STILLWATER, Okla. — As local legend tells it, during the first football game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma A&M in 1904, an A&M punt was blown backward by a stiff wind in freezing temperatures, the ball tumbling down a hill and into nearby Cottonwood Creek. According to those rules of football, a sport still in its infancy, the ball was still live.
Players raced into the icy creek. An Oklahoma player came up with the ball, the first touchdown in the history of a series that would become known as Bedlam. OU won the game 75-0. The Oklahoma Territory wasn’t even a state yet. Guthrie, where the game was played, was a territorial capital.
Almost 119 years to the day, supporters of Oklahoma State (formerly A&M) again raced into a cold body of water. This time, thankfully, it happened on a warm, 65-degree night. This time, they followed part of a goal post, ripped from the east end of Boone Pickens Stadium, carried less than a mile southwest and thrown into Theta Pond, one of the front porches of campus.
This time, everyone knew, was the last time.
— Ashton Slaughter (@Ashton_Slot) November 5, 2023
Bedlam is the latest college football rivalry to see its demise. The culprit, once again, is conference realignment, with Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC next year and the schools unable to find room on future schedules as nonconference opponents. But Saturday, there was one last rivalry game to play.
The old saying about Bedlam is that the game can go one of two ways: Oklahoma wins by a little, or Oklahoma wins by a lot. After all, the Sooners were 91-19-7 all-time entering the last one. Of the memorable college football rivalries, few are this lopsided.
But none of that would matter to Oklahoma State fans and players if they won this last one. As coaches told players Thursday, this would be the one people remembered.
And every once in a while, a third type of Bedlam game emerges.
It happened Saturday in a back-and-forth affair with mistakes, big plays and lead changes. Oklahoma State missed its chances to put the game away. All those years of heartbreak prepared Cowboys fans for yet another when Oklahoma got the ball back, down three, with 1:53 to play.
But a fourth-and-5 completion came up well short of the marker. This time, the Cowboys won 27-24.
The receiver on the final play of note in Bedlam history was Drake Stoops, son of former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who tormented the Cowboys for years, going 14-4 in the game as head coach. The victory marked Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy’s fourth win in the series and made him the Cowboys’ all-time leader among coaches in the rivalry.
Yeah, this didn’t happen often.
Oklahoma State fans roared. They let loose a century of pain. The sadness of the game going away didn’t matter anymore. Not when they could hang this over the heads of their Sooners brethren forever (or at least for many years). Virtually all of them also watched something they’d never seen before: consecutive Oklahoma State home wins in Bedlam. It hadn’t happened since 1932.
“It’s good for the Oklahoma State people to finish Bedlam with a win, period,” Gundy said.
Two years ago, when the Cowboys beat Oklahoma here, Gundy raced back to the locker room after the game. This time, he wanted to enjoy it.
The native of Midwest City, Okla., was once committed to Oklahoma as a high schooler. But after visiting Oklahoma State and realizing he probably wouldn’t get much playing time behind Oklahoma quarterback Jamelle Holieway, Gundy did what no one in the Sooner State ever did: He called coach Barry Switzer and decommitted. His mom cried.
Gundy, who was the state’s high school player of the year, became an Oklahoma State legend, on the field as a quarterback and later as a coach. But for all the success, wins over the Sooners were always hard to come by. He was 0-4 as a player and 3-15 as head coach before Saturday.
So this time, when state troopers took Gundy to the northwest corner of the stadium after win No. 4, he stopped and looked out at the crowd, the students slowly tumbling 10 feet from the walls to storm the field. Fans moved their arms and legs in the end zone turf to make mock snow angels. They sang “Friends in Low Places.” They hugged players and took as many photos and videos as they could. One video board asked fans not to enter the field after the game. Whoops. The bigger board left the lasting message Oklahoma State fans will always carry: “Cowboys. The Best In Oklahoma. Again!”
“One thing (our players) can take with them for the rest of their lives is the thrill they gave the fans out here in this game,” Gundy said.
As the student outpouring grew, the claustrophobic Gundy backed into the tunnel, waiting to congratulate every player and staffer who walked by. When his son Gunnar, a quarterback on the team, came by, the head coach got a photo alongside two of his three sons.
“I’ve told myself as I get older, I need to enjoy things like this,” said Gundy, 56. “Today, I wanted to enjoy it myself.”
Gundy still began his news conference with typical coach jargon, explaining why the teams didn’t have room on their schedules as nonconference opponents. But nobody wanted to ask about that. Most just wanted to know how he felt. He let his guard down as the minutes wore on. He later sat next to the podium for a more informal interview session, left leg popped up. Minutes earlier, he’d said he would spend the night drinking Diet Coke and writing in a Big Chief notebook with a crayon about future opponents. Now, when asked his favorite Diet Coke flavor, Gundy replied, “Whiskey.”
That’s enjoying yourself, Oklahoma torment over. Cheers.
Over at Theta Pond, about 6 feet of a goal post stuck out from the middle of the water. The large crowd that carried it there had mostly left, but plenty of fans remained. A female fan in a Barry Sanders jersey waded in up to her waist, making the Guns Up pose for a photo. Several other onlookers were drenched, having walked out to touch the thing. One said another part of the goal post had been seen a few blocks away in town, sure to be carved up into memories.
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) November 5, 2023
No one is sure how the Bedlam term started. Some records say it came from basketball, others from wrestling. No matter the background, this was a college football rivalry that dated back longer than the state itself. There are no more matchups scheduled between the schools separated by an hour and 20 minutes. College football continues to move forward and leave traditions behind. This one is just the latest.
Before the game, an Oklahoma State fan was spotted wearing a sweatshirt that read: “Bedlam: 1904-2023.” Below that: “Well, bye.” Afterward, with the field covered by fans, the stadium PA blared Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” followed by NSync’s “Bye Bye Bye.”
Oklahoma State won’t leave this rivalry with a sour taste despite 91 losses to the Sooners. All that matters is that the Cowboys won this one. The last one. Well, bye.
(Top photo of Oklahoma State wide receiver Brennan Presley: Brian Bahr / Getty Images)