Commentary

Sooner and later (continued)

Updated: October 14, 2010, 3:13 PM ET
By Doug Ward | Special to ESPN Sports Travel

Memorial StadiumCourtesy University of Oklahoma AthleticsJubilant fans hoist signs displaying the two most magical words involving Oklahoma football.
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"An Oklahoma tradition," the P.A. announcer says as the band prepares to play the opponent's fight song, "we welcome our guests from Florida State University."

The Florida State fans crowding a sliver of the south end zone are suitably impressed.

"I've been watching Oklahoma since the Bud Wilkinson days," says Seminoles fan Chris Bentley, who made the trip from Tallahassee and speaks in a twang that sounds eerily like Bobby Bowden's. "This is a great, old venue and I'm extraordinarily impressed with the fans here. They welcome you, hope you have a good time and wish you luck. I have not seen that kind of sportsmanship anywhere else."

See more of Big Red in living color

For a closer look at the Sooners football tradition and the scene at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, click here for 10 gallery images.

After its respectful ode to the Seminoles, the crowd observes a moment of silence in honor of the ninth anniversary of 9/11. Then comes the national anthem, which ends with an overwhelming number of fans changing the song's ending from "Home of the Brave" to "Home of the Sooners." The impromptu freestyling has created a controversy around Norman, with Stoops among those who see it as disrespectful.

Undaunted, the Pride of Oklahoma lines up an OU formation and blasts "Boomer Sooner," which samples the tune from Yale's famous "Boola Boola" and marries it with lyrics written by Oklahoma student Arthur M. Alden in 1905. The catchy fight song will become the day's sound track:

Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner
Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner
Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner
Boomer Sooner, OK U!
Oklahoma, Oklahoma
Oklahoma, Oklahoma
Oklahoma, Oklahoma
Oklahoma, OK U!
I'm a Sooner born and Sooner bred
And when I die, I'll be Sooner dead
Rah Oklahoma, Rah Oklahoma
Rah Oklahoma, OK U!

The starting lineups are introduced; Ryan Broyles, DeMarco Murray and Landry Jones receive the biggest ovations when their images are shown on the giant video screen.

A well-produced video ("Gives me goose bumps every time," says one mesmerized OU fan) culminates with coach Bob Stoops announcing, "There is only one Oklahoma." Stoops' declaration is met with deafening approval from the crowd that has long since settled in. Arriving late is not fashionable here. And these fans are engaged.

Stoops is right, there is only one Oklahoma, and it's hard to mistake it for anyplace else. Car dealers here fly behemoth OU flags and display blow-up football players the size of Macy's Parade floats on lots stocked exclusively with pickup trucks. The starting lineups are presented by a chain of truck stops, while replays are brought to you by the Farm Bureau. A water tower in the neighboring city of Moore boasts of being the hometown of country music star Toby Keith.

Before the arrival of the NBA's Thunder 20 miles away in Oklahoma City, the Sooners weren't just the only game in town -- many considered them to be the only game in the state, with no disrespect to the Cowboys in Stillwater. And before Stoops' arrival and the program's subsequent revival, Oklahoma didn't have much of anything to be proud of on the sports page. The Sooners had not gone to a bowl game in four years while finishing with mediocre records of 5-5-1, 3-8, 4-8 and 5-6 before Stoops. Maybe that's why fans here wear T-shirts that declare, "I Love Bob."

Sooners fans now believe Stoops can take a place alongside the school's three coaching legends: Bennie Owen, who went 122-54-16 during his 22-year tenure; Bud Wilkinson, who posted a 145-29-4 record in 17 years; and Barry Switzer, who was 157-29-3 over 16 years in Norman.

Indeed, Oklahoma will begin adding statues of the four coaches in the southeast corner of the stadium at the end of the 2010 season.

"Florida State might push Bowden out," says Norman native and lifetime Sooners fan Jake Bullard, "but we'll never push Stoopsie out."

By the time the Sooners take the field to a standing ovation, the temperature has reached 82, skies are mostly blue and a cool breeze blows through the understated red brick stadium. A water tower emblazoned with an interlocking OU rises above the north end zone. Ten crimson and cream pennants flutter atop the stadium's upper deck.

Most everyone stays on their feet, index fingers pointing skyward, awaiting the kickoff. Fans yell out an extended letter "O" in unison, before punctuating it with a hard "U" when the ball is kicked. The result is a rousing "OOOOOOO, U!," delivered unison. A cannon accents the "U" for effect.

Oklahoma fans remain on their feet, as if they are in the presence of royalty. Maybe they are: The press box reminds one that the Sooners were kings of college football in 1950, 1955, 1956, 1974, 1975, 1985 and 2000.

The Sooners will look a lot like champions today, too. Quarterback Landry Jones leads his team on an 80-yard drive that culminates with a 1-yard touchdown run from DeMarco Murray. The OU band strikes up "Boomer Sooner" as the Sooner Schooner takes the field. It's as potent a one-two fight song/mascot punch as you'll find in college football.

QB Christian Ponder counters Jones by taking the Seminoles 70 yards, Jermaine Thomas completing the drive with a 1-yard run of his own.

The in-house video board, which is the size of a drive-in movie screen, captures former OU star and current Clippers forward Blake Griffin on the sideline, resplendent in crimson and cream sweater, and the crowd swoons.

Late in the first half, the Sooners back the Seminoles deep in their own zone and the crowd gets loud. Oklahoma fans are exceedingly civil, but that doesn't mean they're not vocal. It's hard to hear the OU band, let alone Ponder at the line.

It's 34-7 at the half, hot and humid. But no one leaves. When Oklahoma extends its lead to 44-7, Sooners followers borrow Florida State's tomahawk chop to waive goodbye to the Seminoles.

The Switzer Sooners would have hung half a hundred on Florida State, but Stoops is content to settle for a 28-yard fourth-quarter field goal from Patrick O'Hara that leaves his team stuck on 47. On the game's last play, Florida State's Ponder hooks up with Taiwan Easterling on a 47-yard catch-and-run that makes the final score 47-17.

When the final gun sounds, "Boomer Sooner" booms across the plains once more, and the Sooners have won their 32nd consecutive home game. It's been a good day for folks wearing red north of the Red River.

After a disappointing seven-point win over Utah State in the season opener sent off alarms in Norman, the Sooners have answered any lingering doubts. Only one question remains, and it's best asked by Toby Keith, the local hero and longtime Sooners fan.

"How do you like me now?"

Doug Ward is a Southern California-based freelance writer.

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