As I pedalled back to the house alone, hands frozen, legs sore, bike creaking, I thought to myself:
Things never end the way we think. There is no romance.
I guess I should back up and explain the situation. I am, or should I say was, in a group called the Soonermen here at OU. We dress up in hand-painted Superman shirts and capes to attend OU football games. We sit on the front row of every home game, and to do that we have to get to games pretty early. We head to games together on our bikes in what is one of the most fun and memorable rituals of Soonermen.
As a sophomore (my first year riding with the Soonermen, we used to have to earn the chance after our freshman year), I remember watching the seniors on their last ride and seeing a group of men that had been riding together for years. These guys soaked up every last moment as if they were graduating at the end of the game. This may seem silly, after all we are just a bunch of 18-23 year olds dressed up in capes and crazy hats, but there is a camaraderie there that is present in any number of things that involves guys doing stupid things together. As such, all things must come to an end, and that end is always going to be bittersweet.
When I envisioned my last ride as a Soonerman, I didn’t envision it this way. I imagined a large group of us, guys I had been riding with for three years, smiling and taking in every moment, reminiscing about the good times and looking forward to another Sooner beatdown of Oklahoma State. I didn’t imagine that we would have less than half of our usual numbers. I didn’t imagine that all of the guys I started the “Mustache Mafia” with my freshman year would be gone, having traded the cape for the Gameday Polo, and the bike ride for the tailgate. And I certainly didn’t imagine that I would be riding back to the house alone because I forgot my bag with my ticket and things in it. Riding back may have taken a total of four minutes, but in those cold minutes alone I became a little jealous of my friends in their fleeces enjoying barbecue.
That’s when I realized that there is no romance. Things aren’t going to end up like I imagined them. This isn’t a movie. Maybe I should have realized that when our 39 game home win streak was snapped last year. Or when our epic game against Notre Dame ended in defeat. I dreamed about that game ever since I heard it was on the schedule and it didn’t end up like I imagined, so why should this game be any different? Sooner Magic is something everyone talks about here in Norman, but not something that has been present in my time as a student.
Sooner Magic, if it ever existed, must be a thing of the past.
I caught back up with my fellow Soonermen and we continued our chilly ride. It was exciting, as usual, and I was ready for the game. The negative feelings I had faded as we rushed into the stadium to our normal spots. We get to hold the “Play Like a Champion Today” banner as the players run out, and as part of that we get pre and post-game Sideline Passes. Before we hold the banner we go to the practice field to make sure we have everything down. On the practice field we have plenty of time to relax and mess around. This time, we decided to play imaginary football. We lined up as many people as we could on each side of the ball and ran plays just like our sporting heroes were about to do. I’m sure we looked like fools, but we always look that way. It was also one of the most fun things I’ve done in a while. For 10 minutes, a bunch of young adults dressed like children got to act even more childlike than normal. It was a welcome relief as we were about to experience the most stressful game of our life.
Down 17-3 early in the game to our little brother from Stillwater, those negative feelings started to creep back in. I knew that we were capable of scoring enough to come back and win, but I also knew that I have watched this team for four years and they rarely have the ability to come back and win in this way (Big 12 Championship vs Nebraska notwithstanding). OU tied the game at halftime and the nerves subsided, until the first play from scrimmage for OSU after the half went for a touchdown. The game went back and forth with pendulum swings like a giant grandfather clock. One thing I have said in the past was that OU just doesn’t get unexpected, great plays in the clutch. Things like a blocked field goal, or a kickoff return for a touchdown. That is the mark of a team with “magic”, and we just don’t have that. Well, we didn’t until Jalen Saunders broke off a remarkable 81-yard punt return for a touchdown to tie the game (after a 2 point conversion) at the beginning of the fourth quarter. But, of course, there was a flag down. I wasn’t even surprised as I saw the yellow flag fly.
But wait, the officials waved off the flag. I could now go crazy like the rest of the stadium already was.
Maybe there is something to this magic.
A frantic fourth quarter that culminated on a dominant, legacy defining six minute drive led by Landry Jones and finished off by Blake Bell did nothing good to my heart’s health, but it did something great to my mind’s. As amazing as that drive was, overtime still had me fretting. The negative side of me knew that their kicker, Quinn Sharp, is as automatic as they come. I still didn’t know if we were the team that made mistakes in the clutch or made plays. Despite all the evidence to the contrary in the last two games I just needed one more confirmation that we had finally turned that corner as a team. Leaning on my fellow Soonermen for every offensive play by OSU in their first possesion, I was beside myself when we forced them to kick a field goal.
We’ve got this, just don’t screw it up!
A straight ahead run by Trey Millard for a good gain was encouraging, and at second down and short I told those around me that we should take a shot at the end zone. Then, as if to prove my offensive coordinating days are a long way away, we handed the ball to Brennan Clay. Clay, who had struggled all day, ran it up the middle.
Classic, I’ve seen this play before.
Clay disappeared into the line, but like Houdini combined with a Mack Truck, he reappeared and exploded out of the line of behemoths and into an OSU defender. The poor Cowboy never had a chance. Clay reached the second level of defenders and fought his way to the end zone to win the game. The party had begun.
My last home game as a student at OU ended with an 18 yard run by a struggling running back in the only overtime game in the 107 years of the Bedlam series.
Using the privileges granted us as Soonermen, we stormed onto the field soon after the game. The players rushed over to the student section to celebrate. The student section, full and joyous at the end of a game for the first time I can remember, was beside themselves. Blake Bell ran over to us and I stupidly stuck my hand out for him to slap. I think all 6’6” and 254 lbs of him went into this high five. For once, I was glad that it was cold because I could barely feel my hands anyway.
Standing on the field looking up at the student section, “Jump Around” began to blare through the speakers. I had heard about the legendary “Jump Around” moment from the Texas Tech game in 2008, and by this point in my life I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never experience anything like in the student section. I was right, I experienced it on the field. The stadium was bouncing and so was I. I stopped for a second to soak it all in and that’s when I realized something:
Maybe there is such a thing as romance.
Sure, if I could have planned out this day it would have looked totally different, but I couldn’t have made it better. So as I trade my Soonerman shirt for a Gameday polo, I don’t regret all the extra time I put in as a Soonerman. Yeah, I wish the days of games weren’t such hassles, but I can tailgate for the next 60 years of my life. For four years I was able to live out a childhood dream of being a crazy college football fan, and I was richly rewarded for it.
Maybe this is a bunch of ink spilled over something stupid like wearing a cape to a football game, but as I graduate in May and have no idea what life looks like a year from now, I know that I will be able to look back at this and learn. Things didn’t work out like I thought they would, but at the end of the day I can look back and realize that they worked out better than I could have planned. Maybe there is some romance out there, and if you wait long enough there might just be some magic too.