LINCOLN, Neb. - Thirty years after "The Game of the Century," not much has changed between Oklahoma and Nebraska.
Just as in 1971, the winner of today's game between the Sooners and Cornhuskers becomes a favorite for the national title.
"Oklahoma-Nebraska is big now, and it was big 30 years ago," said Jack Mildren, quarterback of the '71 Sooners team that lost to the top-ranked Huskers 35-31. "It's a rivalry that was born not out of hatred or envy. It was born out of respect."
Oklahoma (7-0 overall, 3-0 Big 12) is first, and the Cornhuskers (8-0, 4-0) are second in the Bowl Championship Series ratings. You don't even have to go all the way back to 1971 to find a similar matchup - last year, No. 1 Nebraska lost at No. 2 Oklahoma 31-14.
The Sooners went on to an unbeaten season and the national title. Today's winner will have an edge on everybody in the race for the Rose Bowl, the BCS title game this season.
"It's almost a mini-national championship," Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch said. "I don't think either team is going to be looking past that point."
Although the teams could very well meet again in the Big 12 championship game Dec. 1, it's obvious this could be another classic contest.
Both Nebraska coach Frank Solich and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops have been showing film clips of the storied rivalry all week.
"It's important that our players truly understand the tradition and history of this game and respect it, and respect the players that have been here before and how they've played in those games," Stoops said.
The "Game of the Century," as the '71 contest was billed, propelled Nebraska to its second straight national championship.
The Huskers were 10-0, Oklahoma 9-0, and both teams had impressive offenses that didn't disappoint on that blustery Thanksgiving Day in Norman. The lead changed hands four times, with Nebraska finally clinching victory on I-back Jeff Kinney's 2-yard run with 1:38 left.
"I'm just amazed how it grew over time," said Kinney, who had four touchdowns in the game.
One of the biggest highlights of the game was wingback Johnny Rodgers' 72-yard touchdown return on the Sooners' first punt. It's still a point of contention with Oklahoma fans, who say there was an illegal block on the play.
The officials didn't see it that way, and Nebraska had a 7-0 lead, which grew to 14-3 four minutes into the second quarter when Kinney dove in from the 1-yard line.
Then Mildren and the Sooners got rolling. Mildren, who would finish with 130 yards on 31 carries, scored on a 2-yard keeper with 5:10 left in the second quarter to make the score 14-10. Then, just before halftime, he stung the Cornhuskers with two big pass plays.
With under 30 seconds left, he lofted a pass for split end Jon Harrison, who came back for the ball and caught it for a 43-yard gain to Nebraska's 24. Mildren went to Harrison again on the next play for a touchdown and a 17-14 halftime lead.
Nebraska quickly reclaimed the lead after a Mildren fumble on the first series of the second half. Kinney scored on a 3-yard run, and the Huskers widened the lead to 28-17 on their next possession with a 61-yard drive that ended on Kinney's 1-yard run.
But Oklahoma cut it to 28-24 on the next possession when Mildren scored on a short touchdown run. The Sooners went up 31-28 with 7:10 left in the game on Mildren's 16-yard pass to Harrison.
But Nebraska wasn't finished. The Huskers drove 74 yards and took the final lead on Kinney's fourth TD.
Nebraska went on to beat Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl to wrap up the national championship.
"The No. 1 and No. 2 teams came together and both teams were up to people's expectations. It wasn't a blowout. It was a good game," said Larry Jacobson, an All-American defensive tackle in '71. "It's just gotten built up over the years."
Jacobson, who still lives in Lincoln, will be at the game today. Mildren will not. He's traveling to Greencastle, Ind., to watch his son, Drew, play quarterback for Center of Kentucky in a Division III game. That game kicks off three hours after Oklahoma-Nebraska, so Mildren should be able to watch his alma mater on TV.
He checked with the student union to make sure there would be a television available.
"If it wasn't," Mildren said, "I was going to get a hotel, because I'm going to see the game."
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