The definition of “Bedlam,” a noun, is “a place, scene, or state of uproar and confusion.” by dictionary. That makes it a weird nickname for a football rivalry whose long-term history has often been as one-sided as it gets.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have played 111 times since 1904, and the Sooners are 86-7-18. There are record-keeping discrepancies about the scores in the series’ early years, but since 1914, Sports Reference counts the average margin as 28-13, Sooners.
“Bedlam” may be a better caption for a rivalry that’s less predictable — maybe an Oklahoma-Texas, a USC-UCLA, or a Florida-Georgia. But OU-OSU?
The label isn’t just for football. It’s applied to every sport the two schools play against each other, which is just about all of them. But still, what gives?
We don’t know why this series is called “Bedlam.”
In 2005, the Oklahoman’s John Rohde wrote about the origin of the name. He couldn’t peg when it started, who did it, or even in which sport it originated.
“I’m here to admit I have no idea who begat bedlam, or when. I’m fairly certain no one else knows for sure, either,” Rohde wrote.
The Oklahoman is the paper of record in Oklahoma. Rohde says no reference to “the Bedlam series” appeared in the paper until 1943. Previously, an excerpt from 1917, bolded in part by Snider Mcgregor:
“So amazed were students, faculty members, and citizens when they first heard the 9 to 0 victory story from Oklahoma City that confirmation was necessary. Then bedlam broke loose. Nine long shrieks of the college power plant whistle told the score. Guns were fired. The antique, dust-covered bell in old Central building belfry chimed for the first time in years. Literally, the town was painted white.
So that’s at least a mention of the word, written by one person in reference to this series after a 9-0 OSU football win 100 years ago. But there’s no definitive evidence that points to any one event as the moment the label stuck. Rohde asked the school’s longtime sports information director, Pat Quinn, and he didn’t know, either.
“I can’t say for the life of me when that term started,” Quinn said. “But the only people I hear say it now are car dealers, or credit-card holders, or whatever it is they’re selling.”
Even though the lack of limpidity about its origin and how lopsided the rivalry has been, I think the Bedlam label kind of works.
However, the series has been a bit closer since 2011, as Oklahoma State’s entrenched itself under Mike Gundy. The Cowboys are 2-4 in the last six after OU won every year from 2003 through 2010. OSU’s 2014 victory was excellent bedlam-like, a 38-35 final, and so were Oklahoma wins in 2010 (47-41) and 2012 (51-48).
It’s also a function of the modern Big 12, which is a wild league. Listen to Gundy describe the conference to SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, for this feature:
The issue that we have in this league is … we’re playing Texas Tech this week. I use Tech a lot as an example. Whether it’s this year or the last three years, you could be a 7-1 team, and you could go on the road and play a 4-3 Texas Tech in Lubbock. And you might have to score 38 points to win.
You say, good, might you bulk up and you pound ’em and you slow the game down, and this and that. You ain’t slowing them down. They’re gonna go fast, and the skill that they have, on a field 52 yards wide, and their willingness to be high-risk, you’re going to have a hard time ever keeping them under 35 points.
So if you come into this league and say you’re gonna do that, you better be able to do it every week, OK? You’ve got the same gig with OSU, you’ve got the same gig with OU, Iowa State’s in that ball game now, TCU, with what they do on offense — In 2016 they struggled a little bit, but when they had [Trevone] Boykin, they’re hanging 45 on you before you can spin your head.
If you’re going to play that way, just know that you may play very good and lose 37-34 to a 2-5 team. That’s the facts in this league.
You can implement “Bedlam” to all kinds of games in this league. We don’t have to know where the label comes from for it to be at least a little bit accurate.