STILLWATER — It's not as easy as it once was for Marilynn Whetsell to follow her favorite team, the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Whetsell, who graduated from Oklahoma A&M in 1939, is now 92 years old. Her eyesight and hearing are dwindling, making it difficult to watch games, even while sitting a few feet away the big-screen TV at her Pawhuska home. Reading the newspaper is impossible.
But a recent phone conversation with her son, Robert, illustrates just what this OSU season has meant to Marilynn.
“Oh Robert, this is just fantastic,” Robert recalled his mother telling him earlier this week. “I really hope they can do it.”
Marilynn was around the last time this program was 8-0 in 1945, but, really, no OSU fan has ever experienced the type of magical ride the 2011 season has been so far.
The Cowboys are serious national title contenders in November. They hold onto the No. 3 spot in the BCS standings, their highest ranking ever, and are in prime position to move up after No.1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama play tonight.
Win its remaining four regular season games, including tonight's contest against No. 14 Kansas State at Boone Pickens Stadium, and OSU should earn a spot in the national championship game.
“We have waited, prayed and believed for so long for this kind of season in football,” said Denise Lowry, a 26-year-old fan from Edmond. “We have stuck around for all the bad years and we have kept believing in our Oklahoma State Cowboys.
“The feeling is truly unlike anything you could ever describe.”
Each fan has their own unique story about how they got here. Some are lifelong supporters who suffered through many three- and four-win seasons and heartbreaking moments like “The Drop.” Others are students experiencing Cowboy football for the first time.
And each fan is handling OSU's rise to prominence — and the possibility of playing in New Orleans on Jan. 9 — in their own way.
“Cautiously optimistic” is a phrase often thrown out by OSU supporters when describing their emotions about this season. It's a mixture of sheer excitement about the team's success so far and nervousness about another “Poke Choke,” especially with a Bedlam showdown against No. 6 Oklahoma likely serving as the Cowboys' final hurdle to clinch a spot in the national title game.
“I'm completely paranoid and superstitious about life right now but truly believe this is our year,” said Adam Stachmus, a 2006 OSU graduate and fan since the late 1980s.
At Boone Pickens Stadium, the second-, third-, seventh- and eighth-largest crowds in school history have already come through the turnstiles this season.
But the support for the Cowboys stretches beyond Stillwater or Oklahoma.
Matt Fuchs, a 28-year-old fan who recently moved to Minnesota, is coming back for Bedlam. Jordan Moore, an OSU graduate who now lives in Colorado Springs, has made the trip to Stillwater for three of the Cowboys' four home games so far this season.
And Sean Flanagan, an OSU graduate now living in Huntsville, Ala., said the Cowboys have gotten the attention of folks in SEC Country.
“People see my license plates and window stickers and come up to talk to me about football in the parking lot,” he said. “People see my shirts and hats and ask me about (Mike) Gundy and (Justin) Blackmon and (Brandon) Weeden.
“It's like we have finally earned a place at the table. I'm one of them now.”
That has caused Flanagan to make reservations for New Orleans in January, even if he cannot afford a ticket to the national title game. He refuses to miss being a part of that atmosphere if the Pokes make it.
Seeing OSU in the national title game is Robert Whetsell's dream, as well. For him, yes. But more for his mother.
“I sincerely hope when, God willing, my mother turns 93 next March, she will be able to say she watched her team catch the magic just once,” he said.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
Here's a look at what OSU fans are saying about the Cowboys' season:
* Colin Johnston, Tulsa: “I am enjoying this dream season, but am also terrified because, now we have something to lose. For most of my life, Bedlam was the only game that mattered because it would make the difference between a 3-8 season or a 4-7 season. Now, if we lose, it is the last stop on the way to a possible national championship. The fact that we are nationally prominent is a position that I have frequently enjoyed in the NCAA Football videogames but was never sure I would experience in real life.”
* Jeff Akin, Memphis: “As this season has unfolded I have been cautiously optimistic. I am trying to look at it the same way the team does, ‘one game at a time.' But, it is hard to not feel like this is a ‘magical' year. It reminds me so much of 1988, but with more solidity or reality.”
* Travis Knapp, Fort Smith, Ark.: “I don't know what to make of this year. That old pessimism wants to rear its head because I feel like I know that we're just going to blow it at some point. But we haven't. And that makes this ride to success all the more exciting, especially since this is my last year as a student. I can't imagine what it will be like if we actually do win out. It'd make every road bump of being an out-of-state student who questioned his decision to come here—which has long since been quenched; I love OSU—worthwhile to the nth degree.”
* Clint Davison, Meridian, Ind.: “This year just feels different. It seems real. It seems possible! Our 'Boys have some swagger, some confidence—even, dare I say, a little chip on their collective shoulder. And as a longtime fan—even from 2,000 miles away—it is absolutely exhilarating! To hear my Cowboys mentioned in Heisman conversations, Coach of the Year talk, and so many other areas of accolade is surreal. To see my Pokes sitting at No. 3, Lord willing soon to be No. 2, makes all the heartbreak, all the dropped passes, all the series after series of three-and-outs all seem to be forgotten.”
* Scott Sechrest, Tulsa: “Most OSU fans spent the best years of their lives in the classrooms, dorms and hallways of this old school and it was a big part of making them who they are today. We are proud of the school and football is the very public face of that school. There is just something very different about cheering for a team because that was your “home” while you became an adult, versus cheering for them simply because they are good and you bought a hat with their logo at Walmart.”