It will be an emotional Saturday, a proud father watching his son follow his three-decade-old path.
Same rivalry game. Same position. Same Cotton Bowl stadium, taking the field through the same storied tunnel.
The contrast, though, will be equally vivid. Charles Thompson co-quarterbacked Oklahoma’s crimson and cream Sooners to Red River Showdown victories in 1987 and 1988. Casey Thompson will quarterback Texas’ burnt orange and white Longhorns in Saturday’s 117th edition of the rivalry.
Though Casey has been a Longhorn for four years, this Showdown is the first in which he’ll start or even play. Charles, 53, a Lawton, Okla. native and Sooner diehard since age 6, says it’s impossible to predict exactly how he’ll feel, but...
“Even since Casey’s been down there on the team, I’ve still always rooted for the most part for Oklahoma,” he said. “But this will be the first year that I have to honestly say that I’ll be rooting for Casey and wishing him to have the most success.
“If he does that and plays to the best of his ability, that means Texas could possibly win the game. So I’m gonna be rooting, as they say, ‘All gas and no brakes’ this Saturday.”
In the rivalry’s storied history, the most famous Red River crossing is and always will be that of Darrell Royal, the late-40s Sooners star defensive back and quarterback who coached Texas for 20 seasons, winning three national titles.
Father-son, Sooner-Longhorn quarterbacks is storybook stuff, though, even though father and son don’t view it as a Hatfield having defected to the McCoys.
Casey politely points out that he grew up in Oklahoma City, not Norman, which are a whole 20 miles apart. Sure he grew up as a Sooners fan and, yes, his dad and brother Kendal (2011-13) played there, but Texas seemed like the better opportunity when he orally committed in 2017.
Even when Cameron Rising flipped his commitment from OU to UT, prompting a text from Sooners coach Lincoln Riley and other “are you sure?” inquiries from Alabama, Ohio State and others, Casey said he “wanted to stay loyal,” so he signed with Texas.
“I never really grew up hating Texas,” he said. “The horns down was something that was just the little hand symbol. So I never really grew up like hating a team.
“Even now that I’m at Texas, I wouldn’t say that I hate OU. I just try to focus on doing my job, and at the end of the day, I’m a competitor. I want to win.”
The storyline would be compelling enough if Charles and Casey Thompson were any of the several-dozen Sooner and Longhorn quarterbacks to have played in the rivalry, but of course Charles is not just any ex-OU quarterback. He is that quarterback.
He is the “lightning quick and mystical” Wishbone quarterback, as CBS’s Verne Lundquist called him, who dashed for 114 yards on eight carries in the Sooners’ 44-9 victory over UT in ‘87; the following October replaced injured Jamelle Holieway and piloted OU’s 28-13 win over Texas.
Charles Thompson also is the quarterback who on Feb. 27, 1989 made Sports Illustrated’s cover for the wrong reasons, handcuffed and wearing an orange jumpsuit, after attempting to sell 17 grams of cocaine to an undercover FBI agent.
In that respect, Kendal and Casey and youngest brother Cade did not follow their father’s path. But Casey’s ascendance, after three years and two games of waiting, to the starting role three weeks ago exemplifies how far Charles and by extension his family have come.
Charles calls it Thompson Strong, a perseverance and mental toughness that Charles and Kori Thompson have instilled in their sons.
“That’s just fighting through all the the naysayers, doing things that people don’t think you can do,” Charles said. “When I got in trouble, people told me, ‘once a loser, always a loser’ and that I couldn’t get my life back on the right track.
“I used that as motivation.”
A father’s redemption
Charles Thompson already had proved naysayers wrong by the time he arrived in Norman, as a 5-10, 175-pounder who supposedly was too small for major college football.
Holieway was the established starter, having stepped in for injured Troy Aikman as a freshman in 1985 and led the Sooners to that season’s national title.
Still, as a redshirt freshman in 1987 Thompson played in 11 games, averaging 7 yards per carry. He stepped in when Holieway jammed his shoulder against Texas and for good when Holieway tore his ACL against Oklahoma State in early November.
Two weeks later, Thompson led No. 2 OU to a 17-7 victory over No. 1 Nebraska in Lincoln. Although the Sooners lost to Miami in the Orange Bowl, Thompson seemed destined for stardom, even as he shared snaps with Holieway for much of the following season.
His arrest barely a month after the Jan. 1989 Citrus Bowl culminated three weeks of tumult within the OU program, including arrests for rape and assault with a deadly weapon, leading to Switzer’s resignation four months later.
Thompson served 17 months in federal prison in Big Spring, Texas, but upon his release resolved to turn his life around. Playing tailback, he helped lead Central State of Ohio to the 1991 NAIA national title, graduated with a marketing degree and played four seasons in the Canadian Football and World leagues.
He became a motivational speaker, a cautionary tale with a brutally honest message about the pitfalls of becoming a major college athlete and losing sight of priorities, academically and in life.
“When I was in school, we had a lot more free time to do things,” he said. “Now it’s a lot more regimented... There’s a lot less opportunity for the knucklehead stuff that I had an opportunity to partake in.”
Mostly, Charles Thompson has channeled his energies and passion into his family and helping young football players through his 7-on-7 flag organization, Hustle Inc. 405, and the youth football program he runs on a 22-acre, five-football field complex in South Oklahoma City’s Woodson Park.
Among the program’s many success stories are current Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar and Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young.
“Here in Oklahoma City, some people say that maybe Casey’s rising is redemption for me,” Charles said. “No, I feel like I redeemed myself in this community years ago, with how I’ve invested in so many families.
“For me the reward is not just my kids, but all the kids whose parents come back and say, ‘Man, I appreciate what you planted in my son.’”
A new chapter for the Thompson family in the UT-OU rivalry
Through the years, gradually, Charles Thompson was welcomed back into the Oklahoma football family. Former coach Bob Stoops occasionally invited him to speak to the team.
During his weekly news conference in Norman on Tuesday, Riley spoke fondly of the Thompson family, and of his time trying to recruit Casey to OU.
“Great people,” Riley said of the Thompsons, adding of Saturday’s game, “Listen, it’s our rivals, so you never wish too much good on them, but it has been fun for me to see Casey do well. It really has. It’s no surprise.”
Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler is coming off a strong performance at Kansas State, but was booed during closer-than-expected home wins over Nebraska and West Virginia, lending more intrigue to Saturday’s Showdown.
Sooners versus Longhorns. Rattler versus Thompson, the son of a Sooner great with a complicated legacy.
Casey Thompson estimates he has attended 10 UT-OU games. He has fuzzy memories of Adrian Peterson (or maybe it was DeMarco Murray, he says) and Sam Bradford (or maybe it was Jason White), but vividly recalls the 2017 game, after he’d committed to Texas.
That was when No. 3 Oklahoma and Baker Mayfield edged freshman Sam Ehlinger and Texas, 29-24.
“It’s a dream come true for me to start in this game, but I really don’t think that I’ll be nervous or anxious or uptight,” he said Monday. “I’m excited. I wish we could go play today if we could.
“There have been a lot of great players that... have made their name in this game. And I’m looking to do the same this week.”
Charles Thompson will sit in the Longhorns family section of the Cotton Bowl, as he has the past three seasons, but that doesn’t mean he’ll wear burnt orange.
He plans to wear black, with a burnt orange decal and Casey’s UT jersey number 11, and a crimson decal with Kendal’s OU jersey number (also 11) and another with the number six. That was his number, in case anyone’s forgotten.
Charles calls it his Thompson legacy shirt. It’s a legacy that spans three decades, all that has happened between, and both sides of the Red River.
“As a dad who’s played the game, it doesn’t matter what color he’s wearing this Saturday or any Saturday,” he said. “To see your son down there reaping the benefits of all the hard work that he’s put in, as a dad it gives me great joy.”
Texas Longhorn blogger Ross Fisher contributed to this story.
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