Absolute Bedlam - 405 Magazine

Absolute Bedlam

Football is a big, big deal around here, especially if the teams competing both have “Oklahoma” in their names. As longtime rivals the OU Sooners and OSU Cowboys move toward another marquee matchup, Slice takes a look at the history, atmosphere and myriad joys of the madness that is Bedlam.

Photo by Ty Russell

There have been lopsided blowouts. There have been tense nail-biters. There have been unbelievable reversals of fortune. There have even been games with more at stake: in 1984 the two teams on Owen Field were #2 and #3 in the country.

There’s never been a better game than this one – November 24, 2012.
The host Sooners were #13, with an 8-2 record and hopes of stealing the conference title from Kansas State, while #21 OSU was 7-3 and looking for a second straight Sooner thrashing. The line was OU by 6.5. They wouldn’t cover that spread.

The Cowboys stifled the crimson crowd by jumping out to a 14-point lead on two TDs from Joseph Randle. Halfway through the second quarter they seemed in control 17-3 before a flurry of scoring; OU’s oft-maligned Landry Jones shook off an early interception to throw three TD strikes to three different receivers, and tied the game 24-24 at halftime.

Photo by Ty Russell

OSU came out of the locker room and took control back, trading two Sooner FGs for two Cowboy touchdowns, including the hard-running Randle’s fourth. With three quarters in the books, OSU was up by 8 and Orange Power seemed poised to prevail. Then they made the mistake of punting to Jalen Saunders, who sprinted 81 yards for a punt return to tie the game again. OSU doggedly drove the length of the field to retake the lead (45-38) and try to hold on.

They almost made it. Facing fourth-and-1 at the OSU 4, with mere seconds left on the clock, Blake Bell crashed into the end zone to send the game to the series’ first-ever overtime. In OT, OSU kicked a field goal, Brennan Clay ripped off an 18-yard touchdown and the Sooners won 51-48.

OU never led until the instant the game was over. OSU came into the home of its ancient foe, one of the nation’s hardest places to win, and built a double-digit lead, then gave it away, built another one and gave it away again. Clint Chelf threw for over 200 yards and led 7 scoring drives, and still lost. Landry Jones threw for 500 yards and three touchdowns to win his last home game at OU, and still wasn’t the hero. Before kickoff, some OSU fans had to be fantasizing about repeating the postgame feat of destruction they had wrought in their home the year prior by tearing down the Memorial Stadium goalposts – instead they witnessed the building of a legendary chapter in the Bedlam rivalry.

Photo by Ty Russell

The teams’ seasons swung in separate directions afterward. Possibly a little shell-shocked by the loss, OSU – which had been one tackle away from having a solid shot at a BCS bid – dropped their season finale against Baylor and dropped in the postseason positioning all the way down to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where they pulled themselves together and walloped Purdue. Meanwhile, OU pulled out a close one over TCU (their fourth one-score victory in a row) to snag a share of the Big 12 title … before an embarrassing loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Brushing aside that horror, it remains undeniable that 2012’s Bedlam was one for the ages. Wait ’til this year!

Still Crazy After All These Years

Since before there was a state of Oklahoma, OU and OSU football teams have struggled for superiority in the Bedlam series. Well … sorta. They didn’t call it that initially – the name was actually coined in reference to the schools’ riotous wrestling matches – and the non-Sooners were technically Oklahoma A&M until 1957. (They also weren’t yet Cowboys in the beginning; the players were Aggies and their mascot was a tiger.) And the series hasn’t been as close as drama-lovers might wish, since the Norman school holds an all-time edge of 83 wins to Stillwater’s 17, with 7 ties … but it has had plenty of milestones.

1904 – First game in the series, finishing with what is to this day the largest margin of victory: Bennie Owen leads OU to a 75-0 (!) triumph

1917 – OK A&M’s first win, 9-0

1929-1934 – OU’s longest drought so far; three ties and three losses in a six-year span. Well done, A&M coach Pappy Waldorf. (That’s a sweet name, too.)

1945 – There is no joy in Norman as OU is handed its worst beatdown of the series; a 47-0 annihilation. But over the next 50 years (1946-1995), OU dominated the series 45-4-1.

1946-1964 – OU’s longest winning streak so far; 19 in a row under the legendary Bud Wilkinson

1972 – first time both teams were ranked coming into Bedlam; #3 OU beat #20 OSU 38-15

1976 – Jim Stanley’s unranked squad upends #5 OU 31-24 in front of 72,000 witnesses, the series’ largest crowd to that point

2001 – OSU gives Bob Stoops his first ever home loss, as the #4 Sooners are outmatched by an unranked team. The following year, once more unranked, they do it again in Stillwater to an OU squad ranked #3

2009 – The unranked Sooners return the favor by shutting out Mike Gundy’s #12 Cowboys

2012 – Bedlam truly lives up to its name in its first-ever overtime installment; OU pulls out a come-from-behind win in one of the series’ greatest games

Faces in the Crowd

Fan Reactions to Bedlams Past and Present

Photo by City of Stillwater

Nick Hathaway

OU Executive Vice President

Last year – that game was crazy; just an absolute shootout. When Brennan Clay ran into the end zone and tossed the ball into the air with both hands, that was just nuts. Instant jubilation.

I think it’ll be another really close game this year; of course, I think we’ll win, but the teams look pretty evenly matched to me so far [in September].

Nancy Ellis

Founding Member of Heritage Trust and member of OSU Alumni Hall of Fame

Last year was something else, wasn’t it? But that’s the best the Cowboys have ever done; we’ve been beaten by OU for many, many years, but now the players feel like they can compete and they do compete well. They don’t always win, but they compete very well. [She’s right: OSU’s 48 points in 2012’s losing effort were an all-time Bedlam record for the Cowboys.]

I have a lot of OSU graduates in my family, and my granddaughters all go to the games. They are big OSU fans. We love it up there, and we laugh and say, “My blood runs orange.”

Mike Powers

Assistant General Manager of Ben E. Keith Foods

I’ve been to lots of Bedlam games, in both places, and there’s no comparison. I mean, you could compare it with an OU-Texas game in certain years, but otherwise there’s nothing like it. Last year’s game in Norman was definitely the most intense I’ve ever seen. It was something else.

We always go to Eskimo Joe’s, for sure, and then just hop around from tailgate to tailgate. The fans are always great in Stillwater, even if I’m wearing red.

I do think it’s going to be a barnburner [this year], and as much as I would love to see OU win, I would predict a 31-28 win for OSU.

Clayton Taylor

Principal of the Taylor Group and OSU Distinguished Alumnus Award Winner

I’ve been going to Bedlam games for 43 years. The atmosphere is just electric – it’s just a family feud, and it can be both very good-natured and horribly personal for folks.

We tailgate: Everyone from elected officials, to friends to corporate heads to fraternity brothers to neighbors … and when it’s Bedlam, we make sure that we have orange cups and red cups and do the whole nine yards to make our OU friends feel welcome as well.

I think we could have an incredible Bedlam [this year]. I thought OU would probably beat us last year in Norman, and because the game’s in Stillwater this year I think OSU will probably win. The teams for the last few years have been closely matched, and so the difference-maker is the home field advantage.

Author’s note: I mentioned that all three times I’ve seen OU play in person they’ve lost, and Clayton immediately replied, “Well, we want you to come to this game! Come to Stillwater!”

Kirk Humphreys

Chairman of The Humphreys Company and member of OU Board of Regents

It’s a nice town; I like Stillwater. Hideaway Pizza started there. Of course, everyone goes to Eskimo Joe’s, but Hideaway’s great. And I’ll tell you one thing that OSU fans do a great job of: Tailgating.

[Bedlam] is worse than a family feud; it may be more of a Hatfield and McCoy-type feud. We went so many years where for OSU to beat OU was really rare; then they really got parity with us. It’s a tough rivalry anymore – Stillwater is a really tough place to go play, and I’m sure they feel the same way about us.

Feeding Frenzy

Boone Pickens Stadium figures to be the best kind of madhouse on December 7, and out-of-city visitors can have a great, great time just roaming among the tailgaters outside. But for those feeling a bit peckish, the city outside the stadium offers some outstanding treats in the way of eats, starting with a Stillwater icon:

If you ask a local, visiting Eskimo Joe’s on game day is like driving in New York City – no one does it, because too many people do it. But it’s a city landmark for a reason; brave the crowd to get a plate of Sweet Peppered Bacon Cheese Fries, a chicken-and-pineapple Fowl Thing and a beer (and possibly a T-shirt) and experience it for yourself.

Coney Island – knockout dogs, onion burgers and cheese tots in the heart of the Strip.

Café 88 – If you’re feeling like Asian, or just need a bubble tea fix, it’s quick, inexpensive and super tasty.

Brooklyn’s – An upscale dining experience inspired by the melting pot of cuisine in its namesake New York neighborhood, with menu items from Shrimp and Grits to Coffee-Rubbed Ribeye.

Hideaway Pizza – Metro residents should already be intimately familiar with the purveyors of some of the state’s finest, but the pizza powerhouse began in Stillwater, and the flagship franchise is still delicious.

The Strip is also studded with places to toast victory or drown sorrows after the game; specific popular options include Stonewall Tavern, The Basement (underneath Brooklyn’s) and Willie’s Saloon.

 Also, of special note for those who still miss the OKC and Norman franchises, Stillwater is home to a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Hint.

The Road to Chaos

It’s a mere 80 miles or so from Norman to Stillwater, and if pigskin pilgrims need to stop along the way they’ll probably do so in the giant metropolis in between. But once past the Turner Turnpike, there are still a few things to see and do – if you make one detour, make it Pops in Arcadia, home to the vastly varied Soda Ranch. For OU fans, crimson quenchers include Red Rock fruit punch and the Soviet-themed beverage Leninade. (Geddit? It’s a Red soda!) Meanwhile, OSU supporters’ choices include Hank’s Gourmet Orange Cream Soda and a classic orange Faygo – the company is as old as Oklahoma. Or you could have a Blenheim Ginger Ale, because they are delicious.

Also, whichever route you take, there’s probably a Sonic somewhere along the way (for example, there’s one right off I-35 in Guthrie). America’s Drive-In is not only an Oklahoma-born and -based business, they’re currently offering the option to have your favorite team and eat it too: Order a Brisket Cheeseburger and you can specify whether yours comes topped with an edible OU or OSU logo. The art is made from tapioca starch that’s steamed onto the bun – it doesn’t affect the flavor any more than getting a photo iced on top of a cake does. Awesome, right? Now you can scoff, “Sooners? Pfft – I eat OU for lunch! With tater tots!”

Gazing Into the Manic 8-Ball

Everyone loves an underdog … but the question this time is “Which team is that?”

 While the Sooners have historically had the Cowboys’ number, numbers go out the window when the teams take the field. The weight of history pales in comparison to the 300 pounds of OSU senior DT Calvin Barnett crushing an unprotected quarterback, and a past 19-game win streak is small comfort when watching Josh Stewart streak past defenders on his way to the house.

On paper, OSU looked like the superior squad to begin 2013: They were, in fact, the preseason favorite to win the Big 12, in part because they returned 15 starters, including Barnett and Stewart, both considered among the league’s best at their positions. Through the first part of the season, J.W. Walsh played brilliantly, while OU struggled with its quarterback situation before Trevor Knight’s knee injury. Plus, the Cowboys have home field advantage. On the other hand, just before press time OU produced a win to remember against Notre Dame while OSU had a week they’d rather forget in Morgantown. Blake Bell has proven that he can throw as well as gallop and talents like Trey Millard and Charles Tapper and Alvin Colvin are proven playmakers at their positions … and you may have heard the term “Sooner magic” before.

One thing appears certain, even this far in advance: This installment in the ongoing saga will be a doozy. Two of the conference’s top teams, each with a week off beforehand to rest and prepare, closing out their regular seasons in a century-plus rivalry game, almost certainly on national television and in front of more than 60,000 screaming fans? The only way it could be better is if they’re both highly ranked.

Saints and angels, what if they’re both in the top 10? The stakes would be immense, the energy levels through the roof – the whole experience would be … would be …
… Bedlam.