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Horning: Nostalgia great, but Huskers a cautionary tale, too

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FBC - OU vs. Nebraska 3

Oklahoma receiver Mark Clayton hauls in a pass in front of Nebraska’s Fabian Washington on Nov. 13, 2004, when the Huskers and Sooners were not only historic, but Big 12 rivals. (CNHI Sports Oklahoma)

The nostalgia’s great.

I mean, it’s really great.

Oklahoma and Nebraska, together again for another go round.

You want the greatest play in the history of the series and I’ll give you Johnny Rodgers’ ’71 Game of the Century punt return.

I was barely 3, my brain yet to come online, but you know it’s a play for the ages when you miss it, but can’t run away of it the rest of your life.

Best play I’ve ever seen in the series as it happened, I covered, in 2000, Josh Heupel to Curtis Fagan, 34 yards, TD, because when he threw it off his back foot it wasn’t clear who it was for. But giving it so much hang time, everything developed while the ball was in the air and by the time it fell to earth Fagan was there, behind the defense, basket catching it over his shoulder in full sprint.

The greatest play I missed live came in ’76, the hook and lateral, Dean Blevins to Steve Rhodes to Elvis Peacock, because my best neighborhood friends, Chris Bright and Cody Barnett and I, had given up on the game and gone outside to play football — Nerf football — ourselves.

Told later what happened, we couldn’t believe OU came back to win.

Sooner Magic, indeed.

So, the nostalgia is great.

Sportstalk 1400, on its Twitter feed, asked Sooner fans to vote for the best play in the history of the series on Tuesday.

They left Rodgers’ punt return out, but offered a clip that included the hook and lateral, Keith Jackson’s ’85 reverse, Jackson’s one-handed grab the following season facing third-and-17 and Andre Woolfolk’s Lynn Swann-esque 34-yard catch from the seat of his pants in 2000, three snaps before Heupel hit Fagan for that play I’ve already mentioned.

I’ve watched it two or three times. It’s fantastic stuff. Like everybody else, I miss the Sooners and Huskers in the same conference and I really miss them in the same conference when they’re both great.

Yet, the ability to get lost in nostalgia for a moment is not the ability to stay lost in it.

If things go as they ought to go Saturday afternoon upon Owen Field, nostalgia will have taken the bus back to Lincoln by the half and replaced it with pity and the cautionary tale that is the Huskers and about every other program to have bolted the Big 12 for thought-to-be greener conference pastures.

“About every other program” because, somehow, Texas A&M has bucked the trend, not becoming the Aggies who once dominated the old Southwest Conference, but bettering the old squads that once competed in the Big 12 South.

You’d think a Husker program that struggled more than its fans could have imagined under Frank Solich, Bill Callahan and Bo Pellini would eventually find and revitalize itself in its new place, at least matching those difficult seasons that followed Tom Osborne’s post-’97 departure. But you’d be wrong, because the Huskers have been horribly worse.

You might have thought Missouri would struggle and they have since joining the SEC. But the Tigers wanted out and got their wish, and though the SEC East does not include Alabama, Auburn or LSU, Missouri still fared better in the Big 12 North.


The Buffs helped turn the Pac-10 into the Pac-12, and whatever the opposite of gangbusters is is how it’s gone.

Read ’em and weep, because here are the numbers.

In the 10 seasons prior to this one Nebraska’s gone 43-41 in the Big 10, played in five bowls, winning two. In the 10 seasons prior in the Big 12, the Huskers went 47-31 and to eight bowls, winning four.

Missouri’s gone 35-39 against SEC competition prior to this season and been to four bowls, winning two. Their last nine Big 12 seasons, the Tigers went 42-31 and to eight bowls, winning four.

Colorado has been a Pac-12 disaster, going 23-62 over 10 seasons since joining, even with an 8-1 mark in 2016 and a 3-1 mark amid last year’s pandemic. It’s gone to two bowls and lost them both. It’s last 10 seasons in the Big 12, it went 38-42 and reached five bowls, winning one.

A&M’s gone 42-31 over nine SEC seasons after going 37-44 its last nine against Big 12 competition. It’s even gone 6-3 in bowl games.

Not that 42-31 is anything to write home about, hold yell practice over or dress up like a solider with a sword and everything. Nor would it be anything Sooner fans could stomach were that to be their team’s SEC fortune.

So it’s a mixed bag.

Nostalgia? Wonderful.

As long as you can keep it, which is not so easy when it’s all one of the two programs has got.

More difficult, too, when that program is a reminder of all that can go wrong when you shelve your old history and try making it anew.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

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