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Road Trip: University of Oklahoma

At a Sooners football game, you never know what you're going to see when the wagon-rushing, shotgun-toting, paddle-wielding Ruf/Neks storm onto the field. Just ask coach Bob Stoops

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By John Walters

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The Ruf/Neks have been known to intimidate foes.
David E. Klutho/SI

Oooooo-klahoma..

... where the wins come sweeping down the plain. No football program has won as many games this decade as the Sooners. Four dozen wins and one national title in the last four seasons have inspired many fans -- and recruits -- from beyond red dirt country to clamber aboard the Oklahoma bandwagon.

In fact, the school's official mascot is a bandwagon. When Oklahoma scores, the Sooner Schooner, pulled by a pair of Shetland ponies named Boomer and Sooner, rambles onto the Memorial Stadium field for a quick lap around one third of the gridiron.

No group has ridden the Oklahoma bandwagon longer than the all-male spirit group known as the Ruf/Neks. Launched in 1915, when an elderly female spectator at an OU-Oklahoma A&M hoops game chided them for raising hell ("Sit down and be quiet, you roughnecks!"), the Ruf/Neks are the official caretakers of the Schooner, and they certainly live up to their name. What other spirit group is allowed to walk into a stadium with shotguns? Has been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct? Has had to apologize -- twice -- to its coach, Bob Stoops, once for unintentionally knocking him down during a postgame mob scene and again after a Ruf/Nek gave him a "love tap" on the butt with a paddle as Stoops ran onto the field before a game in 2000?

Understand, however, that the Ruf/Neks, whose members are selected roughly the same way as fraternity pledges, are an unruly, unrepentant bunch, a Delta House in crimson shirts and white jeans. "In the mid-'70s the girls sued us for discriminating against them in terms of our membership," says senior Sean (Gordy) Teague, the Ruf/Neks' pledge trainer, or, as he's dubbed, Keeper of the Neophytes. "Our defense was, So what?"

Each Ruf/Nek packs heat: a 12-gauge shotgun that fires harmless gunpowder into the air. "Only in Oklahoma," says Ruf/Neks vice president Ian Schaper, "could they screen 75,000 fans for security when they enter the stadium and allow 25 students in with shotguns."

The Ruf/Neks have been guilty of a quick trigger finger. In the 1985 Orange Bowl, the Schooner rolled onto the turf to celebrate Tim Lashar's 22-yard field goal, which gave Oklahoma a 17-14 lead against Washington -- but an illegal-procedure flag had been dropped. Unsportsmanlike conduct, Oklahoma, 15 yards. Lashar's subsequent 42-yarder was blocked, and the Sooners eventually lost 28-17.

Eight years after its penalty, the Schooner committed a turnover: After kicker Scott Blanton converted a field goal against Colorado in '93, the Schooner took a corner too sharply and tipped over, sending driver Scott Gibson, flag-waver Ryan Wray and the Ruf/Nek queen, Jean Connelly, who was riding shotgun, hurtling. "We made national news for that," Schaper admits ruefully, "because the queen wasn't wearing any underwear."

Connelly, the Sooner Schooner mooner, and Wray weren't seriously injured, but Gibson fractured his left arm. That was the first -- and last -- time that a Ruf/Nek fell off the Oklahoma bandwagon.

5 Questions for.. Brian Bosworth

"I'd love to move back to Norman," says the 39-year-old Boz, now a resident of Malibu, Calif., "but there ain't no way in hell my wife would let me." One can dream, at least, so the ex-Oklahoma star ('84-86) took time out from shooting a 2005 remake of The Longest Yard to get nostalgic about Norman.

1. "The Boz's Guide to Norman," please.

The only place I can remember in Norman is Camille's, [a hair salon] where Camille and I invented "the Boz." I'd sit down in that barber chair, and we'd invent some weird s--- like the mohawk and tail with colors and stuff. That place is gone now. Everything's changed since my day.

2. Would a quiet country boy with curly blond locks like Jason White have fit in on your teams?

He'd have fit in, but I don't know if he'd have survived. It might have changed him. The thing with us was, we had a coach [Barry Switzer] who let stuff like me fly. Coach Stoops knows better, and that's why you have kids like Jason. We were all characters in my day. Almost make-believe.

3. Someone recently pulled a prank at your rival, Oklahoma State. They're rebuilding the brick wall around the football stadium, and someone wrote OU in the bricks.

Well, it was probably a retarded Texas alum who didn't know how to spell OSU. But that OSU-OU rivalry is all bull----. Texas-OU is the real rivalry. You can never take away my hatred of those a-------.

4. You even got into trouble for bad-mouthing Texas during your gig as a commentator on TBS last year.

Wasn't the first time I pissed on Texas. Won't be the last.

5. Currently you're working on a remake of The Longest Yard with Nelly, Adam Sandler and, of all people, Miami alum Michael Irvin, whom you've met on the field before.

I play on the prison guard team, and the other day we were going over some of the scenes for a game we're filming. I made sure to pull someone aside and make him promise to send Michael across the middle. Him and Nelly. I love those guys, but there won't be any of that jive talk and dancing on this field, I promise you that. -- Adam Duerson

Issue date: September 9, 2004

SI On Campus: September 9, 2004 issue 
SI ON CAMPUS

Sports Illustrated On Campus, a new magazine covering college sports and collegiate lifestyles, is available as an insert in 72 major college newspapers across the country every Thursday throughout the school year. Click any of the links below to see selected content from the latest issue.

Cover Story: The All O.C. Team
Scorecard: What happened in the off season
Scorecard: What's Hot/Not
Road Trip: University of Oklahoma
The Final: This year's dubious System of a Down
Previous issue: April 29, 2004
 

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