NORMAN — In the days leading to Landry Jones' 32nd career win as a starter, the man Jones will soon surpass in OU record books listened, read and watched as the Sooners' quarterback was roundly — and sometimes mercilessly — criticized.
Saturday, Jones turned in a crisp, poised performance and led Oklahoma to a 41-20 rout at Texas Tech, where he tied Steve Davis' record for wins by an OU starting quarterback.
Two weeks before that, though, Jones turned the ball over twice — each leading to a Kansas State touchdown — and the Wildcats prevailed 24-19 on Owen Field.
“Landry's just gotten really blasted over the past few weeks,” said Davis, who led Oklahoma to a 32-1-1 record over his three seasons as starting quarterback nearly four decades ago.
“Some of the comments have been absolutely ludicrous. (The critics) have only opinion, no sensitivity to what Landry's experiences have been, or what he and his teammates are going through.”
So the two-time national champion Davis decided to do something about it.
During the week before the Texas Tech game, Davis wrote a letter to advise, encourage and praise Jones, who can break Davis' 37-year old record Saturday with a win in the Cotton Bowl over archrival Texas.
“For the past few weeks, Landry and I have been connected through the record,” Davis said. “Even though we're decades and generations apart, I felt compelled to write the letter because I've been in his shoes. I know what his frustrations are.”
Davis was OU's starting quarterback from 1973-75, winning more than his share of games and championships.
But when — during his senior year — the Sooners inexplicably had a 28-game win streak snapped by Kansas, the home crowd booed Davis and his teammates.
“November 8, 1975,” Davis remembered. “We got booed fairly aggressively. It broke my heart, my family's hearts, my teammates' hearts and my coaches' hearts.”
Davis' Sooners responded by winning their final three games, beating Michigan in the Orange Bowl and claiming a second straight national title.
The OU legend, who now lives in Tulsa, used that example in his letter to Jones.
“He just really wanted to encourage me,” Jones said. “Keep leading those guys and keep fighting, regardless of what happens in the next game or the last game.”
Davis said he's been impressed with Jones' maturity over the past few weeks. The OU senior stood in front of reporters and took full responsibility for the Kansas State loss several times before Saturday's record-tying performance.
“That shows great courage,” Davis said. “That shows accountability. It shows all the right things that you want in your quarterback.
“So many people have got it all wrong in terms of the way he has played in the past. ... Those that have been critics have been absolutely dead wrong. I think he's done a wonderful job handling himself.”
Davis' letter last week wasn't unprecedented. He also sent one to the much-maligned Nate Hybl in the early 2000s, when he was under similarly intense pressure and criticism.
“I was never so proud of anybody than when Nate silenced his critics,” Davis said. “It had nothing to do with my letter; I knew he was that guy, and he knew he was that guy. I felt compelled to lift him up.”
After the 2012 Sooners arrived in Lubbock, Texas, for last weekend's game, Jones called Davis; the two Sooner quarterbacks talked more about the things few others can fully understand.
“Just great guy and a great role model to look up to, and a great Sooner quarterback who played a lot of big games around this place,” Jones said of Davis.
The second paragraph of Davis' two-page letter reminded Jones of the storied program he represents and the responsibility he'll always carry because of it:
“As you understand, the record for becoming OU's winningest quarterback does not really belong to you, as those victories were a collaborative effort of your offensive and defensive teammates, and a long list of others. Hopefully, your new record will establish a higher hurdle for some other young man, who may be a 4th grader somewhere just developing his football dreams, to realize for the teams he will someday lead. The 32-game win mark (by a quarterback) took 80 years of Oklahoma football to be established, and it has taken 37 seasons for it to be elapsed by you and your teams. There are many lessons to be learned in appreciating OU football history. So I encourage you to be mindful of the heritage you are apart of, and the tradition you will be forever held responsible for continuing.”