Since 1904, the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have met 105 times in the rivalry series known as Bedlam. It's a series marked by dominance of the Sooner's squad who have an 82-16-7 lead over their in-state rivals.
The stakes of series were never higher than in 1984 when the two teams met for their season finale in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners were ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll and the Cowboys were ensconced at No. 3. Both were looking to claim the Big Eight conference championship and, with a little luck, the national championship.
It was a fantastic final act to a regular season that started with serious concerns on the part of both programs.
The Cowboys started their 1984 season with a host of question marks looming in the wake of the departure offor Miami. The finely coiffed man from Port Arthur, Texas had taken over a moribund Oklahoma State program in 1979 and made it a force to be reckoned with. His final season with the Pokes was an 8-4 effort capped with a 24-14 victory of No. 20 Baylor in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
The Cowboys finished 1983 ranked No. 18 and Johnson was subsequently tapped to replace Howard Schnellenberger who had taken the Hurricanes from mediocrity to the national championship. Oklahoma State promoted assistant coach Pat Jones to the head coaching job.
He started his tenure with a bang when OSU produced an unexpected 45-3 beatdown of Arizona State in Tempe. The win earned the Cowboys the No. 13 ranking in the AP poll and they kept climbing from there. The squad’s only stumble was a 17-3 loss to conference foe Nebraska in Lincoln on Oct. 6 but, from there on out, the Cowboys kept winning and rising to in the polls.
In Norman, Barry Switzer was feeling the heat at the start of the 1984 season. His Sooners had gone without a conference championship in three season and they were nine seasons removed from their last national title. Despite a 106-21-3 record in Norman and two national championships to his credit the Associated Press declared "Switzer's job is on the line" as the Sooners prepared for the '84 campaign.
Switzer was optimistic about his team’s chances for several reasons. First his entire starting backfield was returning and, second, he planned to use them a new variant of the Wishbone offense – the Flexbone – hatched up by his assistant. While there had been key losses to the defense but the Sooners boasted a pack of talented underclassmen including freshmen Brian Bosworth and Dante Jones.
The pre-season AP poll slotted Oklahoma at No. 16 and the Sooners methodically climbed the rankings as they racked up wins. They had reached the No. 2 slot when they were felled unexpectedly by an unranked Jayhawk squad in Lawrence, Kansas on Oct. 27. The outlook for the season darkened further that evening when the Sooners lost a pair of key defensive backs -- Keith Stanberry and Andre Johnson -- for the year due to injuries they sustained in a car accident in Norman.
Despite the misfortune, Oklahoma climbed back up the rankings with wins against Missouri and Colorado and had regained the No. 2 spot in the polls by felling No. 1 ranked Nebraska on Nov. 17. Yet injuries continued to beset the Sooners as the season progressed.
By Nov. 24, both teams had recovered from their mid-season setbacks to claim the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in the AP poll. The team at the top was an unheralded but undefeated Brigham Young University squad which, many felt, a once-beaten team with a better resume could topple from their aerie.
"I feel like both teams are playing for a chance to play in the national championship," said Jones during the week prior to the game. That possibility as well as the usual statewide bragging rights claimed by the victor honed interest to a fever pitch.
On Nov. 24, more than 76,000 spectators filled Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium to watch one of the most anticipated matchups of the season.
A six-yard pass from Oklahoma quarterback Danny Bradley to tight end Keith Jackson put the Sooners on the scoreboard first.
With less than 90 seconds remaining in the first half of play, Bradley's pass was tipped and intercepted by Oklahoma State defensive back Warren Thompson. With the clock threatening to expire, Cowboy quarterback Rusty Hilger led his squad down the field to the one-yard-line.
When OSU running back Thurman Thomas was stopped for no gain with eight seconds left the hope of scoring seemed to expire but the Cowboys got one last chance when officials stopped the clock at four seconds to unscramble the play. Hilger lofted a fade pass to a diving Jamie Harris in the corner of the end zone to tied the score at halftime.
Oklahoma State picked up where they left off after halftime, scoring again on the thrid play of the third quarter - a 77-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Malcom Lewis. With a 14-7 lead, the momentum seemed to be going the Cowboys way, but Oklahoma had an ace up their sleeve.
During the first half, Brantley noticed that when Oklahoma State was going to blitz, the Cowboy's safeties would set up in a distinctive manner.
"I was able to see it and audible at the line," said Bradley. That audible was to go to the option and it worked like a charm.
The result was a 72-yard touchdown drive the Cowboys were helpless to stop. Bradley started the drive with a 16-yard pass to split end Derrick Shepard and ended it with an audibled option to Tillman for a three-yard touchdown run. A field goal later in the quarter gave the Sooners a 17-14 lead.
The nail in the coffin for the Cowboys was a fumbled punt with less than two minutes into the fourth quarter. Oklahoma linebacker Kert Kaspar recovered on the Oklahoma State 25-yard-line and two plays later Tillman took yet another pitch from Bradley and ran 20 yards for the score. The points would be the last in the contest and when the final whistle sounded the Sooners claimed a 24-14 victory.
Bradley finished the game with 346 total yards and earned no less than 244 of them on the ground. Yet it was Oklahoma's defense that sealed the victory. The Cowboy's Thomas was limited to just 29 yards on 11 carries while quarterback Hilger was sacked five times. Between the Sooner's stifling defense and powerful running game, Oklahoma controlled the ball for more than 40 minutes.
It was costly turnovers that squelched any chance the Cowboys had of crawling back into the game.
"We're not good enough to drop a punt and fumble at midfield and still win a football game," Jones said following the contest.
Oklahoma's win would earn them a share of the Big Eight conference title with Nebraska and an invitation to the Orange Bowl to face one-loss Washington. The No. 2-ranked Sooners had high hopes a victory in Miami would propel them ahead of undefeated and top-ranked BYU.
Those aspirations were undone by a 28-17 Husky victory achieved in part by an illegal procedure penalty the Oklahoma cheerleaders earned by riding the "Sooner Schooner" wagon onto the field prematurely after a field goal. The re-kick was blocked and Washington never looked back.
The loss would drop 9-2-1 Oklahoma to No. 6 in the final AP poll, just one spot above their in-state counterparts who had finished their season 10-2 following a 21-14 victory over South Carolina in the Gator Bowl.
Jones’ inaugural performance leading the Oklahoma State squad would earn him UPI’s selection as the conference’s "coach of the year." He would lead the Cowboys to two more ten-win seasons over the next half decade but his tenure in Stillwater was undone by NCAA sanctions handed down in 1988 due to infractions that dated back to his predecessors' tenure. Over his final six seasons leading the Cowboys, Oklahoma State never mustered more than five wins and went without any at all in 1991.
Despite the disappointment of the 1984 season, the Sooner defense offered a lot of promise for the future of the Oklahoma program. The young squad had proven one of the most formidable units in the country, allowing just 68.8 yards a game. The next season Switzer lead them to an 11-1 record (the only loss coming to Jimmy Johnson’s Miami squad), the Big Eight title and the National Championship.