I imagine it’s a pretty common story for anyone born in Oklahoma around 1979. (OK, I was actually born in Dallas, but let’s keep that between us.)
I grew up in tulsa in a “house divided” down Bedlam lines, but my mom’s beleaguered Oklahoma State Cowboys never had a chance to win my affection.
My dad’s Sooners stood at the top of the college football world. It was rarely a matter of whether or not Barry Switzer’s team would win on Saturday, but rather if The King would win by enough to satisfy the boosters who had loaded up on OU with their bookies.
We all know how that story ended. The NCAA decimated OU in 1989 for a host of improprieties.
The renegade coach ostensibly got his walking papers for breaking rules that 10-Year-Old Me couldn’t understand. What I did understand was the real reason Switzer got tossed: He had the temerity to lose four games that year.
Of course, a four-loss season would have felt like a godsend compared to what followed. Oklahoma football essentially walked the desert for a decade behind the leadership of the milquetoast Gary Gibbs, the boorish Howard Schnellenberger and the utterly incompetent John Blake. (I’d still contend Blake’s squads were the poorest-coached teams in the history of modern football.)
The Sooners looked to be on the mend with the hire of Bob Stoops in 1999, but no one could have expected what followed. That’s what made OU’s 13-0 national title season of 2000 truly remarkable. Since then, the former boy wonder coach has become synonymous with coming up short on the big stage, but OU’s sustained level of success over the course of his 13 years in Norman has been unmatched.
All of which has led Adult Me to conclude that success sucks.
Watching and listening to OSU fans celebrate their first-ever Big 12 championship last season, I couldn’t help but feel a little envious. Obviously, I envied the fact the Pokes had the 2011 title. More than that, though, I envied the excitement of unfamiliar glory – the feeling of finally reaching the mountaintop after such a long climb. (I’d probably be singing a different tune if I lived in Oklahoma for the last year, admittedly.)
The sad reality of being an OU fan right now is that it’s teetering dangerously on the edge of not being fun. Most of the students at the school now only know OU as one of college football’s premier programs. Winning big isn’t a goal, it’s a demand. A 10-win season isn’t something to celebrate, it’s a reason for cleaning house. If the Sooners somehow did capture a national championship this year, I almost wonder if the reaction would be “what took you so long?”
Stoops and the career he has had at OU don’t need defending. Nor do the fans who Tiger Mother the Sooners with the inherent disappointment when nothing is ever good enough. People act that way when they’ve been conditioned to expect nothing less than the best.
This year’s Sooner team certainly isn’t the best – at least, not in the country, even though it might be in the top five or 10. But it might be the best in the Big 12.
For all the weaknesses perceived in OU’s program by challengers, these Sooners actually aren’t that far off from the teams that won three straight conference crowns. The losses of a year ago, especially a severe beating from OSU, stand out, but way more often than not, OU was blowing teams out. Meanwhile, two of the Sooners’ three defeats came by a touchdown or less.
The struggles of a year ago may give OU’s rivals hope, but that’s nothing new. We’ve seen how that has worked out for 13 years now.
Prediction: 10-2. Big 12 champs. No one is happy.