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Oklahoma State basketball: How the 2003-04 Cowboys brought OSU's campus together

COMMENTARY — Basketball games became a happening in Stillwater when those Cowboys made a run to the Final Four.
Oklahoman Published: April 1, 2014

STILLWATER — Eric Epplin and his pals would camp out at Gallagher-Iba Arena 10 winters ago. They wouldn’t be alone.

Those OSU students would play games and catnap and talk basketball. Talk a lot of basketball.

“Every game was an event back then,” said Epplin, who some know now as an Oklahoma County assistant district attorney but then was known as Robe Boy, the fan who dressed in a garish orange bathrobe and cheered Eddie Sutton’s basketball teams with uncommon zeal. “Every game was such an event, and everybody around campus … it’s one of those feelings in the air, one of the beauties of a college town. The fervor grew and grew. It bonded everyone together.”

Ten years ago this winter, people young and old, from near and far, flocked to Gallagher-Iba, not so much to watch a ballteam have quite the special season, but to experience that season for themselves, from the inside. As Sutton’s Cowboys won the Big 12 title and reached the Final Four, a wondrous thing happened.

An already-tight campus united. The stings of a still-remembered tragedy were soothed. A team and a student body and a fan base came together to celebrate being Cowboys.

It’s not just that Sutton’s players were successful. They were embraceable. They were magnetic and lovable. They embraced back.

“The fans believed in us, we believed in them,” said Janavor Weatherspoon, the backup point guard on that 2004 team. “Stillwater fans, they’re a heartbeat with the team.”

Robe Boy. Daniel Bobik’s wife, Natalie, who along with her sister started the “Cool Chicks Wear Orange” T-shirt trend. The hordes of students who waited sometimes 24 hours just to get through the doors. A special thing happened on campus that winter.

These days, it’s hard to imagine a basketball team around here taking over a campus. That was pre-NBA. Pre-Fiesta Bowl for OSU. Pre-Boone Pickens Stadium. OSU has become a football school.

But Cowboy fans hung their Stetsons on hoops 10 years ago, and in 2004, that pride zenithed around one very memorable team.

“That team we had, the personality of the players, just the environment around the basketball team, was just fantastic,” said Josh Pulver, one of OSU’s two Pistol Petes that season. “Everybody was on Cloud Nine all the time, of course. Great basketball. Lots of exciting games.”

And healing. That Final Four helped a campus heal.

“It was so special,” Epplin said of that season. “Especially for those of us who were upperclassmen, who were there in ’01, when the plane crashed.”

Indeed. The 2004 Cowboys rose from the despair of the January 2001 plane crash that killed 10 members of the OSU basketball traveling party, including players Daniel Lawson and Nate Fleming. 2004 Cowboys Terrence Crawford and Ivan McFarlin were on that 2000-01 team.

“I remember the way the university rallied around,” Epplin said. “That plane crash was one of those events … on the one hand, yeah, it is just a game, but on the other hand, it becomes almost even more important. It becomes a rallying point.”

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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