SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Bob Stoops finally came clean. Not with his words, so much, as his actions.
As the Sooners danced on the grass of Notre Dame Stadium, exorcising ghosts not just from recent seasons but decades long past, Stoops stopped and posed for a picture with his wife, Carol, and mom, Dee, who came a state over from Youngstown.
Stoops doesn't go all photo booth at Ames.
This was different and we all knew it. This was Notre Dame, and finally, after heartache ranging from 11 months to 56 years, the Sooners vanquished the Fighting Irish 35-21 Saturday.
In declaring their intentions of returning to the national stage, the Sooners showed they have a quarterback and maybe have a defense. And Oklahomans of a certain age went to sleep Saturday night with a smile on their face.
It was quite a day. Heck, the remnants of the '57 Notre Dame team, honored in pregame, were forced to watch OU's first victory over the Irish since the historic 47-game winning streak ended.
And the Thunder didn't even trade Russell Westbrook, showing that the Notre Dame curse did indeed know an end.
“I'm not much on revenge,” Stoops said, referring moreso to Notre Dame's 30-13 victory in Norman, the night the Thunder dealt James Harden, than the Irish's inexplicable 9-1 edge in this series of historic superpowers.
But Stoops eventually admitted what was apparent all along. Beating Notre Dame, especially for Oklahoma, is extra special.
“This is not a place you come to every year,” Stoops said. “Got to admit we were here in '99, and that's still a little bit of a sore spot that we were up 16 and lost. We were pretty determined not to let that happen again.”
1999? Stoops thinks '99 is a sore spot? What about 1952, or 1953, or 1962, when championship Sooner teams fell short of the Irish. What about 1957, a verdict that will live forever?
“We know what this win means to Sooners across the country, to finally beat Notre Dame,” said OU center Gabe Ikard, who blocked his butt off most of the day.
The Sooners hit the Irish hard and early and often. Eric Striker lived up to his name, popping Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees three plays into the game and creating an easy interception touchdown for fellow linebacker Corey Nelson. One play later, Aaron Colvin popped Notre Dame receiver TJ Jones, setting up Franklin Shannon's interception. And the tone was set.
Blake Bell, who unlike his coach never tried to downplay the importance of playing in front of Touchdown Jesus, then showed that the Oklahoma quarterback job is in the right hands. In his second career start, Bell was superb. Ran hard, threw mostly accurately and made no bad decisions. The few times the game turned dicey, Bell responded.
* A 26-yard touchdown pass to LaColtan Bester to end the first half, giving OU a 21-7 lead, on a play in which Bell drifted out of the pocket to buy more time, then threw back to the other side of the field.
* A 54-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard on a crucial third-and-3 early in the fourth quarter, after Notre Dame had drawn within 27-21.
“Obviously, Notre Dame, on the road, in South Bend, is a dream come true for a lot of guys,” said Bell, who just might be quarterbacking a top-10 team when the polls are released Sunday.
“Feels great, just for the program and all the people that are part of the University of Oklahoma. It's great getting a W and bringing it back to Norman.”
Bell has no idea about the travails of Eddie Crowder and Buddy Leake and Bobby Warmack, Sooner QBs who lost to the Irish over the years. Maybe not even Bell's own coordinator, Josh Heupel, who quarterbacked that 1999 defeat in South Bend.
But Bell knows he and his pals did something memorable.
“It feels great for the program and a lot of players who have played here,” Bell said.
Stoops said he never wanted his players to bear the burden of Notre Dame dominance. And that's fair. This victory means more for the future than it does the past. This victory means the Sooners can make things interesting the next two months in a woeful Big 12. It's not kooky to think of OU as a BCS contender come November.
But Stoops knows his team made a lot of fans happy. Happier than normal for a big victory.
“I'm glad for the older Oklahomans that have been through all those games, that we get some level of satisfaction winning this one,” Stoops said. “Who knows when we'll play again? So they can live it up and say, ‘we got you last,' until we go again.”
Stoops has the picture to prove it.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.