NORMAN, Okla. -- Not long ago, then Texas A&M president Robert Gates gave the commencement speech at the University of Oklahoma. In his opening remarks, the former Secretary of Defense joked how being inside Owen Field was beginning to bring back many bad memories.
Next week in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, the Sooners and Aggies will meet for the 19th time in 20 seasons. While Texas A&M has made tremendous strides in its first year in the SEC, this is a series the Sooners have dominated. In the Bob Stoops era, OU has an 11-2 record over the Aggies and an average margin of victory of three touchdowns. Reggie McNeal clipped the Sooners in 2002. The Aggies also toppled OU in 2010. Otherwise, the series has been OU's.
It wasn't always that way. At the advent of the Big 12, the Sooners held just an 8-6 edge in the series. Then the Aggies rattled off three straight victories in the first meetings as conference foes.
Going into that fourth Big 12 meeting, doubts still surrounded the Bob Stoops regime in 1999. The Sooners had shown progress in losses to Notre Dame and Texas, games they led 17-0 before capitulating in the second half. But fans had fallen before for moral victories in the Gibbs, Schnellenberger and even Blake eras.
Sooner Nation craved something tangible. And on Oct. 23, OU finally gave its fans the kind of win they'd been waiting for since Barry Switzer roamed the sidelines.
Texas A&M was the defending Big 12 champs and ranked 13th. Yet once again, OU jumped to a 17-0 lead. But this time, the Sooners would go for the jugular. On fourth-and-goal from the Aggies' 1-yard-line, OU kept the field-goal unit on the sidelines. Quarterback Josh Heupel took the snap and followed center Matt O'Neal into the end zone. The Sooners went on to crush the Aggies 51-6 in a game that validated the OU program while setting the stage for the following season.
In that 2000 season, the Sooners arrived in College Station the No. 1 team in the country. But to reach the national title, OU would have to go through the No. 23 Aggies and the largest crowd to that point in Kyle Field history.
Yet as memorable as the '99 and '00 meetings were, perhaps the Texas A&M game OU fans recall most often -- and the one Gates referenced during his commencement -- came in 2003. By then, the Sooners had the superior program and were on track to contend for another national title. But nobody could predict this. OU scored seven touchdowns in the first half alone. Even after Stoops sat his starters in the third quarter and called just three passes in the second half, the Sooners kept pouring it on until the final score was 77-0. The game made headlines nationally and caused controversy too with New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica accusing Stoops of running up the score.
OU has blasted Texas A&M in four of the last five years, too. But much has changed in the last year. Gates moved on to be Chancellor at William & Mary. The Aggies are now in the SEC and playing as well as about anyone in the country. In fact, Texas A&M is favored over the Sooners for the first time since that '99 game.
So in what figures to be the final meeting between the two mild rivals for at least a while, the series has come full circle. A series that has featured many validating wins for the Sooners. And many bad memories for the Aggies.