NORMAN — Arvel Lyons sat behind the steering wheel and told stories of his bus trips.
Lyons, Oklahoma's personal chauffeur, loves the one about OU coach Bob Stoops leaning out of the bus and tapping on the window of a car full of college girls. Stoops asked if they would mind letting the bus through traffic.
“The girls just laughed,” Lyons said. “I can only imagine what they were thinking when the Oklahoma football coach knocked on their window.”
At 75 years old, Lyons is a part-time bus driver for Red Carpet, which is based in Oklahoma City. His retirement job is a weekend commitment to drive the Sooner football team to the movies, hotel and stadium during home football games, to the airport for away games and down Interstate 35 to the Cotton Bowl, where Oklahoma will meet Texas for the 107th Red River Rivalry game.
Besides driving down Jenkins Avenue in Norman before the Sooners step on Owen Field for a game, Lyons' favorite drive is the one that takes the Sooners to the Red River Rivalry.
“When we enter into the Texas State Fair, I'm excited,” Lyons said, “because I know what team I'm driving.”
With the exception of attending his grandson's wedding last weekend, Lyons has driven the Sooners to everything they've needed since 1999.
Lyons' first bus assignment in 1959, for his church while he was also working for Texas Instruments in Dallas.
After 24 years of driving in Dallas, he and his wife, Winnie, returned to Oklahoma City, where they first met at a youth group event.
He continued to drive buses and worked for Capitol Hill Baptist Church until March 1999, when he decided to retire.
After two months of retirement, at his wife's recommendation, he started with Red Carpet. His first drive for the Sooners came when one of the regular OU drivers became ill.
A short time later, that driver retired and Lyons became a second driver. He worked his way up to the lead driver of the 45-foot, 57-passenger bus, where he's been for “quite a few years.”
Throughout the years, Lyons met Sooners such as running back Adrian Peterson. That's his other favorite story to tell about driving the Sooners: During the entire trip back to Norman from Dallas, Peterson, now a Minnesota Vikings star, sat in the jump seat and talked with Lyons.
That's what he loves about driving — the interaction with people, especially the football players. It's the youth minister in him. He enjoys drives after a victory. The team is always really loud and having a good time. That's the way Lyons prefers it.
He said after a loss, it's like driving home alone.
“It's that quiet,” he said.
Regardless of the record or who played best on the field, Oklahoma's chauffeur switches between driving the offensive and defensive units, but both sides of the ball lay claim to Lyons.
He's known as one of Red Carpet's best drivers.
“He's one of our safest drivers that we have,” said Rick Whipple, the driver for Oklahoma's band and Red Carpet's safety manager.
In Lyons's 13 years with Red Carpet, he's never returned the bus with a dent, Whipple said. “He's got a lot of miles under his seat.”
Lyons, who drives a blue '94 Chevy pickup truck with a “#1 OU fan” plate, is the lead driver for other Oklahoma sports teams, too. Women's basketball and rowing have Lyons behind the wheel.
This weekend, Lyons will lead a team of seven luxury buses surrounded by four Oklahoma Highway Patrol cars through southern Oklahoma until the buses reach Gainesville, Texas. From there, the Texas Highway Patrol will lead the caravan to the Texas fairgrounds.
“I still get the same excitement as I did the first time when we get that escort,” Lyons said.