. ``It's still one of those games where you'll feel the air around the stadium when you play Oklahoma in their stadium, same as it is in ours.''

McBride remembers treading lightly when Oklahoma was regarded as an underdog against Nebraska.

``Every time you went into that game, you were scared to death because you may have been written up to be the better team, but you didn't want the players to feel that,'' he said.

This time, it's Oklahoma's coaches who will be fighting the temptation for players to overlook a Nebraska squad with four losses. The Cornhuskers are a 30-point underdog.

It should help that there's still plenty on the line. Oklahoma (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) can wrap up the Big 12 South title with a win, while a loss would derail the Sooners' hopes to play in the BCS Championship game in Orange Bowl in January. Nebraska (5-4, 3-3), even with its lackluster start, can still reach a BCS game if it can emerge from the Big 12 North and win the conference title game.

``With the implications that are out there for us and really still out there for them, it's always a big game,'' said Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

A Nebraska win would, of course, be a giant upset. But teams in the rivalry have come to expect the unexpected.

Dean Blevins, a former Oklahoma quarterback now a TV sportscaster in Oklahoma City, says he can be thousands of miles away from home and a Nebraska fan will walk up and say, ``flea flicker,'' remembering the trick play that won the 1976 game for Oklahoma

Former Nebraska offensive tackle Bob Newton still defines the rivalry by Nebraska's 44-14 win in 1969, only one year after Oklahoma posted a 47-0 shutout.

So, Nebraska isn't looking at the game as impossible. As cornerback Fabian Washington said, the Cornhuskers have nothing to lose.

``We won't have to do a whole lot to get our guys ready to play this week as far as the emotional part of the game,'' said Jay Norvell, Nebraska's offensive coordinator. ``This is a special game that as you get to coach and get a chance to play that you dream of playing in.''

And maybe somewhere _ in Ohio or Chicago or even farther away _ a new dream will be born.