STILLWATER — Darryl Worsham would call his folks back in Healdton after OSU home games in 1988 and try to explain what he had just witnessed.
Worsham would fail.
“I couldn't really describe what I saw,” Worsham said.
What he was seeing was the greatest individual season in the history of college football. In 1988, Barry Sanders ran to a Heisman Trophy with a series of games unlike anything achieved before or since.
“I don't think personally that we recognized what was going on with (number) 21,” said Worsham, now president and CEO of Perception Software in Austin, Texas. “It was something you saw but impossible to describe. It wasn't until you looked at the cumulative body of work. It was unbelievable. It's unbelievable today.”
The numbers still resound: 2,850 yards rushing, four 300-yard games, 44 touchdowns.
“We were all pretty excited but had absolutely no clue what we were dealing with in Sanders,” said Joe Easley, a student in '88 from Stillwater who now lives in Palm Harbor, Fla., and is a strategist for a marketing agency.
They're clued in now. Sanders and the 1988 Cowboys will be honored Saturday during the OSU-Kansas game.
And the atmosphere won't be anything like it was in '88. Now, glistening new stadium and national acclaim and an expectation of victory. Then, old Lewis Field and a sleepy little football program and a mere hope that something good might transpire.
But the middle-agers who will help fill Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday can't help but remember the thrills of 1988.
“It was pretty magical,” said Chris Rosencutter, who is from Sapulpa and now is a Broken Arrow engineer. “We weren't used to a lot of success. It was really unexpected.
“My daughter goes to school there now. We go to the games, and it's completely different from the way it was then. The whole atmosphere's changed now.”
Memories flood the minds of OSU alums as they talk about those days.
Easley remembers working at DuPree's sports equipment store on the Strip. A co-worker, fellow by the name of Garth Brooks, helped Sanders try on a pair of shoes. That would have been a photo for the ages.
“I lived in Bennett Hall,” Rosencutter said. “I think he lived there, too. One time, in the cafeteria, there was this huge mob. Apparently Sanders was in the middle of that mob. I couldn't see him. Everybody was getting more and more excited, thinking, this guy could actually win the Heisman.”
A.J. Griffin, then the drum major for the OSU band, from Adair, and now a Guthrie state senator, recalls the Holiday Bowl. The chance to travel to a cool place with 200 of her closest friends. “Wyoming fans were talking trash all week, how we were overrated and he (Sanders) wasn't that good,” she said. “He could have run for 1,000 yards in that game.”
And Scott Gray, who grew up in Stillwater and now works for Dell Computers in Austin, recalls the heartbreak of Bedlam, when Sanders rushed for 215 yards but OSU lost a 31-28 heartbreaker.
“I left the stadium in tears,” Gray said. “A 22-year-old, high testosterone male, in tears. Really, Sanders deserved to be in a New Year's Day bowl. He deserved to be on TV for everyone to see.”
Sanders actually was on television only once before the Holiday Bowl. Like we said, it was a different time.
Sanders' amazing feats live on in some old video footage and in dusty record books. But they shine brightest in the memories of OSU alums who were there to see it for themselves.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.