A Good Day to Be a Sooner
The doorbell rang at 10:45 a.m. He wasn’t supposed to be there for another hour. As I went to the door, still wearing my pajama pants, I saw him there in all his glory; Dad was decked out in Saturday best: OU hoodie, OU hat, OU windbreaker. He said we got our lines of communication crossed and that’s why he was so early. Personally, I just think he was excited.
The big day had arrived. We’d been talking about this day for weeks, and Dad even took off work on Friday to “rest up.” At 7:00 p.m., the Sooners were going to take the field to battle the #2 ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders. But our day was starting earlier. Much, much earlier.
Not only are we season ticket holders in football, but men’s basketball as well. Saturday represented a rare occurrence when both teams were playing home games on the same day. In an effort to curb traffic, the school scheduled the basketball game for 1:00 p.m. Considering we didn’t figure to get home from the football game until midnight, this was going to make for one long day in Norman, Oklahoma.
Make that one glorious day in Norman, Oklahoma.
Dad may have been born and raised in New York, but he has the internal body thermometer of a 90 year-old woman from Florida. The man hates the cold. He starts shivering at 55 degrees, begins chattering at 40 degrees, and goes into shock at anything in the 30’s or below. As we headed for Norman in the late morning, the sun was out, and the air was very comfortable. But my Dad had been researching the weather all week, and he knew that once that sun went down, it was going to be one chilly evening in the upper level of the stadium. So, he responded as only he can: Undershirt? Check. Long sleeve Tee? Check. Hooded sweatshirt? Check. Windbreaker? Check. Knee-Length winter coat? Check. Gloves? Check (times two). Wool socks? Check. Scarf? Check. Wool cap? Check. Manhood? Not a chance.
I am no masochist. I don’t like being cold either. But I figured a pair of gloves, hat, long sleeves, and a vest would suffice. I put my modest stash of items into the trunk, which was already weighted down by his winter collection as we hit the highway, bound for our first stop.
As we pulled into the Lloyd Noble Center for the basketball game, it was readily apparent that this day was going to be different than most. Lloyd Noble has a huge parking lot and finding a spot is almost never an issue. But on this day, half of the lot was filled with RV’s and campers, all kinds of folks getting ready for the football game. My Dad saw one camper with a Texas Tech flag, turned to me and said, “what kind of bull….. is that!”
We figured we’d be sweating out a tight football game that night and we were looking forward to a leisurely afternoon of watching our highly ranked basketball team kick the tails of tiny Gardner-Webb. Apparently, our team had also prepared for a leisurely afternoon. My Dad is the biggest OU homer in the world, but he is also an incredible pessimist both before and during games. Midway through the first half, OU was looking listless while clinging to a small lead; I assured Dad that by halftime we’d be well out in front. However, Dad kept turning to me after every Gardner-Webb basket and said, “We’re going to lose this game!”
I ignored his pessimism until OU found themselves down by 5 points with just under 6:00 minutes remaining in the game. At that point, I turned to Dad and said, “Holy sh… we may lose this game!” Even though it was unsaid at that point, I think Dad, myself and all the other fans in attendance were all thinking the same thing: What a horrible omen to start the day.
Luckily, OU rallied. Blake Griffin was simply too much for Garnder-Webb to handle, and OU clamped down on defense in the final minutes to pull away for an 80-76 victory. Dad and I sat in our seats for awhile, soaking in the relief of escaping with a win we probably didn’t deserve. As we walked out of the arena, Dad said, “Just imagine if the football game ends in the same score.”
Who knew that one team was going to come darn close.
Dad’s pessimism extends beyond the games themselves. After making our way out of the Lloyd Noble parking lot, I figured we’d take advantage of our four hours of downtime, by finding a parking spot closer to the football stadium than normal. As I made my way towards an area I had targeted, Dad kept telling me what a fruitless effort it was. “We might as well have just stayed in the Lloyd Noble parking lot….you’ll never find a space around here…” Five minutes later, we found an individual selling spots on his lawn for $10, only a few blocks from the stadium.
At this point, it was 3:30 p.m., and the temperature was comfortable, even warm. Dad and I wanted to head towards Campus Corner to grab a bite to eat and soak in the atmosphere a bit. But we had a bit of a dilemma with his winter garb; The only realistic thing for him to do was to take all of his layers with him now. Beyond that, the only realistic way to transport them was to actually wear them. So off we head towards Campus Corner on this beautiful afternoon- the Eskimo and me. Dad was sweating bullets by the time we got there. He quickly unlayered as we sat down to eat lunch.
Campus Corner was hopping as always on game day. But on this day, you could sense a different electricity in the air. Because OU plays their most hated rival every year at a neutral site (Texas), we don’t always get marquee match-ups in Norman. And it is incredibly rare for a team ranked above OU to come into Norman. Head coach Bob Stoops challenged the fans to be louder than normal this week, and you could sense that the fans were getting ready to respond.
After lunch, we headed to New York Pizza—one of my favorite places in Norman. We sat down, had a few drinks, and watched Notre Dame lose to lowly Syracuse. As the game ended, my Dad was cackling and yelling, “Screw those Notre Dame bastards!”
At 5:15, Dad was getting antsy. We packed up his layers and headed to the tailgate tent that his company sets up for each home game. Once we got there, my wife and my in-laws stopped by to say hello. We ate some hot dogs, took a few pictures, and as always, had some laughs—with Dad leading the charge. As game time approached, the temperature began to dip, and Dad was quickly thankful for his many, many layers. From our spot at the tailgate, we always see the band enter the stadium, blaring “Boomer Sooner” all the way. As they approached on Saturday, you could see little kids from all over the area sprinting to see them cross into the stadium. Mixed in with those little kids? You got it, a 61-year-old man pushing his way to get a better view.
By 6:00 p.m., Dad couldn’t take it anymore. He handed me my ticket and informed me that he was heading up to our seats. For some reason, sitting in his seat for the final hour prior to kickoff makes him feel better. I told him I’d see him there and hung out my with wife and sister-in-law for a bit longer.
Around 6:30, I made my way to our seats. When I got there, I motioned for my Dad to scoot over, but he refused. He said, “I’m not sitting next to those ass….” Sure enough, directly to my left were two young Texas Tech fans. They wound up being quite friendly, but Dad was having none of it.
The pre-game build up was intense. The crowd was wired. The stands were full and Dad was already losing his voice before the team made their way out of the tunnel.
Once the game started, it all became a blur. A blur of Crimson and Cream glory in what may prove to be one of the finest moments in a storied history. It wasn’t a game: It was a party. It was 14-0 before we even thought about sitting down. It was 28-0 before Dad had time to send a bragging text message to a friend, and it was 42-7 at the half. After OU scored the touchdown to put them up by that margin, the song “Jump Around” was played over the loudspeaker during the timeout. What followed was quite possibly my all-time favorite Owen Field moment: The entire OU bench started jumping up and down, imploring the fans on the west side of the stadium to follow suit. Each player was waving a towel, and each fan responded in kind. The entire stadium was jumping up and down in unison with the team. It was Sooner Magic personified.
Early in the second half, our Texas Tech friends decided enough was enough. They actually left during a play where Texas Tech fumbled and OU returned it to the one-yard line. In between bellows of cackling laughter my Dad kept saying, “They left…the dumb bastards left….screw em’!”
Final Score: OU 65, Texas Tech 21.
After the game, we quickly made our way to the car. You’d think fatigue would have been getting to us by now, but we were both jazzed and wide-eyed as we hit the highway for home. Dad called his brother-in-law in South Carolina to give him a report, but I’m not sure my Uncle could understand a word given the condition of my Dad’s voice. By that time, he sounded like an 11-year-old girl. When he got off the phone, things suddenly got quiet. We simply listened to the post-game show on the radio. Neither of us said a word the entire drive home. Once you’ve achieved the perfection, there simply isn’t anything left to say.