STILLWATER — Mike Gundy felt the vibe when his team went from the team hotel to the football stadium for its walk-through Saturday morning.
As the Cowboys walked across the Oklahoma State campus 10 hours before kickoff, he was struck by how many people were around. They were setting up their tailgates. They were wearing their orange.
And they were everywhere.
“There (were) just people all over campus,” the Cowboy coach said. “There was a lot of energy.”
After a week filled with investigations and accusations, the Cowboy faithful needed a feel-good day.
Saturday, the Cowboys provided.
OSU 59, Lamar 3.
Even before kickoff, this day was looking up for OSU fans. Since Tuesday, there had been a daily dose of Sports Illustrated's investigation into the Cowboy football program. But Saturday, there were no new stories, no new accusations.
Still, the strain and the stress of the week hung over campus.
Cowboy fans needed a release.
“Even in the hotel room, you could just kind of feel the vibe,” Cowboy quarterback J.W. Walsh said. “You knew it was going to be one of those days where people were coming from everywhere and it was going to be a packed house.”
And it was. A record crowd of 59,061 came to Boone Pickens Stadium — and it wasn't because of the opponent or because this was the home opener. Cowboy fans came in record numbers because they needed to support their team and each other.
There were signs of that everywhere.
The Walk that ushers the team from the hotel to the stadium before the game drew thousands of Cowboy fans. They lined the street. They stood six or eight people deep.
“The Walk was super packed,” Cowboy receiver Josh Stewart said. “I haven't seen the walk like that since 2011.
“It shows you that no matter what, Stillwater's got your back.”
About an hour before the game as the Cowboys began warmups, several dozen young women in matching orange tops and black shorts walked onto the field and lined the sidelines around the west end zone of the stadium.
The current members of Orange Pride remained there for much of pregame.
They help in the hosting of football recruits, and their group was in the crosshairs of SI's investigation on Friday. The story alleged that some members of the group provided sex to recruits in an attempt to lure them to OSU.
Ringing the end zone during pregame Saturday was an understated but powerful stance by those women. It said, “We are proud to be here.” It said, “We are proud to support this football program.”
Then about a half an hour before kickoff, Boone Pickens' face came onto the jumbotrons. The screens replayed a video statement that the OSU megabooster made earlier this week in response to the SI report.
His favorite word: disappointed.
When he said it on the video, a huge cheer went up from the crowd inside the stadium.
When the Cowboys took the field, they carried a similar energy. They said they weren't any more motivated that normal to play well. They insisted they didn't approach the game any different.
But it would be hard not to feel like you wanted to play as well as you possibly could after a week like this.
“We haven't had a home game for a very long time,” Walsh said, alluding to the fact that the Cowboys played their last five games, even dating back to last season, away from home. “I think a lot of guys wanted to come out and play well for the home crowd.”
And the Cowboys did — to a point. Their focus waned after halftime, and it was hard to blame them for that. They got out to a big lead, they recognized that they had Lamar outmatched, and they had a long week watching one report after another come out about their program.
It's easy to see why they'd have a bit of a let down.
Still, they won by eight touchdowns.
And when all was said and done, the Cowboys stood in front of the student section and sang the alma mater. Several players then jumped up on the wall in front of the students to celebrate with them.
Walsh was one of those players.
A student near him tried to hand him a wad of fake hundred dollar bills with SI reporter Thayer Evans' face on them. Walsh pushed them away, then pushed them away again until the student playfully stuck them in his hand.
After Walsh hopped down from the wall, he smiled as he gave the bills back to students in the front row.
Maybe everyone in orange needed a little levity after this week. Maybe everyone needed a smile.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.