Well, The Oklahoma University Sooners got their helmets handed to them at The Fiesta Bowl again. It was not pretty, and I’m very sad about it.
My mother’s relatives all live in Oklahoma, and I spent several summers and various holidays there, learning about the passion that Oklahomans have for football, among other things. That’s “Oklahomans,” you’ll note – NOT “Okies.” Ever since The Grapes of Wrath gave that word an ugly tinge, most people in the know shy away from using it. I remember a campaign by one of the governors way back when; he decided that since most people not from the state referred to its citizens as Okies anyway, they might as well try to turn it into something positive. His office came up with a slogan, and they made small gold lapel pins for everyone to wear that spelled OKIE. Each pin had a little blue drop of water in the “O” and a little green tree as the “I”. The letters stood for “Oklahoma, Key to Industry and Education.” Quite clever, really, and the pins were cute. I still have one somewhere. I don’t think the slogan ever really caught on, though.
One of the first things you will notice upon visiting any part of Oklahoma for any length of time is that everyone loves college football. This is not unusual; many states share that enthusiasm – especially those without professsional teams – and many states have big rivalries. But I would hazard a guess that there is no bigger in-state rivalry than OU and OSU – as big perhaps, but not bigger. I had three cousins – two brothers and a sister – who all went to school in their home state instead of going away for college. One brother went to OU, and the other brother and their sister went to OSU. They never came to blows due to excessive team spirit, but because I looked up to and admired all three, I was always conflicted. Mostly, at my age being conflicted meant never being sure whether to sport the red and white, or the orange and black, so I wore both (though not, any fashion mavens who might be reading will be happy to know, at the same time). I had a fantastic OSU sweatshirt – bright orange with the black silhouette of “Pistol Pete” in his giant hat on the front and OSU on the back. It finally fell apart, but I wore that thing for years. I had Sooner stuff as well, of course; especially, for some reason, lots of “Sooner Schooner” socks. Don’t ask me why.
As the end of summer vacations approached, football fever would start to grow. By the time I would leave to go back home, people would already be counting the days to the OU-OSU face-off. And, possibly even more exciting, the prospect of beating the stuffing out of Nebraska. Both Nebraska and Oklahoma take great pride in trouncing one another every year. Victory goes back and forth, of course, but it’s always a huge game.
I went to Vanderbilt, a school which during the years I attended was not known for its football program (and that’s putting it kindly), so I never really watched much college football except for the Oklahoma teams; then, once I moved to California, I added UCLA and USC – who cordially loathe one another almost as much as OU and OSU. But not quite.
Now, I live in Glendale – home of The Fiesta Bowl! I was so excited that OU was coming to town. I delighted in seeing all the red and white everywhere – people dressed in red and white, red and white flags flying on cars, the strains of “Boomer Sooner” wafting in the air. I didn’t have tickets for the game, but I was perched on the edge of my chair half an hour before it started, ready to watch OU take the field and take out West Virginia.
Then the game started. I’ll not elaborate, except to say that West Virginia played an incredible game, and that it was heart breaking to watch.
All the citizens of Oklahoma will be in mourning by now – OU and OSU fans alike united in grief – and even after all these years, I feel for them.
Having said that, I have a cousin on my father’s side who attended college in West Virginia; she’s overjoyed, along with the entire state of West Virginia – and for good reason.
So congratulations to West Virginia; to OU – better luck next year, because I KNOW you’ll be back.