NORMAN — A dark cloud hung over the program. The beloved coach was gone.
The NCAA dropped its hammer and punished the team.
A lot of the guys began to talk among themselves about what they would do, how it would be. They tried to console each other. Everyone was walking on eggshells — with the media and with each other.
It was 1989, and Oklahoma football was falling apart.
A shooting, then a rape in the athletic dorms, a robbery, drug dealing. All in six months. Some were charged. Others quit football. And in the wake of all the turmoil, a few, like defensive lineman Tyrone Rodgers, transferred.
Fast forward to 2012. There's a new dark cloud and this time it's enveloping a state school on the East Coast. Joe Paterno? Gone. Penn State football? Shattered. Wide receiver Justin Brown watched as his community, his school and his family were torn to shreds by fans, the media and the nation. The team continued. Little focus was on the season; most was on Jerry Sandusky, then the sanctions.
What did the future look like in Happy Valley? Nobody knew, but what they did know was there was an option for a new direction.
Brown's new direction was Oklahoma.
Last week, the new Sooner was all business with a calm, professional attitude as the media quizzed him on Penn State and transferring. Since he left State College, he's been called names and received death threats because in the midst of the haze, he chose a different path for his football career.
Rodgers knows how he feels. Oklahoma was his first choice. He loved the guys that were there, but when then-coach Barry Switzer decided to leave and Rodgers' roommate, linebacker Steve Lee, left the football team, Rodgers couldn't envision staying.
“Knowing things were going to change — Switzer was the atom bomb that created all the momentum to be what (Oklahoma football) was,” he said. “That was a hard choice for me.”
As the Los Angeles Times put in 1990, Rodgers traded oranges for roses when he transferred to Washington. He won a national title there in 1991, but he still calls his teammates at OU his family.
“That's the biggest fraternity of brotherhood next to the armed services that you could think of,” Rodgers said. “We don't talk on the phone a lot … but that camaraderie, you can never take away.”
Nobody can truly take the Nittany Lion out of the new Sooner Justin Brown. He'll always have three years at Penn State in his memories.
To this day, Rodgers sees himself as a Sooner and a Husky, and if they played in a game, he'd be split. That's just what happens when a football player grows his family from one to two.
“The guys that he left, they're still part of his family,” Rodgers said. “And the people on the outside … It's just a grain of salt. It's like dropping the game-winning touchdown ball. He just has to get back up and keep doing what he's doing.”