Old friends, nemeses gather at event to celebrate new winner

Barry Switzer, left, and Tom Osborne often found themselves on opposing sidelines in the ’70s and ’80s but came together for Wednesday’s banquet.

Tom Osborne arrived, Barry Switzer made a beeline to see him and the cameras naturally followed.

After a few seconds and a few words with his old friend and nemesis, Switzer realized what was happening.

“You guys snuck up on us,” Switzer said. “You’re gonna catch Tom cussin’.”

And so it started.

Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson was honored Wednesday night as the 2016 Outland Trophy winner, but Osborne and Switzer — and Switzer’s herd of former Oklahoma greats — demanded attention at the annual Outland banquet and receptions beforehand.

“I always enjoy coming to Nebraska, and Nebraska’s always been good to me,” Switzer said.

“Great fans, and we made a lot of memories.”

Switzer received the Tom Osborne Legacy Award before a crowd of 750 at the Downtown Doubletree. Osborne and Switzer led Nebraska and Oklahoma through most of the 1970s and ’80s, with the Big Eight championship and Orange Bowl bid usually at stake.

“It was two great teams, two great programs,” Switzer said. “But we had great respect for each other, and it was a very healthy, healthy rivalry. And a lot of schools don’t have that, what Oklahoma and Nebraska did.”

Osborne would echo Switzer’s words, noting that some other rivalries could include an edge or nastiness.

“And Oklahoma-Nebraska was never nasty,” Osborne said. “I can’t remember one single incident … and a lot of that had to do with Barry.”

Before Switzer took the mic, Osborne added: “I really appreciate all Barry contributed to college football over the years.”

Switzer traveled on his private plane with former Sooner greats Billy Sims, Thomas Lott, Greg Roberts and Joe Washington. Roberts also was honored Wednesday night and received a replica for winning the Outland in 1978, when Sims was the Heisman Trophy winner.

Among former Nebraska stars in attendance were Outland winners Larry Jacobson (1971) and Dave Rimington (1981, ’82), and 1972 Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers.

“I have a great respect for Oklahoma,” said Rodgers, part of NU national championship teams in 1970 and ’71. “They kind of made us great. I have a lot of Oklahoma friends and a lot of respect for the whole program.”

Sims knew he was going to hear about his late-game fumble in 1978 — and said he did not long after getting off the plane. It allowed Nebraska to escape with a 17-14 victory in Lincoln.

OU avenged that defeat by beating the Huskers 31-24 in the Orange Bowl, but it cost the Sooners a chance to play for another national championship.

“Losing to Nebraska broke my heart,” said Lott, the former OU wishbone quarterback. “That’s something that I never got over. You go on, but you don’t get over it.”

Lott was among the Sooners who led Osborne to start looking for running/option quarterbacks. One of his biggest recruiting scores was pulling Turner Gill out of Fort Worth, Texas, when Switzer said he thought OU had him locked up until signing day in 1980.

“I’m so upset with Turner,” Switzer said. “Still am today. Turner, I tell him that all the darn time.”

Switzer said he still kicks himself for not making one last visit. The story goes that Switzer was in Tulsa chasing another recruit, who would pick Texas, and Nebraska assistant Lance Van Zandt had Gill hidden away.

“If I’d gone there, I promise you, y’all wouldn’t have gotten Turner Gill,” Switzer said. “If I had gone to Fort Worth … and not taken it for granted.

“I’m two hours away (in Norman) from Turner Gill’s home. It’s a little closer than Nebraska. And he’s going to talk about playing baseball at Nebraska. I sent my baseball coach down there to sign him, and he couldn’t find him.”

Switzer left OU after the 1988 season, and Osborne not only would stay at Nebraska until 1997 but would win three national championships. What Osborne did over 25 seasons, Switzer said, no one else could do.

Switzer also paid homage to those last five Husker teams, which Osborne led to a 60-3 record. He appreciated the north-south attack, the option element, the ability to attack the perimeter.

“I’ve always said the playbook to the ’90s that he had would work today,” Switzer said.

Osborne was at NU and Switzer at OU before both became head coaches in 1973, also putting them on opposite sides for the 1971 Game of the Century. With Bob Devaney leading the Huskers and Chuck Fairbanks directing the Sooners, No. 1 Nebraska beat No. 2 Oklahoma 35-31 in Norman.

“It would have been a better game,” Switzer joked, turning to Osborne, “if we were the coaches.”

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