What’s lost when Bedlam ends: ‘A celebration of football in Oklahoma’

November 3, 2023

NORMAN — We don’t know what happens when a 119-year-old rivalry suddenly ceases to exist. Life in a post-Bedlam football world remains a mystery for at least a few more days.

There are windows, though; glimpses into what will begin to vanish when the late-season meeting between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State that began in 1904 leaves the annual calendar.

Mike Gundy provided one this week. 

Staring down his 19th Bedlam game as OSU’s head coach, Gundy dialed the clock back to 1987. The party scene around Oklahoma City the summer after his freshman year in Stillwater had it all. 

Parties. Booze. Run-ins with Oklahoma foes like linebackers Brian Bosworth and Paul Migliazzo. Long before the arrival of modern contaminants like social media, Gundy contends, Bedlam was a real rivalry back then.

“I had to make a decision as to whether we were going to have a confrontation there and who was with me?” he said. “Because those guys… I can kick them in the shin and run like hell but I’m not dumb …What kind of frame of mind was Brian going to be in?” 

“I don’t know. Had he taken a ‘vitamin C’ and had a few drinks? He might not be a guy you wanna talk to at that point. He’d get real red across his face.” 

Gundy could at least wonder about Bedlam animosity in the summer. The questions faded quickly when he’d run into those same Sooners again in the fall. 

“Bosworth spit in my face, I spit in his,” Gundy said. “I mean it was actually a rivalry.”

The rivalry game Gundy knew as a player has softened in the 21st century, he believes. Pretty soon, it’ll be discontinued altogether. Precisely 827 days after OU formally accepted its invitation to the SEC in July 2021, the last scheduled Bedlam arrives at 2:30 p.m. Saturday inside Boone Pickens Stadium.

The Sooners and Cowboys won’t meet again next November after OU exits the Big 12 on July 1. While the schools plan to compete in most other sports after the Sooners depart the league, there is no agreement between the schools to continue the Bedlam football series out of conference. For the first time since 1909, OSU’s football schedule next fall won’t include the Sooners. 

The schools have left the door open on resuming the rivalry game down the road. The earliest possible dates appear to lie in the 2030s. Indeed, a Bedlam football return could conceivably come as soon as the next decade. 

“Time has an interesting way of swinging back around sometimes,” said Oklahoma State athletic director Chad Weiberg. “Texas and Texas A&M, presumably, will be playing again. So who knows what the future will hold?”

Until then, the football rivalry between OU and OSU will hit an indefinite pause after Saturday, a modern reality in the modern landscape of major college football.

We can’t quantify what will fade when Bedlam, the single biggest annual sporting event in the history of the state, goes away. Through perspectives like Gundy’s — and those of other prominent voices on either side of the rivalry — we can try to tell part of that story. 

“There’s so much history there that’s going to be lost,” said Toby Keith, who sold soda at Owen Field as a teenager before he landed country music superstardom. “It’s a sign of the times.”

Zach Selmon with his father Dewey, wife Rachel and daughters Shayne and Rylee following the Selmon Brothers status unveiling in Norman in Sept. 2022. (Photo provided by Zac Selmon)

Zac Selmon, Mississippi State athletic director, son of Dewey Selmon

Bedlam lore and the seeds of history that come with it have been passed down for generations on both sides of the rivalry. Most, however, don’t get their OU-OSU education directly from Dewey, Lucious and Lee Roy Selmon.

Zac Selmon, Dewey’s son, was raised in the oral tradition of the Selmon brothers. 

“Whether you’re on the Oklahoma side or the Oklahoma State side, the stories you hear, the perspectives, so much of that is passed down verbally,” said the younger Selmon, who now leads the athletic department at Mississippi State. “That’s how it was in our family.”

The Bedlam stories Selmon absorbed from his father and uncles formed his perspective on the rivalry game. 

Growing up in Norman, Selmon developed a reverence for the in-state matchup that rolled around each fall. He saw the pride Dewey, Lucious and Lee Roy carried for their record against the Cowboys; a Selmon never lost to OSU. He came to understand the significance Bedlam held among the legendary brothers from Eufaula. 

“You’d hear my dad and his teammates talk about it,” Selmon said. “That game always mattered a lot to them because you were going up against your in-state rival. It always meant a bit more.”

Fifty years after his father and uncles ruled OU, Selmon began a path of his own that has exposed him to a breadth of rivalries across the country. 

He saw the fire the ACC could offer as a tight end at Wake Forest from 2003-07. He was baptized North Carolina-Duke in his two years with the Tar Heels’ athletic department. Two lengthy stints in OU’s athletic department immersed Selmon fully into OU-Texas. He’ll get his first taste of the Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and Ole Miss on Nov. 23.

Bedlam, Selmon believes, is unique for the proximity between the schools, the longevity of the series and the punch its name carries. One word containing six letters; there may be no rivalry game moniker more efficient in stirring emotion than Bedlam. 

“You don’t have many games in college sports where you can say just a word and the hair raises on the back of people’s neck,” Selmon said. “When you say Bedlam it gets everybody’s attention.”

A seasoned Power Five administrator at age 37, Selmon knows intimately the reasons Bedlam is about to hit the shelf. He was in the Sooners’ athletic department when OU sealed its move to the SEC in 2021. 

Selmon does hold optimism that OU-OSU football will resume down the line. Until then, he hopes Bedlam tales like the ones he heard growing up don’t fade away. 

“In life, nothing ever stays the same that it always was,” Selmon said. “You know that some of those stories aren’t going to be passed down. Both programs are going to continue to go on and do good things and have good rivalries, but it won’t be the same.”

Nov 18, 2011; Ames, IA, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden (3) looks to make a pass during the second half of a game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa State Cyclones defeated the Oklahoma State Cowboys 37-31. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Weeden as OSU’s quarterback in 2011 (Beth Hall/USA TODAY Sports)

Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State quarterback, 2007-11

Brandon Weeden considers himself a football purist. The Cowboys’ third all-time leading passer approaches football with the “old school soul” he applies to life, and he likes tradition.

Weeden’s introduction to the magnitude of OU-OSU arrived in the fall of 2001, a full decade before he’d lead OSU to a conference title in November 2011.

On Nov. 24, 2001, Weeden was a junior quarterback leading underdog Edmond Santa Fe into a 6A state semifinal bout with top-ranked Jenks at OSU’s Lewis Field. Around the same time that day, Josh Fields and Rashaun Woods were 85 miles south launching the Cowboys to a 16-13 win in Norman.

The sonic boom of an OSU Bedlam victory reverberated in Stillwater. 

“You could hear the roar,” Weeden said. “You could hear the eruption in the stadium whenever the clock hit zero and Oklahoma State won that game. I’m 17-18 years old. You realize, man, something big just happened. That’s when I first understood that this thing really is a big deal.”

Weeden would go on to live the rivalry himself, appearing in three Bedlam games from 2009-11. 

Weeden threw two passes in OU’s 27-0 drubbing in 2009. He got the start at Boone Pickens Stadium in Bedlam 2010 and fell just short in a 47-41 defeat. Those losses made it sweeter in 2011 when Weeden and the Cowboys pounded the Sooners in a 44-10 win to clinch OSU’s lone Big 12 Championship. 

“Of all the starts I ever made, I would circle it as one of the top two or three games I was ever a part of,” he said.

In his playing days, Weeden says he felt the temperature turn up on everything in Bedlam week. Since leaving football, he’s felt the same juice when he sits down to watch OU-OSU each fall. 

“The lights felt brighter. The air felt colder. It was one of those games that as a player you look forward to and you have it circled on the calendar when that schedule comes out.” Weeden said. “I wish that wasn’t coming to an end.”

Toby Keith watches the first half during a college basketball game between the Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Iowa State Cyclones at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2023.Ou Vs Iowa State

Toby Keith, center, with Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, left, during a Sooner basketball game last January. (Nathan Fish/The Oklahoman /USA TODAY Network)

Toby Keith, country music superstar, OU fan

There’s a roadhouse and service station off Highway 77 in Norman that’s been around nearly as long as Bedlam football. 

It’s been in operation since 1925. Legend has it that outlaws Bonnie and Clyde used to stay there. In his youth, it’s where Toby Keith went for essentials like bait, tackle and beer.

About two decades ago, Keith learned the roadhouse was set to close. Instead, he stepped in with a partner, bought the land and revamped the space as Hollywood Corners, a roadside deli.

“I couldn’t stand it closing so I bought it and turned it into a roadhouse out here,” said Keith, who is an investor in Sellout Crowd. “You got that much history. You just hate to see it turn into an empty lot.” 

Keith grew up in Moore not far from the original roadhouse and lived a childhood that shaded closer to Stillwater than Norman.

He raised livestock and learned to weld in agricultural class, and Keith did rodeo in high school. But he also came up at a time when Barry Switzer’s Sooners reigned. Keith got his first job at age 13 selling Coca-Cola at Owen Field. When the crowd thinned at halftime, Keith would quit hocking soda and find an empty seat to watch Switzer’s wishbone offense. 

“My background screamed Oklahoma State,” he said. “But I grew up in the shadow of Owen Field. It was hard not to pull for the Sooners.”

Keith grew up in an era that saw OU win 24 of the 25 Bedlam games from 1967-91. Yet he developed an admiration for the OSU teams that featured Terry Miller and Rusty Hilger and always gave Switzer’s powerhouse in Norman a fight.

“Oklahoma always had all these great superstar running backs and players,” Keith said. “Oklahoma State always managed to have a really solid quarterback and always managed to have a great tailback. It looked almost like it does today.”

OU owns the all-time Bedlam series with a record of 91-7-19. On the lopsided end of the rivalry, the losses to OSU sting especially hard. 

None of the 11 games the Sooners have dropped in Keith’s lifetime have stuck with him like Rashaun Woods’ three-touchdown explosion in the Cowboys’ 2002 romp. 

“I still see Rashaun Woods running that wide-open post down the middle,” Keith said. “They beat the brakes off OU. As I was leaving the stadium, they put my song “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” on a loop and just played it 30 or 40 times. So I had walk-off music.”

The rivalry between bitter in-state foes, often settled by kids who grew up in Oklahoma has always carried a dose of nostalgia. 

Keith was able to save the roadhouse. Bedlam will be more difficult to preserve. 

“Maybe we’ll get a non-conference (game) or maybe we’ll meet up in a bowl game,” he said. “It’s just real sad to see that much history go away.”

Jan 1, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy (center) celebrates with athletic director Chad Weiberg (right) and school president Kayse Shrum after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the 2022 Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma State athletic director Chad Weiberg, right with football coach Mike Gundy and university president Kayse Shrum after the Cowboys’ victory over Notre Dame in the 2022 Fiesta Bowl. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

Chad Weiberg, Oklahoma State athletic director

Chad Weiberg’s first Bedlam game was the 1985 Ice Bowl. He weathered ice, cold and snow, and watched the Cowboys suffer a 13-0 loss shutout in Stillwater. By the game’s end, the ticket stub Weiberg dropped earlier in the day was encased beneath an inch of ice.

“I could see it plain as day and I couldn’t get to it,” he said.

Three years later, on a much warmer day, Weiberg got a more authentic taste of Bedlam, when OSU lost, 31-28, in 1988. 

OSU had a high-flying offense with Gundy under center, All-American wideout Hart Lee Dykes catching passes and a Heisman Trophy-bound Barry Sanders in the backfield. A potential Cowboys’ game-winning drive fell short on Brent Parker’s dropped pass in the end zone.

“Great game all the way down to the last few seconds of the game,” Weiberg said. “It was just an incredible contest. And the weather was better so the crowd was fully into it.”

Bedlam’s end has been an inevitability for nearly all Weiberg’s tenure as OSU’s athletic director. He’d held the job for just 25 days before OU and Texas announced in July 2021 their intention to bolt for the SEC.

“I think (losing Bedlam) is a loss for the people of the state of Oklahoma and for college football in general,” Weiberg said. 

“I think it’s the same case as all the other rivalries that have been impacted by conference realignment. Going back to Missouri and Kansas or Texas and Texas A&M. Now we don’t know how the Apple Cup (Washington-Washington State) or the Civil War in Oregon is going to turn out. You’re seeing this all over the country.”

Like his OU counterpart Joe Castiglione, Weiberg has openly entertained the possibility of an eventual Bedlam reunion. As the last scheduled OU-OSU game arrives, the door is open on those future conversations.

“We know that it’s going to take a break for some period of time,” Weiberg said. “What that period is? We’ll see. But I’m not going to say that it’s never going to happen again.”

Oklahoma's Drake Stoops (12) runs after a reception in the 2022 Bedlam game in Norman. (Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman/USA TODAY Network)

Oklahoma’s Drake Stoops (12) runs after a reception in the 2023 Bedlam game in Norman. (Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman/USA TODAY Network)

Drake Stoops, Sooners wide receiver, 2018-present

There’s the lens you view Bedlam through when you’re Bob Stoops’ son watching the game from the stands. Then there’s the understanding you carry into OU-OSU in your sixth season as a Sooner player.

“I always wanted OU to win because my dad was the coach,” Drake Stoops said this week. “But now being in it, having some skin in the game and playing for Oklahoma, it’s definitely a different perspective on it. It’s always later in the year. It’s always getting chilly and there’s usually something on the line for both teams.”

Stoops stretched the Cowboys for six catches, 89 yards and a touchdown last fall. On Saturday, he’ll enter his final Bedlam game as one of OU’s five weekly captains with full knowledge of the environment the Sooners are walking into Boone Pickens Stadium.

“It’s definitely a chaotic atmosphere,” Stoops said. “Hostile at times. Game’s at 2:30 — I’m sure those paddles will be beating the side of the building.”

Gundy’s Bosworth tale this week was meant to illustrate how different the rivalry is today. A world of social media, he says, has made the Bedlam foes too familiar. The juice he experienced in the late 1980s simply isn’t there anymore. 

Stoops grew up in the rivalry. He’s played in it now. And he disagrees with Gundy.

“I think he mentioned social media or something. I don’t have too much contact with too many people there and I don’t know if they have much contact with us here,” Stoops said. “But I think it’s a rivalry.

“I’m sure times were different back then and times are different now. But it’s still OU vs. Oklahoma State and it’s still a big deal for a lot of people.”

Dave Hunziker has been the voice of the Cowboys since 2001 and has immersed himself in the Bedlam rivalry over the past two decades. (Photo provided by Oklahoma State athletics)

Dave Hunziker, voice of the Cowboys since 2001

It’ll take time for the absence of Bedlam to settle in. Then, Cowboys play-by-play voice Dave Hunziker believes, the reality will hit in a big way.

“I think it’s going to be really weird next football season when it sort of hits everybody in the face,” he said. “Wait a second, we don’t live in their world anymore and they don’t live in ours. This is really not fun.”

Hunziker began as a Bedlam outsider. He got his start in broadcasting in Columbia, Missouri, then had runs at Radford University and Western Kentucky before arriving in Stillwater in 2001. 

Settling into Bedlam took some time, too.

Hunziker remembers speaking to a group of donors at Karsten Creek Golf Club the night before Bedlam 2002. Everything he’d gleaned from Les Miles and the Cowboys that week told him that OSU was feeling good about the matchup. Hunziker told the donors he thought the Cowboys would win a second consecutive Bedlam game and win big.

“They looked at me like I was absolutely insane because no one thought that way at that time,” he said. “I didn’t realize that you couldn’t just walk around and say that in Stillwater and have people believe you.”

Miles and OSU stormed to a 38-28 win less than 24 hours later. 

Hunziker has been the voice on OSU’s Bedlam calls since the turn of the century. Among his favorites remains Woods’ 2001 game-winning score, his three touchdowns in 2002, Tyreek Hill’s 2014 punt return score and Collin Oliver’s game-clinching sack in 2021. 

“This is a celebration of football in Oklahoma,” Hunziker said. “That’s what it’s always really been. Football is such a big deal in this state. College football is such a big deal in this state. And especially when both teams are good, it’s just a celebration of football excellence in Oklahoma.”

Starting next fall, that celebration goes away, and Hunziker worries about what it’ll feel like when it does. Day-to-day life, the ever-present barbs between OU and OSU fans across the state, will be different.

“What we’ll lose is the always present eye on the other school and what they’re doing,” Hunziker. “Now that you don’t play each other, now that you’re not in the same conference, those ties and that cajoling back and forth, it’s not going to be the same.”

Bedlam — one of the nation’s most distinct football rivalries and one of finest exports in the history of the state — bids farewell Saturday, at least for the time being.

 

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