Oklahoma’s biggest football rivalry, the MidFirst Bank Backyard Bowl between perennial Class 6A powers Jenks and Tulsa Union, is also one of its classiest. The arch rivals have avoided some of the bitterness and poor sportsmanship that has hampered some rivalries.
John Brooks, a former Union play-by-play announcer who called University of Oklahoma football games for 18 years, compared the Jenks-Union rivalry to the OU-Nebraska series of the Big Eight Conference era.
“For me, it’s almost like the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry because they were bitter enemies and yet there was an amazing amount of respect between the two schools and the two fan bases,” Brooks said.
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Current Union play-by-play announcer Rick Couri, who has called Redskins’ games for 13 years and has been analyst on University of Tulsa football broadcasts for 29 years, agrees with that assessment.
“In the old days, you talk about the difference between OU-Texas and OU-Nebraska,” Couri said. “On one side it was nasty and mean and they didn’t like each other and the other side was great respect and they wanted to win, but they had great respect for each other. It’s very much that way. The kids grow up playing on the same teams. Their families know each other. Then they get to high school and one goes to one and one goes to the other.”
Brooks, who now calls Putnam City High School games and is analyst on Oklahoma Baptist University broadcasts, noted that he was impressed when the teams combined for a pregame prayer and that the postgame handshakes were more sincere than in many rivalries.
Kirk Fridrich, who is entering his 11th season as Union head coach and was a Union assistant coach from 1993 to 2001, said the coaching staffs takes pride in keeping the rivalry classy. Fridrich is 5-5 against the Trojans in the regular-season meetings and 10-10 in all games.
“Both of our schools have a real healthy respect for each other,” Fridrich said. “The coaching the staff at Jenks works really hard and their kids work really hard, and I think they can say the same thing about us. It’s definitely a bitter rivalry without a doubt. The kids and the community take this very seriously, but I know the guys on the field have a lot of respect for each other.”
According to Wikipedia, Jenks holds a 33-20 lead in the rivalry, including playoff games, in the rich series that includes dramatic comebacks and three overtime games.
The rivalry has drawn huge crowds to TU. The 1999 state championship game between the schools drew a crowd of more than 40,000.
“Unfortunately, it rained right at the start of the game and some people left,” Couri said. “It was a 14-7 game (won by Jenks) that was probably one of the best football games that I had ever seen.”
Defending Class 6A-I state champion Union opened the season with victories over Broken Arrow and Trinity, Texas. Jenks has started off slowly with losses to Owasso and Bixby, but Fridrich is expecting a strong challenge on Thursday night.
“We’re usually the one that hasn’t won a game going into this. It’s on the other foot this time,” he said. “There is no doubt it’ll be a highly contested game. You don’t have a championship program like they have and not have your team respond especially in this atmosphere.”
The Jenks community has pulled behind head coach Allan Trimble, who is battling ALS. The disease affects the motor neurons in the spinal chord and brain that control muscles. As the disease continues to progress and hampers Trimble’s motor skills, it’s possible this might be the final year of his stellar coaching career that has included 224 victories and 13 state championships at Jenks.
Fridrich said he has much compassion for his coaching rival.
“I can remember 14 months ago, or so when the announcement was made and it was like a gut punch to me as well,” he said. “Obviously, it kind of puts everything in focus and our priorities in line when you see something like that take place. We definitely try to lend our support to Coach Trimble and we stand with him.”
YurView will televise the MidFirst Bank Backyard Bowl as part of the Ford Game of the Week series on Cox Communications, channel 1333 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The game will also be streamed live from the University of Tulsa’s H.A. Chapman Stadium on YurView.com