The earliest years of this student organization are not well known. The RUF/NEKS began in the late 1910s. In December 1915 at a basketball game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma A&M a group of football players were yelling, cheering, and causing a ruckus. An elderly woman shouted, "Sit down and be quiet you roughnecks!" The name was later changed to RUF/NEKS. The first leader of the RUF/NEKS was Charles Leslie High. His most famous act was the "Dallas or Bust" campaign, in which he sold tickets at a cheap price to students who wished to go. While this low-cost option is not available anymore, the "Dallas or Bust" tradition continues as part of the modern "Pre-Dally Rally" that occurs to this day.
In 1921, the famous red and white paddles were introduced that have since became a tradition of the organization. They are used to wave around and intimidate the visiting teams. The next year, they decided to not shave their beard following Sooner losses. This tradition also continues to this day.
In 1923, the first official appearance of the RUF/NEKS was at a Friday night pep rally. This event is now known as the "Big Red Rally" which occurred before the start of every football season until the start of the 2010 season when the University did not have enough funding for it. The group, which was at that time a lot larger than it is today (82 in 1939; the group hovers around a couple dozen today), successfully stopped a group of Oklahoma A&M students from raiding the campus. In 1992, another attempt was made to deface the fountains just west of the Bizzell Memorial Library. The OSU marauders were stopped once again by several RUF/NEKS who were protecting the campus. To this day, RUF/NEKS still stand guard around campus the night before the Bedlam game.
During World War II, the RUF/NEKS were disbanded so the members could join the armed forces. The group was reformed in 1946. In 1952, the FBI confiscated the RUF/NEK shotguns. These shotguns are used at various times throughout football games including when the team scores, comes out on the field, and at the end of every quarter. All but one was returned and that one is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
The most notable job of the RUF/NEKS is the driving of the Sooner Schooner during football games. This tradition started in 1963. The ponies that pull the Conestoga wagon are taken care of by local Oklahoma residents in Sapulpa, Oklahoma who drive them to Norman. Once there, the ponies are prepped and strapped to the Schooner by the RUF/NEKS. After every OU score, a selected member, called the "Sooner Schooner Driver," drives the Schooner out onto the field to the cheers of 85,000 fans.
Starting in the 1980s, each year on the Monday before the Red River Rivalry, the RUF/NEKS apply a fresh coat of paint to the painting in the South Oval that reads "Beat the Hell Out of Texas." Due to construction along the South Oval, this part of the concrete was recently removed to make way for a new pedestrian walkway. The "Beat the Hell Out of Texas" has been moved on campus between Nielsen and Ellison Hall.
The RUF/NEKS are the nation's oldest all-male spirit group of its kind and the 2nd oldest in the world.
Of all the traditions that the RUF/NEKS have, this is the most visible. Every home football game when the team runs onto the field, the RUF/NEKS sprint down the field with OU flags, and slide into the goalpost. At the goalpost they say a chant that is named "FADADA". The "FADADA" originated as a ritual to scare snakes out of the endzone during early OU games.
Throughout their history, the RUF/NEKS have been in their fair share of controversy.
- In the 1985 Orange Bowl, the Schooner came onto the playing field to celebrate a field goal but received a penalty flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. After the loss of yards resulting from the penalty, the field goal repeat attempt was blocked and the OU football team went on to lose the game.
- In 1991, the president of the RUF/NEKS along with the president of the RUF/NEK Lil Sis (the sister cooperative to the RUF/NEKS) climbed into the elevator shaft of one of the buildings on campus and painted a giant RUF/NEK paddle along the four-story elevator shaft along with a note to future pledges. After it was discovered, the shaft was closed but the painting still remains.
- In 1993, after a late-game field goal against the University of Colorado, the Schooner took a corner too sharply and tipped over. The driver, flag-waver, and RUF/NEK queen fell out of the Schooner. This made national news because the queen was not wearing underwear.
- They have had to apologize to head coach Bob Stoops twice: once for knocking him down during a pre-game run down the field at the Independence Bowl, and another time for patting him on the butt with their paddles, also during a pre-game run down the field.
- In 2004, during a football game between Oklahoma and Nebraska a member of the RUF/NEKS was injured by Darren DeLone, a 320-pound Nebraska football player. DeLone collided with the RUF/NEK, throwing him eight feet back into a brick wall injuring his head, back and spine and knocking out two teeth. DeLone was charged by the Cleveland County District Attorney's Office with having acted intentionally, but he was acquitted.
- In 2007, all current RUF/NEKS were banned from participating in official University of Oklahoma sporting events, due to punishment stemming from allegations of hazing of pledges and alcohol abuse. During the 2007 football season alumni stepped in to cover games. Following this the organization was placed under the Athletic Department control making it an official University spirit organization.
- "OKLAHOMA RUF/NEK HISTORY". OKLAHOMA RUF/NEKS. Archived from the original on 2005-02-04. Retrieved 2006-06-15.
- Darcy, Kieran. "The ride of a Sooner lifetime". "ESPN.com Page 2". Retrieved 2006-06-15.
- Walters, John. "Road Trip: University of Oklahoma". "Sports Illustrated On Campus". Retrieved 2006-06-15.
- Hopkins, Lauren (October 25, 2005). "OU's Urban Legends". Oklahoma Daily.
- Warmbrodt, Zachary (November 22, 2004). "Nebraska player faces charges". Oklahoma Daily.
- Marciszewski, April (October 25, 2007). "Ruf/Neks pledges reportedly hazed". Tulsa World.