PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — Taking a seat on the small riser with his name above it, Travis Lewis looked at the reporters who'd been awaiting his arrival.
“How y'all doin'?” he said.
He shook a few willing hands.
“Long time, no see, guys.”
Just shy of two months, to be exact. That's how long the Sooner linebacker was in his own personally induced media blackout. But on Wednesday during Oklahoma's media day at the Insight Bowl, Lewis was as loquacious and entertaining as ever.
It was the latest chapter in the peculiar culmination of one of the most storied careers in Sooner history.
Lewis has a chance of becoming the first player to lead the Sooners in tackles all four seasons of his career, an amazing feat considering the defensive superstars who've worn the crimson and cream. The Selmon brothers. Roy Williams. Tony Casillas. None of them had the statistical impact that Lewis has had.
Yet as his time at OU comes to an end on Friday, there's a weird vibe about Lewis.
Lose a guy like him, and most of the time, tributes would be flowing. Superlatives would be substantial. Praises would be plentiful.
Instead, teammates and coaches have spent the past few weeks defending Lewis. He's a captain but refused to be a team spokesman? He's a guy who talked when the Sooners were winning but then went into media blackout when they started losing, leaving other guys to explain what was going wrong?
“I really don't know how to answer that,” linebacker Tony Jefferson said recently. “I don't want to get into that.
“I like Travis. We all like Travis.”
But talk to teammates, and you'll hear that some of them had grown tired of the way Lewis tried to lead.
He is an emotional guy. No denying that. It is one of the things that made him a great player, but often, those emotions would boil over and burn teammates, especially younger ones.
They would screw up in front of God and everyone, resulting in an earful from their position coach, then from Brent Venables, then from Bob Stoops. And then when they reached the bench and thought they'd survived, they'd get it from Lewis.
That Lewis would take guys to task like that grated on teammates both young and old.
Then came less-than-complimentary comments about some injured teammates after that loss to Texas Tech. Three starters — running back Dom Whaley, cornerback Jamell Fleming and defensive tackle Casey Walker — missed the game with different ailments. A couple others missed snaps during the game with injuries.
Lewis didn't name names, but he wasn't exactly understanding of their situations.
“Some of them couldn't help it,” he said. “I know I played with a broken toe. The coaches would have had to drag me off the field for me not to play, so, disappointed in some of the guys.
“I guess if the trainers tell you you can't play, you can't play. I just know they told me I shouldn't play, and I played.”
Lewis might've had the best intentions. Maybe he wanted to inspire. Perhaps he hoped to motivate. Instead, he angered some teammates.
A few days later, he issued a behind-closed-doors apology to the team.
Listen, I'm not here to suggest that Lewis is some sort of monster. Much of his impact on the program has been positive. Mentoring younger linebackers. Taking charge of the tributes honoring the late Austin Box. Playing 11 games this season with a broken toe.
The Insight Bowl will be the first time that he will play without needing a small cast designed specifically for him inside his shoe.
Stoops marveled about Lewis on Wednesday. Said not many players could've come back and played as well as he did. Said he did it mostly with his head.
And it is pretty remarkable that Lewis ranks second on the team with 79 tackles — only one off the lead — despite an injury that limited his mobility and his quickness.
His head told him to do things that his body couldn't always do.
“He showed great courage this year playing injured,” Venables said recently. “Even though he wasn't physically capable of being a hundred percent, he made a lot of sacrifice in putting himself back out there because he loves to play and compete.”
Of that, there can be no doubt. But as Lewis's time at OU comes to a close, it does so with a peculiar ending. It's difficult to pin down. It's hard to put a finger on.
But there is a moment that might encapsulate it. Late in the fourth quarter of Bedlam, Lewis started celebrating madly after the Sooners recovered a Cowboy fumble. He strutted. He pranced.
The Sooners trailed by 41 points.
Lewis's reaction wasn't exactly what you'd expect in that situation out of a senior captain. It was bizarre.
Sort of like the ending to his career — it's not bad, but it's definitely bizarre.