Oklahoma Football: Red River or Bedlam, Which Is Most Revered?
An Oklahoma State fan asked me the other day how the Oklahoma football fan base feels about the Bedlam rivalry and its importance in comparison to the Red River rivalry with Texas.
After reflecting for a while on this question, it struck me that it really isn’t an equal or fair comparison. While both Texas and Oklahoma State are clearly longtime athletic rivals of the Sooners, it’s probably best for this purpose to frame this question in a football context.
Oklahoma and Texas have experienced tremendous success in college football and have a rich, deep-rooted history and tradition in the sport. The two schools have 11 national championships and nearly 80 conference championships between them. Their rivalry in football spans over 100 years and 111 games, even though the Longhorns and Sooners have only been members of the same conference (Big 12) since 1996.
Texas is the only school with which Oklahoma has played 11 or more games in its history that has a winning record against the Sooners in football, and there have been a number of games between the Sooners and the Longhorns in the last four decades in which both teams have been ranked, and 11 different times when both were ranked in the top five in the country.
The Oklahoma-Texas rivalry is one of rare college football rivalries that is contested on a neutral field, in this case at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, on the second weekend of the State Fair of Texas, at a venue that is pretty close to equidistant from both campuses. The Red River Showdown, as it is currently called, is also somewhat unique in that the stadium is equally divided: half of the stadium (from the 50-yard line to the 50-yard line on the other side of the stadium) is decked out in the traditional burnt orange school colors of Texas, and the other half in Oklahoma crimson. It is truly an eye-catching sight to see in person.
The annual football game between OU and Texas has been played in Dallas since 1912 and at the Cotton Bowl since 1932. For most of the Big 12 era, the winner of the Red River rivalry game, has been considered to have the inside track to the conference championship. This was particularly so when there were 12 teams in the Big 12 and the conference was divided into two divisions.
The Sooners and the Longhorns were part of the South Division, which was another reason why a win in the annual rivalry game took on added importance. You had to win your division in order to qualify for the conference championship game, and a win or a loss to Texas had big impact on Oklahoma’s ability to win a conference championship.
It also bears reminding everybody that the Sooners and Longhorns do not like each other, which adds to the motivation and build up that goes into this game every year.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have been playing each other in football for the same number of years as the Sooners and Longhorns. The all-time series with the Cowboys, however, has been dominated by the Sooners. In fact, Oklahoma’s 86 wins in the 111 games between the two big schools from the Sooner State are the most by OU against any opponent. In large part, this is why the rivalry between OU and OSU has not been held in as high a regard over the years.
The Oklahoma-Oklahoma State rivalry is known as “Bedlam,” a term that now applies to all competition, especially the athletic kind, between the two institutions. Although the football rivalry is 111 years old, Bedlam originated many years ago from the fierce, highly competitive wrestling competition between the two schools. Today you here the term “Bedlam” applied to football, basketball and all of the other sports encounters between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
In the Big 12 years, particularly the last dozen or so, Oklahoma State has been of the top football teams in the conference, and they also were in the South Division, along with Texas and the Sooners, before realignment reduced the number of teams and changed the structure of the league. So two of OU’s biggest rivals not only were in the same conference, but in the same division within the conference, much like what exists for Michigan in the Big Ten with Ohio State and Michigan State.
I say “two of” because Oklahoma and Nebraska were one of college football’s biggest rivalry games in football. Their rivalry on the gridiron spanned 83 years, including the game in 1972, billed as the Game of the Century, between the No. 1 Cornhuskers and the No. 2-ranked Sooners. This longtime rivalry stopped when Nebraska left the Big 12 in 2011 to become a member of the Big Ten. The two schools have, however, scheduled a two-game, home-and-home renewal of their once fierce rivalry in the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
Although Oklahoma has a record of 15-7 over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 era, several of the football games in recent years, including the last two seasons, have been scheduled as the final game of the regular season and on the same weekend as the other Power Five conference championships (even though Big 12 dropped its conference championship game after the 2010 season) and have decided the Big 12 champion.
Oklahoma can lay claim to being a part of three of college football’s longest and most acclaimed football rivalries, and all three – Texas, Oklahoma State and Nebraska – have their own special significance.
In terms of how the Sooner Nation views those three rivals, however, there is little question that Texas is, and always will be, Oklahoma’s biggest football rival. And you could almost expand that to every athletic competition between the Sooners and Longhorns, although football is where the OU-UT rivalry has it biggest following and fan passion.
In the sport of college wrestling, however, where Bedlam got its name, their is no bigger Sooner rival than the team an hour up the road in Stillwater.
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