- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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NORMAN, Okla. -- After 28 straight wins and a national championship, Steve Davis finally quarterbacked Oklahoma to a loss in 1975. As the Sooners were falling to four-touchdown underdog Kansas, Davis was thoroughly booed every time he jogged onto the field. After the Jayhawks won 23-3, one fan boldly complained to the Daily Oklahoman newspaper that Davis lacked the "spirit" of an OU quarterback.
The scrutiny Davis faced, however, galvanized the entire team. And OU won its final three games to capture the school's fifth national title.
The Sooners are hoping the same happens for quarterback Landry Jones, who with a third victory in the Red River Rivalry this weekend will break Davis' record for wins by an OU starting quarterback.
"Landry is not the first player to be booed or criticized at Oklahoma," said Davis, who sent Jones an encouraging two-page letter after Jones was hammered by fans and the media following the Sooners' loss to Kansas State three weeks ago.
"But with social media, blogs and sports-talk radio, it's so much more difficult for a Landry Jones to manage the pressures that come with being the quarterback here than they were for Steve Davis four decades ago."
In the history of OU football, few have had to weather the criticism Jones has faced. Many fans bemoaned Jones' announcement he was returning for his senior season on local sports talk radio and message boards. Jones' detractors grew more emboldened after OU lost to the Wildcats, thanks in large part to two Jones turnovers which led to a pair of K-State touchdowns.
The only player in the Bob Stoops era who can understand what Jones has gone through is former OU quarterback Nate Hybl.
Just like the Sooners of 2011, OU fell apart late in the 2001 season, losing at home to rival Oklahoma State in the biggest upset in the history of the rivalry. Just like Jones with Kansas State, Hybl took most of the blame after OU lost the Bedlam game.
"It can be very difficult -- especially for a quarterback -- when you feel like the fans are turning against you," Hybl said. "It's not something you can really ever prepare for. And it challenges you to the core.
"How you respond is really indicative of who you are as a person."
The following season, Hybl was relegated to a backup, as Jason White recovered from a knee injury and reassumed his starting role. But the second game of the 2002 season against Alabama, White suffered another torn ACL, thrusting Hybl back into the fray. After struggling for much of the game, Hybl rallied the Sooners late in the fourth quarter and OU prevailed, 38-28, which Hybl said "restored confidence" in himself.
Five weeks later, the Sooners beat Texas and went on to capture the Big 12 championship. OU beat Washington State in the Rose Bowl, too, and Hybl was named the game's most valuable player.
"It requires tremendous strength and the right kind of support to get through tough times," Hybl said. "That can apply to a lot of things in life. But it requires a lot of strength when you're dealing with a fan base that can be so fickle.
"That's why I've always been proud I went out holding my head high."
Jones has the opportunity to do the same.
He restored some of his confidence last weekend with his best outing since last October as the Sooners trounced Texas Tech on the road, 41-20.
With a victory over the Longhorns, Jones would join Jimmy Harris, Davis and Jamelle Holieway as the only OU quarterbacks to go 3-0 as starters in the Red River Rivalry. A win would also catapult the Sooners back into the Big 12 title race, and put them on the cusp of the national title conversation, as well.
"Landry's teammates are going to gain courage and strength based on how he reacts to all the criticism," Davis said.
"I'm excited for him to go out there and silence the boos -- just like we did."
14hEthan Sherwood Strauss