NORMAN — The Oklahoma football team returns Saturday to the public stage for the first time since New Orleans.
When last we saw the Sooners, they played football the way Jerry Lee Lewis played piano. The way Russell Westbrook plays hoops. Take no prisoners. Someone going to the boneyard.
The Sooners ran onto the Superdome turf like Braveheart and never left character. Turns out, not a bad way to play a ballgame. Aggressive. Confident. Determined. The Sooners swung their swords all night long and left 45-31 Sugar Bowl winners over mighty Alabama.
Two questions. From where did that frame of mind come? And how do the Sooners keep it?
Those New Orleans Sooners weren’t who we saw much of the 2013 season. Not in attitude. The Sooners consistently tried to tip-toe to victory. Home games against West Virginia and Iowa State, road game at Kansas, even the emotional wringer of the Cotton Bowl against Texas. The Sooners played those games like they were trying to avoid landmines. Coaches, too. OU did its best to not be noticed.
Then the Sooners seemed to realize that wasn’t working. They played with a sense of resiliency at Manhattan and pulled a minor upset. They played with conviction and resolve at Stillwater and pulled a major upset. They played with their hair on fire in New Orleans and shocked the sporting world.
“That was just from being called the underdog, and you feel a little disrespected,” said OU defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue. “This is Oklahoma. We’re not the underdogs. We bought into that, coaches preached that and it showed on the field.”
I can buy that. A we’re-mad-and-we’re-not-going-to-take-it-anymore feeling can change anyone’s demeanor. A season’s frustration – a miserable outing against Texas, sparked by an anemic coaches’ gameplan, and a series of mundane performances – boiled over and begat desperation. A good game against Kansas State led to a great game against OSU, and that Bedlam bonanza led to the belief that something special could happen against ’Bama.
Bob Stoops said that kind of feeling doesn’t appear all of a sudden. “We earned it through the last four games of the year, particularly on the road to Manhattan, on the road to Stillwater, and then coming into the bowl game, the way we prepared and worked,” Stoops said. “The guys felt they had earned the right to carry that kind of confidence and play that way.”