By DAVID MILLER News Sports Writer
EDITORS NOTE — Saturday will be the renewal of an intense rivalry football game known in these parts as Bedlam. The thought of that game reminded me of this column that first appeared in February, 2015.
A big event for Oklahomans is coming up on Saturday, the annual football war known as Bedlam.
Residents of this state need no explanation of what Bedlam is — but the rules of good journalism demand that it be explained anyway. Of course Bedlam is any athletic endeavor involving teams from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University. Because I had a Sooner-born, Sooner bred father I knew about Bedlam long before I became aresident of this state.
Dad always said that Bedlam was one of the best sports rivalries anywhere. I wouldn’t want to dispute that claim, because I know it to be true. Whenever the Sooners and Cowboys get together for a game of some kind, things get intense. I saw an article on a sports related website recently that identified what the writer felt to be the best rivalries in sports or more specifically, college football.
On the list were Army-Navy, Ohio State-Michigan, USC-UCLA, North Carolina-Duke, Alabama-Auburn, LSU-Mississippi, Harvard-Yale, Notre Dame-USC and Florida-Florida State.
Bedlam wasn’t listed, or was the Oklahoma-Texas football rivalry, or Kansas vs. Kansas State.
There were dozens of comments about his choices, mostly from folks who disagreed largely because their favorite team and its major rivalry wasn’t included. Which goes to show there can be a case made for good sports rivalries just about anywhere one wants to go.
So I thought I would come up with several of my own observations about the subject and pass them along. I don’t intend to limit myself to football or to team sports, for that matter. There have been some great rivalries among individuals as well.
1. Lucas vs. Luray, Esbon vs. Burr Oak, Manhattan vs. Junction City, Decatur Eisenhower vs. Decatur MacArthur, Abilene vs. Chapman, etc.
In case anyone wonders, these are high school rivalries with which I have been familiar during the years before my residence in Oklahoma. I was reared in Lucas and Esbon (little towns in North Central Kansas) and I experienced their respective conflicts with Luray and Burr Oak first hand. There is no doubt in my mind that I have never experienced intensity that surpassed that which was involved with games between Lucas and Luray or Esbon and Burr Oak. A loss in those games clouded the rest of the year and the only way to make things better was to get ready for the next year.
I remember in my high school years wearing green, the school colors of Burr Oak, would make one very unpopular at Esbon Rural High School. It is ironic that when school consolidation came along later, Lucas and Luray became one high school as did Esbon and Burr Oak. I’ve heard people say that once that happened the Esbon folks found out that Burr Oak folks were fairly decent people. Go figure.
2. Kansas vs. Missouri (known as the Border War).
I was a student at KU one year and I got indoctrinated into the Missouri-Kansas rivalry, which actually dates back to pre-Civil War days. Way back then, Missouri was a slave state and Kansas was just a territory. Kansas was ready for statehood and the proslavery forces in Missouri and elsewhere wanted Kansas to be admitted as a slave state and their opponents wanted Kansas to be a free state. There were some guerrilla raids conducted in Kansas bypeople like William Quantrill, who were Missouri sympathizers. Their purpose was to intimidate free state sympathizers into either changing their minds or moving elsewhere. Cities like Lawrence and Humboldt in Kansas were burned. Eventually Kansas was admitted as a free state, but the antipathy between its residents and Missouri residents continued. Thus it was natural that a school based in Lawrencewould be the object of dislike from the major university of Missouri. I missed the football game the year I was in Lawrence, but I remember that security was especially tight on that day. The year before there had been incidents of violence, but this year there was nothing in the way of disturbance. When Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC, this rivalry ceased to exist and so far there hasn’t been anything done to restore it.
3. Roger Bannister vs. John Landy.
I doubt if there are many who would include this in their list, but it has a special place in my memory. When I was a youngster, it was widely accepted that one of the biggest challenges in all of sports was to break the 4-minute
mile barrier. Some thought that it would be impossible to surpass the 4-minute mark.
Essays had been written by notable scientists who argued that the human body was not capable of breaking the barrier. Kansans were especially interested in the subject because Wes Santee from KU had come close to breaking the barrier. It was thought in some circles that if anyone was going to accomplish the feat, Santee would be the one. Glenn Cunningham, a great miler from Kansas from an earlier era had failed in his efforts to break four minutes. He ran the distance in 4:06 in 1934 and then ran it in 4:04.3 indoors in 1938 before he retired. He was quoted as saying that Santee was the best candidate to achieve that which he had been unable to achieve. Alas, Santee wasn’t the first to break the barrier. It was an Englishman by the name of Roger Bannister who did so on May 6, 1954 during a meet between British AAA and Oxford University at Iffley Road Track in Oxford.
Bannister almost didn’t run because it had been a very windy day, but the winds died down at race time and it went on as planned. I remember disliking Roger Bannister when Iheard the news. Out of loyalty to my home state, I was hoping Santee would be the one to take the historic first step in running in less than four minutes. Bannister’s time was 3:59.4.
John Landy was an Australian runner who broke Bannister’s mark 46 days later by running a mile in 3:58. Although the two were natural rivals when both wanted to be the first to break the barrier, they had never competed in the same race. That changed August 7, 1954, when they both ran in what was billed the “Miracle Mile,” part of the British Commonwealth
Games held in Vancouver, B. C. Those who were counting on this to be a very special event weren’t disappointed. Landy led for most of the race, but at the end, he looked back over his left shoulder to see where Bannister was and the Englishman passed him on the right. Bannister won at 3:58.8 to Landy’s 3:59.6. Of course it was the first time two runners had eclipsed the four-minute mark in the same race. Bannister retired from running soon after that race and the two never competed against one another again. It still stands out in my memory as being a great rivalry.
Since Wes Santee was not involved, my friends and I had picked either Bannister or Landy to cheer for in the race. I was one of the Bannister supporters.
By the way, the closest Santee got to breaking the 4 minute barrier was 4:00.5.
4. Larry Bird-Magic Johnson.
This dates back to the NCAA championship of 1979 when Michigan State, led by Johnson, defeated Indiana State, led by Bird, 75-64. Indiana State had been unbeaten before the title game and the matchup with Michigan State and specifically Johnson vs. Bird attracted the largest ever TV audience for an NCAA tournament game. Bird was a senior and was drafted by the BostonCeltics, and Johnson was a sophomore, but opted for the NBA draft and was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the NBA, the two stars became intense rivals and their respective teams battled for several championships.
Despite their rivalry, the two became very good friends. I rooted for Bird in the NCAA game against Michigan State and although I liked Magic a lot, I still was more of a Bird fan throughout his career.
There have been many other good individual rivalries in the NBA, including Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell and Elvin Hayes vs. Kareem Abdul Jabbar. I can see one developing between LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
5. Ben Hogan vs. Sam Snead.
There have been many good rivalries in the game of golf. One that immediately comes to mind is Arnold Palmer vs. Jack Nicklaus. In more recent years, Tiger Woods and Pete Mickkelson had some good contests. But back in the days as a youngster when I read Sport Magazine from cover to cover, I was really drawn to the competition between Hogan and Snead.
In 1954, the two renowned golfers went head to- head in the Masters. For the details I have to rely on information from the internet. But I do remember the two tied and had to have a playoff where Snead won by a stroke.
According to sources on the internet the two had identical scores of 289 at the end of regulation, at the time the highest score to be at the top of the leader board at the end of a Masters. Hogan wasn’t known as a friendly sort and was very intense while playing in a tournament. Snead, on the other hand, was more of a folksy competitor and was genuinely beloved by his peers. While he and Hogan battled hard on the course, they respected each other’s abilities. Snead was quoted later in life saying he never feared Hogan.
“When I was on my game, there was no one who could beat me.” I hadnever even been close to a golf course as a youngster, and my only source of information was the newspaper and my favorite magazine, but somehow the battles between Hogan and Snead caught my fancy.
6. St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs.
The talking heads on TV refer to the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox a lot. Others mention the West Coast Dodgers-Giants rivalry. But having lived in Central Illinois for 10 years
I know the Cardinals-Cubs competition in that area of the world to be as intense a baseball rivalry as any other.
Where I lived was equidistant from Chicago or St. Louis and there were as many Cubs fansas there were folks rooting for the Cardinals. There was a lot of good natured conversation about which was the better team even in those years when neither had much to brag about. During games when the two met in Wrigley Field, there would be as much Cardinal red as Cub blue. And there were many, many blue clad persons sitting in the stands when the two teams played in St. Louis. Since I was a died in the wool Kansas City A’s-Royals fan in those years, I was somewhat wishy washy when it came to pledging allegiance to either the Cubs or Cardinals. At work, however, there were about 25 die-hard Cardinals fans, to only one woman who was a fan of the Cubs. She was always receiving a lot of grief for her choice of teams, so I began to side with her, just to make the arguments a little more fair. It didn’t seem to make much difference. Instead of 25 against one it was now 25 against two. We never were able to win that battle, on the field or off. In those 10 years the Cardinals did much better than the Cubs. They both did better than whatever team was playing in Kansas City at the time.