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Back in 1961, when Tommy Nobis was a freckle-faced, raw-boned high school linebacker from San Antonio, he took a recruiting visit to Oklahoma. It wasn't all that uncommon for a Lone Star hero to be courted by the Sooners. Even though Nobis had grown up listening to the Humble (that's pronounced "Umble," Mister) Oil Southwest Conference Game of the Week with his father and collecting the SWC school pennants Humble stations gave away to those who filled their tanks there, the Sooners were a big deal.
So, the prep senior took a trip to the OU campus, met with legendary coach Bud Wilkinson and was tendered a scholarship offer. It was all quite thrilling -- until he ended up in a Sooner player's dorm room as part of his campus tour. There, Nobis encountered a passel of OU stalwarts, including some Texans who had left their state to play for Wilkinson. What they said enraged Nobis.
"They started talking about the state of Texas and what jerks the people were," says Nobis, now an exec with the Atlanta Falcons, with whom he spent 11 seasons as a Pro Bowl linebacker. "They were bad-mouthing the Longhorns and the state of Texas. I couldn't get out of that room fast enough.
"I made up my mind that whether I signed with Texas, Baylor or Texas A&I, I was going to stay in the state. I was a Texas boy."
Nobis became a Longhorn, was a two-time all-America and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. Perhaps more importantly, he never lost to the Sooners during his three seasons, a fact which delights him.
More than 40 years later, however, the tables have turned. Some Texans-turned-Sooners are still yukking it up about the Longhorns, but now they have the results to back them up. OU players Mark Clayton (from Arlington), Will Peoples (Humble), Brandon Jones (Texarkana) and even freshman sensation Adrian Peterson from Palestine (that's "Pal-eh-Steen," Bubba) can't help but smile when they think of the past four seasons, during which the Sooners have owned UT. Twice in that stretch, OU scored more than 60 in the Red River Shootout, which if it were played at the end of the season might just be the nation's best rivalry game. Things have become so bad for the Steers these days that they would probably be three-point underdogs to the cast of Oklahoma, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
This year, Oklahoma -- the football team -- is favored by a touchdown, and the temptation is to take the points. Hell, a strong case can be made that Texas might finally beat the Sooners. The Longhorn offense is more of a power operation, thanks to a big, ol' offensive line and dynamite back Cedric Benson. New defensive coordinator Greg Robinson has fashioned a more aggressive unit. The Steers are even tackling in practice again. (For the past couple of years, defensive players would just wrap up ballcarriers; now, they can bring 'em to the ground. Angrily.) Coach Mack Brown, whom most folks forget beat the Sooners the first two times his teams played them, has been assured that his job is safe -- even if he loses a fifth straight to the Crimson marauders from the north.
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So, it's all there for a Texas victory. In fact, the Longhorns might be loaded up for a 30-point butt-kicking. Robinson may unleash so many blitzing 'backers and safeties that OU passer Jason White has savage flashbacks to last year's losses to Kansas State and LSU. Benson may run wild, helping his Heisman hopes. Brown may actually outcoach Bob Stoops. It could all happen.
But picking Texas after what has happened in the past four seasons? Not this Hombre. It still sounds like the Sooners are starting the game with a 7-0 lead. That's not good news for the Steers. Oklahoma 23, Texas 17.
Here's a quick look at the other big tilts Saturday:
USC 30, California 24: Do da Bears have Ditka? No. Then there's too much talent and experience on the 'SC side for Cal to spring another upset.
Georgia 27, Tennessee 13: Big losses to SEC powers two weeks in a row have fans changing fight song to "Rocky Bottom."
Michigan 27, Minnesota 21: Another year, another Gopher step backward after some easy early fare.
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Even though it's still nearly impossible to root for the Yankees, baseball fans should be glad baseball's answer to Microsoft pulled it out late Wednesday night against the Twins to even the series at 1-1. Face it, if the Red Sawx are going to win their first World Series title since 1564 or whenever the woebegone franchise last triumphed, they must beat the Yankees along the way.
Sure, vanquishing the Twins and then whichever NL team emerges (long-time readers will remember that El Hombre chose Houston to take it all back in March) would bring delight and many I-can-die-happy demises in New England, but the title will be somewhat hollow. For the Sawx to enjoy complete closure and pure championship bliss, they must overcome the Yanks, their long-time tormentors, along the way.
Of course, Fox and ESPN are rooting for a New York-Boston ALCS, the better to boost sagging ratings. It's even been rumored that Rupert Murdoch placed a call to Twins manager Ron Gardenhire on Wednesday demanding that he send closer Joe Nathan out for a third inning of work, a move which ended disastrously for Minnesota. And should Boston prevail and then win it all, its fans can delight in their heroes' having done the job purely and completely.
EL HOMBRE SEZ:
Who decided that it makes sense to determine a championship based on whether participants can refrain from using bad words in interviews? That's about the stupidest thing El Hombre has ever heard. Reason number 99 why NASCAR is a joke: The decision to dock Dale Earnhardt Jr. 25 points for using a barnyard expletive after last week's race at Talladega. Fine the guy a million bucks. Keep him and his logo-laden clothing away from TV cameras for a week. But docking him points for a little potty mouth? That has nothing to do with the competition and smells like the work of some P.R. wonk who wants to curry favor with network sponsors and the do-good crowd. In a "sport" where "#$@% for beer" signs can be found all over racetrack infields, docking points for profanity is just ridiculous.