CAMPUS CORNER — Surveying the sea of tents, fans and crimson Saturday afternoon at Lindsey and Asp streets, Sam Deakin‘s eyes shined and the smile could not be erased from his face. That’s been the norm this week for the 26-year-old who calls himself on Twitter the “British Sooner.”
He’s visiting Norman for the first time. Saturday night’s OU game, against Missouri, was his first at Owen Field.
“It’s not like this at home,” he said, pointing toward the pregame scene. “We don’t have the tailgating, the BBQ. We don’t have people setting up the day before games.
“And, the best part, when you walk up, people are so inviting. They want you to come hang out and tailgate with them.”
Yes, Deakin is from England. Yes, he’s a Sooners fan.
How’d that happen? Just did, really. Deakin was on vacation in Florida watching the 2004 OU-Texas game. He needed a team for which to cheer. Texas was the proven product to him, even across the Atlantic Ocean. He was curious about the Sooners, who had a running back named Adrian Peterson who caught his eye. Peterson rushed for 225 yards in a 12-0 OU win, and the Sooners had a new fan.
This trip – pilgrimage, if you will – came about because of a chance conversation last year on an English Premier League soccer message board. Deakin noticed an Oklahoma resident talking about Arsenal. He started talking to the Okie about the Sooners. Deakin suggested a trade-off: Come to England to see Arsenal play and let me visit America to see the Sooners.
That was it. Deakin welcomed Scott Mossman, the son of OU sports information director Kenny Mossman, in November. Now he’s on the return end of the football-futbol home-and-home. Deakin and girlfriend Stacie Ridley arrived in the States last week, in time to see OU’s big road victory at Florida State.
In Tallahassee, they met coach Bob Stoops and several members of the team, including Tom Wort, who was born in England. Teammates and team officials were stunned by how quickly Wort slipped into his native tongue, slang and all.
Deakin didn’t mind taking a little credit for Wort’s outstanding game against the Seminoles. Wort also had family from England at the game.
“Travis (Lewis) being back helped, I’m sure,” Deakin said, “but I’ve got to think the British Invasion helped.”
Deakin and Ridley, 24, got to Norman this week and attended practice Thursday, catching up with Stoops, Wort and others at OU’s practice. Deakin was astonished that Stoops, “with 120 players and plays and all he has to remember,” instantly recalled their names.
But, c’mon, how many English dudes show up to practice?
Deakin talked about how great it would be to play a little on the practice field, so OU went and grabbed a football. He ran pass patterns with no signs of fatigue.
“He would have stayed out there for hours,” said David Bassity, another member of OU’s sports information department. “Finally we were like, ‘Hey man, we’ve got to go.’”
Deakin and Ridley walked through the tunnel, onto Owen Field, after practice. Even without 85,000 in place, Deakin called the experience “monumental” and “epic.” Ridley, an accomplished gymnast, has spent time working out this week at Bart Conner’s facility in north Norman. They chatted for an hour with him Friday, since both Conner and Ridley have great passion for autistic gymnasts.
It’s all felt like a dream this week for Deakin and Ridley. Deakin said he’ll likely need to get home before he really absorbs the experience.
“It’s kind of been like a week at Disney World for them,” said Kenny Mossman, their Oklahoma host. “Every time he encounters something new, it’s absolutely the greatest thing.
“He’s seeing things we take for granted. It’s refreshing. It makes you want to do more for them.”
Deakin literally struggled to explain Saturday afternoon what he had seen this week.
“I’m losing my voice,” he said, “and the game hasn’t even started yet.”