Charles Thompson Will Be in the Stands When Sooners Return to Memorial Stadium
By Clark Grell
Charles Thompson loves talking football with his three sons, including Casey. They’ll talk strategy before games. They’ll recap the games. They are film junkies.
On this winter day in Lincoln, Charles was talking history with his middle son – a little Sooner-Cornhusker blast from the past.
Casey, who had just entered the transfer portal after four years at Texas, was on an unofficial visit to Nebraska. It was his first look at Memorial Stadium. But not Dad’s.
About 35 years after leading Oklahoma to a victory over NU, the memories are still clear as day.
They walked around the stadium. Charles showed Casey where he made some big plays. He pointed out that it was the Sooners running out of the northwest tunnel on a cold November day.
“I told him the sideline on this play …,” Charles recalled. “‘You remember this play I ran? …'”
This, however, was more than a trip to revisit the past. It was about Casey’s future and where he was going to finish his college career. Dad wanted his son to go to a school that put him in the best position to succeed – even if that meant playing for the rival Huskers.
Casey, of course, picked Nebraska. It was a proud and emotional day for father and son, and somewhat of a surreal moment for Charles, who has and always will bleed Oklahoma red.
Now imagine the emotions Charles will encounter on Sept. 17 when he watches Casey, who is projected to start under center this fall, lead the Huskers against his beloved Sooners in Lincoln.
“No one questions my love and passion that I have for the University of Oklahoma, the fact that I played there and what it means to me,” Charles said from his home in Oklahoma City. “But I’m 100% supportive and behind my son and I want him to have success. To answer your question that may come: Who will I be rooting for? Of course, it will be Casey and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.”
The man who delivered Nebraska fans heartache in the “Game of the Century II” will have the Huskers close to his heart this year.
The Thompsons love football. For Charles, that included watching each of his three boys play on Friday nights in Oklahoma. His oldest son, Kendal, played quarterback at Oklahoma before finishing his collegiate run at Utah and later in the NFL. Casey had an illustrious prep career before heading to Texas. Cade, the youngest, also played high school football.
Since they were little, Charles has mentored his boys, coaching them in his youth football program. Interestingly, because he had a couple other talented quarterbacks on the team, Charles had Casey play tight end, running back and linebacker growing up.
That was OK with Casey.
“People used to identify Casey because he was the only kid on the sideline that never took his helmet off,” Charles said. “He loved hitting. He was a physical guy, and he was kind of tough to be honest with you, at a young age. You could feel he had a knack for the game of football from a very early age.”
By the sixth or seventh grade, Casey moved to the position he loved most – quarterback. Dad was there every step of the way, grooming his son to be a college-ready signal-caller.
Does Charles see a little of himself when watching Casey play the position?
“I think just a little OCD,” Charles said. “(We) just want to be perfect. The one thing that we have in common is we love watching film. You don’t have to force Casey to do it. He’s just going to do it automatically. That’s just who he is.”
Their relationship is built on love, trust and honesty. Charles knows he can offer a tough critique without Casey taking it the wrong way.
“A lot of people that are around us will say, ‘Gosh, you’re really hard on Casey,'” Charles said. “But that’s how we can identify and talk to each other. He expects me to push him to be the best he can be.”
Charles Thompson wasn’t supposed to start under center when No. 2 Oklahoma visited No. 1 Nebraska on Nov. 21, 1987. Jamelle Holieway, who led OU to a national championship in 1985, was the Sooners’ rock at QB, but he tore his ACL against Oklahoma State.
Enter Charles, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound redshirt freshman who played much bigger than his size listed in the program.
The Lawton, Oklahoma, native was now the Sooners’ starting QB two weeks ahead of the showdown in Lincoln. OU was No. 1 when it played Missouri in mid-November – a week ahead of NU – but the Sooners barely escaped (17-13), and they swapped places with Nebraska in the Top 25.
All that did was ignite a spark in Thompson.
What stands out about the highly anticipated Game of the Century II?
Charles remembered seeing Nebraska’s defensive linemen warming up without sleeves on a frigid day, even though teammate Keith Jackson told him, “Don’t look at the linemen,” during warmups.
He remembered a loud Memorial Stadium making it tough to get the game’s first snap off.
“I can’t explain to you the knots that were in my throat,” Charles said. “But I lived and prepared for that moment, and it was something that I just knew I had to go out there and do what I’ve known and knew how to do my entire life and play the game of football.”
He ran the wishbone offense like a veteran, rushing for 126 yards as the Sooners bulldozed their way to a 17-7 one-sided victory.
“When you talk about a big-stage game … (When) I was 6 years old I dreamed of playing in that game, and I watched it many, many times on Thanksgiving Day,” Charles said. “And here I was a part of it – a right to not only win a Big Eight championship, but a chance to play for a national championship in the Orange Bowl.”
Charles was an All-Big Eight quarterback in 1988, but his collegiate career came to an abrupt stop after a drug arrest. He never played for the Sooners again, but Thompson grew from the experience.
He eventually returned to school to earn his degree and became a motivational speaker. He’s a licensed minister and runs the Oklahoma City Inner Youth Football Program, which unfolds over a 22-acre plot of land.
“My dad has done a great job of just preaching patience, just being ready for my opportunity, and also staying focused,” Casey told ESPN last year. “The experiences he went through in life, having to deal with adversity, has molded who I am today and I’m very appreciative of that.”
Charles’ sons have seen most of his Oklahoma games on tape, and yes, the NU-OU game of 1987 comes up a lot. On that day, Charles cemented his place in one of college football’s best rivalries.
“We’ve watched years of me even playing back from my high school days all the way to my college days, so they certainly know a lot about what I consider the best game I played at Oklahoma,” Charles said.
Sept. 17 will not be the first time Charles has rooted for his son against the Sooners. Just last year, Casey piloted Texas’ offense against OU in the Red River rivalry, another one of college football’s great clashes.
The intertwining story was a part of ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast on the same day OU and Texas met in Dallas. ESPN’s Chris Fowler asked Charles what he was going to feel watching his son play against his school.
“When people say it and they talk about it in a futuristic tense, it doesn’t really do it justice when it’s in the moment,” said Charles, who knows the Red River rivalry well – he broke free for a 65-yard touchdown against the Horns in 1987. “I remember how I felt leading up to it. (Fowler) even tried to explain what I was going to feel, and it wasn’t nearly as close to what it felt like.”
A nervous father watched as Casey, making his fourth start, completed 20-of-34 passes for 388 yards and five touchdowns in the Longhorns’ 55-48 loss to the Sooners. Charles, of course, wanted a different outcome for his son.
It took a long time to get used to watching Casey don the burnt orange, Charles added, which is why he wore a black Texas shirt to his son’s games.
Charles doesn’t like to use the word “hate,” but back when he played there was no other way to describe Texas. “It’s hard as you get older to use the word hated, but that’s how you described it as an adjective,” he said. “We really had this hatred for Texas. With Nebraska, it was a rivalry, but it was a mutual respected rivalry. Kind of like we almost feared that these guys could be on your level.
“With Texas, it was just more I can’t stand them, and I want to beat them.”
But those feelings have passed. Charles enjoyed watching Casey emerge as Texas’ starting quarterback last year.
He watched as Casey threw for 2,113 yards and a Big 12-best 24 touchdowns. But when UT coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters that he was opening the quarterback competition ahead of the 2022 season, the junior-to-be decided it was in his best interest to pursue a new opportunity.
“Honestly, I think sometimes in life you just feel like it’s time for a restart,” Casey told reporters in the spring. “It’s time for a change. I kind of just felt like I stuck around. I went through different offenses and coaching staffs, and I just felt like it was time for me to move on.”
Casey chose Nebraska over Oklahoma and Auburn in early January, then plunged into a new playbook. He already had a connection with Scott Frost. The Nebraska head coach began following Casey while serving as offensive coordinator at Oregon and then recruited the quarterback at UCF.
Their paths finally crossed in Lincoln.
Casey had to wait a little to show his new teammates what he could do with his arm, but he didn’t waste any time putting his smarts on display. Just two weeks into his time in Lincoln, Casey took his offensive linemen to Rodizio Grill for dinner, picking up the tab.
Then he went to work with the wideouts. Casey was feeling at home.
It’s the spiciest home game of the season. When Nebraska hosts Oklahoma in September, the Sooners will likely be a top-10 team. The last time they were in Lincoln (2009), Bo Pelini put together a defensive masterpiece in a 10-3 Husker win.
For Casey, it will be another shot at the Sooners after falling short last year. Charles will be in the stands, his legacy painted in Sooner crimson but his rooting interest firmly in the corner of Nebraska.
Speaking of corners, Casey and his new teammates will enter the field from the same northwest tunnel that Charles ran out of 35 years ago. And for the second straight year, Casey will be staring straight into the rich history of the Oklahoma program, one that includes his father.
“When I look at it, it’s kind of weird how life goes,” Charles said. “Oklahoma and Texas is a rivalry and Oklahoma-Nebraska is a rivalry. To have a son to participate in both of those rivalries … it’s modern day college football that you can have a son, the same son, one year play against my school and next year be at the other school and participate in that rivalry.
“You can never say never.”