OU on Saturday plays in South Bend, Ind., for the first time since 1999. On that memorable October day, the Sooners did two things that remain vibrant:
* Lost to Notre Dame 34-30.
* Announced to their fans, if not the whole nation, that Oklahoma was football on its way back.
When the Sooners arrived at Notre Dame Stadium that day, the OU program had won just 20 of its previous 48 games. And three of those were under Bob Stoops – 49-0 over Indiana State (meant nothing), 41-10 over Baylor (meant little), 42-21 over Louisville (meant something, particularly since it was a road game).
That Notre Dame team under Bob Davie was no powerhouse. The Irish had opened the season with a 48-13 rout of Kansas, then lost three straight tight games – 26-22 at Michigan, 28-23 at Purdue, 23-13 to Michigan State.
Beating OU started a four-game winning streak, but the Irish finished the season with a four-game losing streak. The 5-7 season was the middle of Davie’s five years as head coach; he was fired after a 5-6 season in 2001.
So that was no great Irish team. But like most Notre Dame teams, it was solid, and the record was skewered by a tough schedule. Thus OU’s near-miss – the Sooners led 30-14 in the third quarter – was a confidence-booster for a program that had had little to brag about for almost a decade.
“There’s truth to that,” Stoops said this week. “We did gain some confidence.”
But 14 years later, that loss still rankles Stoops.
“You have to win when you’re in that position,” he said.
“More than anything, I remember us leading in the third quarter and looking around and seeing too many happy faces. Too many guys who thought they had this won. And really realizing that we had not learned how to truly compete yet for four quarters.”
Stoops meant what he said. It was a realization. He recalls telling his coaches the next day or so that the Sooners “hadn’t been ahead of anybody like that on the road . We’ve got to teach ‘em. They haven’t been in that situation.”
And then they were. Ahead 16 in the third quarter at Notre Dame, “having experienced the bitterness when you’re up such a positive way,” Stoops said, the Sooners were much more open to instruction.
Of course, the instruction didn’t take immediately. The next week, OU led Texas by 17 points in the first half and lost 38-28.
“No, they still hadn’t learned,” Stoops said. “Still smiling when they’re up 17 in the first half.”
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