10 best moments in Nebraska/Oklahoma, a great college football rivalry that resumes Saturday
It’s wild to look back at the Nebraska/Oklahoma rivalry. It’s been out-of-sight, out-of-mind to many because they haven’t played since meeting in the 2010 Big 12 Championship Game, because Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Big Ten the following year.
So often, these matchups have had a major impact on how we viewed a particular season. In the 1970s and 1980s, they played 21 times. In 17 of those meetings, both teams were ranked 11th or better. On 6 occasions, both teams were in the top 5. They combined for 9 national titles from 1970-2000.
The programs met every year from 1928 until 1997, and then 8 times in a 13-year span as they transitioned from the Big 8 to the Big 12. They’ve played as members of the Southwest Conference (1919), the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association (1921-25), the Big 6 (1928-1947), the Big 7 (1948-1958), the Big 8 (1960-1955) and the Big 12 (1996-2010).
Saturday, for the first time since the very first meeting in 1912 as independents, they’ll meet in a non-conference game. Before that, let’s look back at the top 10 moments from this series. (And disclaimer, this list is skewed toward how these events affected Nebraska, since we are a Big Ten site.)
Nebraska, Oklahoma open Memorial Stadium
It’s fitting that the very first game in the legendary stadium was played between Nebraska and Oklahoma. On Oct. 13, 1923, Memorial Stadium held just 31,080 fans, a fraction of the 85,458 it holds now. But this will always be an important date in Nebraska history, as this building has held an NCAA-record 377 sellouts in a row dating to 1962. As for the actual game, Nebraska won 24-0 in the 5th-ever meeting between these two.
Nebraska’s biggest upset ever?
When these teams met in 1959, Oklahoma was in a class of its own. The Sooners had a 74-game winning streak against the Big 7 at the time, and they had been one of the best programs in the country over the previous decade. In the 13 years prior to this meeting, the worst Oklahoma had finished in the final AP poll was 16th. They had spent 12 straight years in the top 5 at one point, and they came into this game at No. 19 after 2 losses in their first 5 games.
Still though, Nebraska was in much worse shape, which is why this result was so shocking. The Huskers had lost 3 straight and were just 2-4 (and only 2 years removed from a 1-9 season, the worst in program history). The fans tore down the goal posts after the Huskers’ 25-21 victory, and school officials canceled class on Monday.
Game of the Century Part I
This is 1 of 10 such games in the 20th Century to have earned the title “Game of the Century,” as is the case when No. 1 plays No. 2. In this game in 1971, defending national champion Nebraska entered on a 20-game winning streak and made it 21 with a 35-31 win over the No. 2 Sooners. An estimated 55 million viewers, at the time the largest television audience ever for a college football game, tuned in to ABC to watch the game. It was played on Thanksgiving Day, which is something you don’t see anymore in college football. There’s even a book about this game, written by Michael Corcoran.
After Nebraska rallied from a 3-point deficit to win, it took down No. 2 Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl to win its second straight national title and cement itself as one of college football’s premier programs.
This 1978 meeting will always be memorable for 2 reasons. For one, No. 4 Nebraska beat top-ranked Oklahoma 17-14 at Memorial Stadium for Tom Osborne’s first win in 6 tries against Oklahoma. But really, this game stands out because of the massive hit that still resonates today with Huskers fans. John Ruud absolutely wrecked Kelly Phelps on a kick return in the fourth quarter, causing a fumble that Nebraska recovered. But officials ruled that Phelps was down before the ball came out, negating what Nebraska fans call the best hit of all time. Since there were no replay reviews back then, the call stood.
Blown call aside, Nebraska dealt Oklahoma its only loss in 1978 (which, unfortunately for Huskers fans, included a rematch between the teams in the Orange Bowl).
Here’s one you don’t see anymore: the famed “fumblerooski.” The center snaps the ball to the quarterback, who immediately puts the ball on the ground. The offense runs one way, while a lineman picks up the ball and runs the other way.
The Huskers ran this to perfection in 1979, as right guard Kelly Saalfeld scored a TD on it. Even though Nebraska lost, it is an iconic play.
This play was banned by the NCAA in 1992 after Nebraska used it against Colorado.
Nebraska LB trampled by fans after INT
This is truly strange to watch.
In the 1982 meeting at Memorial Stadium, Oklahoma had 1 final possession to try for a game-winning TD, but walk-on linebacker Scott Strasburger intercepted a pass with 26 seconds left, returning it all the way to the 1-yard-line. As soon as he is tackled, the fans storm the field, before he is even able to get up — and with time still left on the clock. After Nebraska kneeled to end the game with the win, 28-24, fans stormed the field again and knocked over Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer.
Tom Osborne wins No. 250
This was peak Huskers football. Nebraska dominated Oklahoma 69-7 in 1997, on its way to a third national title in 4 years. The significance of this one wasn’t just the blowout, but that it was Osborne’s 250th win as coach of the Huskers. He reached 250 faster than anyone in college football history, at the time.
The Game of the Century Part III
I skipped over Part II because No. 2 Oklahoma won that one in 1987, only allowing No. 1 Nebraska to cross midfield 3 times. And in Part III, No. 2 Oklahoma upset No. 1 Nebraska in 2000. It’s important to include this one because of what happened the following year. …
Crouch’s catch on Black 41 Flash Reverse
Eric Crouch was known for throwing TD passes and rushing for scores, but not catching. Well, until the famed Black 41 Flash Reverse against Oklahoma in 2001.
With No. 3 Nebraska up 3 on No. 2 Oklahoma in the fourth quarter, Crouch handed off to running back Thunder Collins, who lateraled to wide receiver Mike Stuntz, a former high school QB. The lefty launched a bomb to Crouch for a 63-yard TD to put away the defending national champions once and for all. Crouch wound up winning the Heisman Trophy, and that was certainly a signature moment.
Nebraska leaves conference with a whimper
When Nebraska announced in June 2010 that it would be joining the Big Ten in 2011, no one knew when the next meeting of these teams would occur. As fate would have it, both teams tied for first in their divisions and won the tiebreaker to create one final matchup as members of the Big 12.
Nebraska stormed out to a 17-0 lead and led by 3 at halftime, but the Sooners pitched a shutout in the second half and won on 2 Jimmy Stevens’ field goals, the last of which came with 8:28 left in the game. It was a disappointing way to go out for a Huskers team that spent 10 weeks in the top 10. Surely there are some fans who will be rooting for a similar exit for Oklahoma whenever it leaves for the SEC.
At the time, no one knew when the next meeting would be. In 2012, the teams agreed to a home-and-home in 2021 and 2022, and in 2016, they agreed to another home-and-home in 2029 and 2030.
The fun resumes Saturday.