Jenni Carlson: The final Bedlam week is here, so as this storied football rivalry reaches its end (for now), it is fitting to reflect on what we’ll miss most about it when it is gone.
We’ve known for more than two years that this would likely come.
The last Bedlam week.
From the moment we learned OU was leaving the Big 12 and heading to the SEC, the end of Bedlam seemed a possibility. There was hope it might continue, but still, other big rivalries have failed to survive a conference split. Why would Bedlam be any different?
By last summer, we got our answer: It wouldn’t be.
And now, with OU joining the SEC next season, this week’s game is the end of Bedlam as we know it. Sure, other sports may continue the rivalry after OU and OSU are in different leagues, but Bedlam football will soon be history.
While we’ve long known it was a possibility, then a certainty, it still doesn’t feel real. That a rivalry first played in 1904 will be no more is disappointing. Regrettable. Sad even.
Even though Saturday’s game promises a lot of juice — Ollie Gordon vs. the OU defense, Dillon Gabriel vs. the OSU defense and a spot in the Big 12 title game likely going to the winner — it’s hard not to feel a little melancholy about this final Bedlam.
Here are three things we’re going to miss about Bedlam:
The phrases or names that become touchstones for Oklahomans.
Just say “16-13” or “Brent Parker” or “91-19-7,” and people in this state know what you’re talking about.
We’ve got a bunch of them. The Ice Bowl. Cale Mary. “Let ‘er rip.” Tyreek Hill. Mr. Bedlam. “Which one is which.” 62-52. “Rashaun’s still open.” Every single name or phrase or quote carries a long story with it, but with just a few words, sports fans across the state are transported to that exact moment in time.
Our shared memories of all these games over all these years has given us a Bedlam language. Okie-ese, if you will.
The emotions it causes in both Sooners and Cowboys.
Now, the feelings around this rivalry are different among the fan bases.
For OU fans, there’s a superiority that comes with Bedlam. Sooners everywhere love to spend this week (and lots of other weeks) spouting the overall record of the rivalry and saying OU’s big advantage means this isn’t even a rivalry. (Even though it is. Period. End of story.)
For OSU fans, the Cowboys haven’t had as much success, but the wins have often been sweet. Knocking the Sooners out of the national-championship hunt. Winning in the midst of a bad season for the Cowboys. Capping a great season with a Bedlam win.
And then both are able to explain the other side’s advantage away with thoughts of their own side’s success.
The psychology of the whole thing is rich.
The impact on the college football landscape.
For well more than a decade, nearly every Bedlam game has come with both teams chasing lofty goals, needing to beat the other to reach them. Making the Big 12 title game. Keeping national title hopes alive.
Bragging rights and in-state pride are one thing, but Bedlam has become the most relevant rivalry in college football.
Debates rage about the best rivalries, measuring pageantry and history, vitriol and grandeur, and there are plenty of great rivalries with those aspects. Army-Navy. Alabama-Auburn. Ohio State-Michigan. Notre Dame-Southern Cal. OU-Texas.
Those are bucket-list games.
But since 2010 or so, no rivalry in college football has had the import of Bedlam. When OU and OSU play, conference superiority is almost always on the line. League crowns were on the line in 2011, 2015 and 2016 while title game invitations were up for grabs in 2010, 2017 and 2021.
Saturday, there are big stakes again. Both are among five teams tied for first atop the league standings, so entering the final month of the regular season, Bedlam stands as a virtual elimination game for the Big 12 title game.
There are lots of great rivalries in college football, but nowadays, none is more relevant than Bedlam.