Sooners fan cheering for Cowboys
A lifelong Oklahoma follower thinks this is the year to switch sides
This ain't easy.
I'm an OU fan. Growing up in Tulsa, Okla., I lived and died with the Sooners. Mostly lived, since the early '70s of my youth coincided with one of their many eras of national prominence.
Few outside the state had even heard of the team's wishbone-happy offensive coordinator -- a headstrong guy named Barry Switzer -- when he became OU's head coach in 1973. In his first seven seasons, his teams ran roughshod over opponents, bursting scoreboard light bulbs, going 73-7-2 and winning two national titles. He added a third in the 1980s and left Oklahoma with 157 wins. His parade of star players included running backs Joe Washington and Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims, and the vaunted defensive wall known as the Selmons -- brothers Lucious, Dewey and Lee Roy.
Oklahoma State? Please. The school located just 82 miles north of Norman, in Stillwater, might as well have been in Kansas. As much as 'Bamans, for instance, have to "pick a side" in the Auburn-Alabama rivalry, or Floridians must choose between Florida, Florida State and even Miami, so do Oklahomans.
As a youngster, my choice was simple. I picked OU -- and have been wearing (and bleeding) crimson ever since.
Frankly, I can't even recall a single Cowboys star during my years in the state. Perhaps because there weren't any! (Barry Sanders, the school's first -- and only -- Heisman winner, didn't arrive until the mid-'80s.)
By the time another relatively unknown first-time head coach (Jimmy Johnson) took over in Stillwater in 1979 (I had long gone west to attend Stanford), the Cowboys had been a struggling-to-be-.500 program for decades.
Rivalry? Please. Our (I mean, OU's) "biggest" games were not meeting Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Series -- but against Big Eight rival Nebraska and Red River foe Texas. And I remember games against the Longhorns. I remember battles against the Cornhuskers. (I still say the refs missed at least two clips on Johnny Rodgers' heart-breaking punt return in the 1971 matchup between No. 1 Nebraska and No. 2 OU!)
Playing OSU was usually like the season's dessert, a tasty treat to be devoured at the end of a long and satisfying meal.
Here are the numbers: In my lifetime, the Sooners lead Bedlam 46-8-1. Overall, OU holds an 82-16-7, uh, edge over OSU.
OU was Coke to OSU's Pepsi (or more like no-brand cola), HBO to Showtime, Wal-Mart to, well, every other retailer.
Not this year.
When Oklahoma lost to unranked Texas Tech on Oct. 22, essentially knocking the then-No. 3 Sooners out of the national championship dialogue, many longtime Sooners fans, including many of my friends who still live in and around the state, grudgingly conceded that perhaps this was OSU's year.
The Cowboys were loaded with talent, confident under seventh-year coach Mike ("I'm a Man!") Gundy, and rolling. They were undefeated and were rewarded with the Sooners' No. 3 spot in the BCS standings, while OU fell to 10th.
In many ways OSU has outdone OU at its own game this season.
The Cowboys possess their own high-powered offense -- fueled by one of the best wideouts in the nation, Justin Blackmon (1,241 yards, 12 yards per catch, 15 TDs), and guided efficiently by quarterback Brandon Weeden (34 touchdown passes and just 11 interceptions, completing 73 percent of his passes). Sophomore Joseph Randle anchors the running game with 1,042 yards and 21 TDs.
The Cowboys' stumble occurred two weeks ago when they lost to unranked Iowa State 37-31 in double-overtime, a game that was played the day it was learned that Oklahoma State women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna died in a plane crash while on a recruiting trip to Arkansas.
Pollsters seemed somewhat sympathetic, dropping the Cowboys only to No. 4, despite their loss to an unranked opponent. Last week's pummeling of never-shoulda-been-No. 3 Arkansas by top-ranked LSU allowed Oklahoma State to climb back to No. 3.
Now and forgive me, fellow Sooners fans hand me a pair of chaps and spurs and a bright orange sweatshirt, because I'm rootin' for the Cowboys to beat OU on Saturday!
So, too, is much of America.
Why? Because if the Cowboys win (especially if they win handily), they just might spare us a rematch of the Boring Bowl -- LSU-Alabama II -- in the BCS national championship game.
A persuasive win over No. 10 Oklahoma would not only give the Cowboys the same record as No. 2 Alabama (11-1), but it also just might edge OSU past the idle Tide and into the title game on Jan. 9 in New Orleans -- likely (and deservedly) against LSU.
Yeah, we all know LSU and Alabama are likely the proverbial two best teams in the nation. But in the one sport where every game supposedly "counts," this matchup has already been played -- and it was a 9-6 OT snoozer with Bama losing at home.
On Monday, Tide coach Nick Saban called for (begged?) poll voters to be "fair," and, yes, pick "the best two teams."
Nick, you had your shot! And lost. A mulligan? That's another sport.
Gundy, by contrast, has avoided any discussion about the BCS and says he'll lobby for his team only if a) it wins Bedlam, and if b) he's encouraged to do so by school administrators.
If you win Bedlam, Mike, lobby on!
The Cowboys haven't beaten Oklahoma since 2002, and they've never won a Big 12 title. In fact, they haven't been to a major bowl since the 1946 Sugar.
So clearly, Oklahoma State has never even been in the same state as the national championship game.
This year's team has a genuine chance to make Cowboys history.
And despite my "OU" heart, I'm hoping it does it.
But not to worry, Sooner nation, should the Cowboys fail to reach the title game, many are speculating that they'll face my Stanford Cardinal in the Fiesta Bowl.
On that day, no doubt, I'll be wearing crimson again.
Roy S. Johnson is a veteran sports journalist and media consultant. His blog is Ballers, Gamers and Scoundrels.