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Game of the Century resonates with many, but most Husker players unfamiliar with history of NU/OU rivalry

Game of the Century resonates with many, but most Husker players unfamiliar with history of NU/OU rivalry

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Steven M. Sipple and Parker Gabriel give four highlights from Monday's NU athletics press conference.

The thing with the Game of the Century, of course, is that it happened last century.

The 1971 classic between Nebraska and Oklahoma lives in college football lore for those who follow the game closely and study its history intently.

But for guys born in the new century — also known as pretty much everyone on Nebraska's roster — the rivalry and the games that defined it live well in the past. The teams haven't met since most of NU's players were around 10 years old.

Saturday's matchup between the Huskers and Sooners, while being a national stage for both teams, is more for the parents and the grandparents than the players.

"Game of the Century was in the 60s, right? 70s?" NU sophomore linebacker Luke Reimer (born in 2000) said Monday.

Told it was 1971, Reimer responded, "See? Shows you how much I know."

By the time he really started watching college football, Reimer said, Nebraska was in the Big Ten and the series with the Sooners was dissolved.

While that might make fans of a certain vintage wince a little, that's the reality of Saturday's game. Nebraska knows it will see a top-five opponent on the road. The Huskers know they have an opportunity, as a three-score underdog, to manufacture a shocking upset and potentially change the narrative of their season. 

But outside of that, the celebrations surrounding the game will amount to little more than a lesson in college football history for Nebraska's players.

"You know, I don’t remember at all because I was a little baby. I know it’s a huge rivalry, I know that," said sophomore linebacker Garrett Nelson (born in 2000). "I mean, it's a nameless, faceless opponent every week. We treat every game like it’s the Super Bowl, prepare like it’s the Super Bowl. The whole cliché deal. We need to focus on us and what we need to do and the rest will take care of itself."

Brant Banks didn't exactly grow up an Oklahoma fan, as the NU offensive lineman (born in 2000) lived in Texas. But he also didn't know much about Nebraska either, before being recruited by, and eventually signing with, the Huskers.

"Especially now seeing them, now that I'm at Nebraska, they're just like any other team," Banks said. "It's a nameless, faceless opponent. We have to go out there and do what we have to do, and that's the way we're going to win."

That doesn't lessen the importance of the game in Banks' eyes. He's heard about the rivalry from his father. But his words paired with Nelson's illustrate the approach NU is taking this week: it's not Oklahoma. It's just the next game on the schedule.

"I'm excited to bring it back," Banks said. "And hopefully we can go out there and show what we can do against a big opponent. 

Adrian Martinez is in the group of players who gets into the history of the game. A self-described "college football junkie", Martinez devours documentaries about the game and seems to understand the place the NU/OU rivalry holds in the bigger picture of college football.

"It means a tremendous amount to the fans, and to us as players to be a part of this rivalry," Martinez said. "It's the stuff I grew up wanting to be a part of, simple as that. I'm from California, and I knew about the Oklahoma/Nebraska rivalry. It's big, and I'm excited to finally be a part of it."

That history includes NU coach Scott Frost, who was the Huskers' quarterback for the two most lopsided whippings in the history of the series: 73-21 in 1996, and 69-7 in 1997. Before that, he was driving to games with his parents.

"I remember coming to a bunch of them. Driving from O'Neill and being here in Lincoln, or driving from McCook to come see the games; going to games around Thanksgiving when I was a little boy was a special deal," Frost said. "So I've seen a lot of them, been a part of a lot of them."

Now Frost the coach, still searching for the spark he hopes will light his alma mater's flame once again, will man the sidelines.

"This was my favorite game of the year growing up, my entire life. Just like every Nebraska fan, I think," Frost said. "and I was lucky enough to play in two of them. 

"One of the best rivalries in sports. It's kind of a shame it went away, but it's going to be special to be a part of it in a different role."

Contact the writer at cbasnett@journalstar.com or 402-473-7436. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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