Wafting over the tops of tents and swirling around the heads of people drowned in orange, the smell of charcoal hits your nose and fills your head with thoughts of food and football.
Tens of thousands made their way to Stillwater on Saturday for the opening game of college football at Oklahoma State; the streets that are capable of holding the normal population of the town swell to a bursting point as the countdown to kickoff ticks closer.
It looks like Halloween in September, but that's the norm in Stillwater, as fans clad in head to toe OSU regalia walk past the orange and black storefronts to their prospective tailgating areas.
Aldo Waters, 51, arrived in Stillwater from Ardmore about 7 a.m., a mere 11 hours before OSU would take on the Ragin' Cajuns of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Waters made quick work of claiming the corner of one of OSU's parking lots and setting up his trailer; which is more like the Optimus Prime of trailers as its hydraulic lift kicks into motion and transforms into an OSU themed wet bar.
“I saw it at Dallas Cowboys game,” he said. “I knew I had to get it and make it a OSU Cowboys game day bar.”
Could be the season
The enthusiasm in the air is palpable; the Cowboys are ranked in the preseason top 10, season ticket sales are being shattered, the excitement for food, beer and camaraderie allows fans to gather in throngs to sit in the heat and dream about the season that could be.
Mark Luetkemeyer and Kevin Winter set up their 55-inch flat screen television at their tailgate. Italian sausage and beer is the menu as they prepare to feed 40 to 50 ravenously hungry fans.
“We come up on Friday nights and stay the night so we can be out here all day,” Luetkemeyer said. “We've been waiting a long time for a season like this, ever since the last game last year. This is the year, that's the way I feel every year.”
Across the street from the Luetkemeyer/Winter tailgate, the Cowboy marching band strides down the sidewalk and lets roar a chant of “Orange.” The resulting answer of “Power” is enough to blow your hair back.
Ranette Tonsfeldt and her staff wait outside of For Pete's Sake, the shop she manages at 105 S Knoblock.
An orange glow silhouettes the employees as the sun beats down on their OSU tent. It's humid, and the temperature is rising as it gets closer to midday. Tonsfeldt said she prepped the store all summer to be ready for the first game day.
Now that it's here, she sounds like a coach; just hoping that her team for the impending storm of customers, which effectively quadruples their business from a regular day.
“It's a great day and a fun day, and we are ready to watch our merchandise fly out of here,” she said. “These six days out of the year are fantastic for us, but by the time the game rolls around we are tired and ready to go home.”
Earlier in the week, OSU coach Mike Gundy talked about the dynamic of how game days in Stillwater have changed. Gone are the days of few fans and small tailgating crowds, the coach said.
Now, OSU officials will open the ‘corral,' a new tailgating area to help handle the growing number of excited Cowboy fans.
Kurt Murray, 45, was a student at OSU when Cowboy greats like Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas ran amok on Lewis Field.
Now, Murray spends his game days in the shadow of Boone Pickens Stadium. He says a whole different atmosphere resides in Stillwater these days.
“We all love football and we all love OSU, and it's just great to see this celebration,” Murray said. “It's phenomenal to think that we are mentioned with the elite teams in the country now. We know we have a long way to go, but we are building our tradition now and creating that overall atmosphere that creates pride in the university.”
As the chimes of the Edmon Low Library signal another hour closer to the 2011 season, Cody Blosch, 28, tosses a few washers with family and friends.
“I'm anxious and nervous because this could be a fun ride this season,” he said. “For us, we love OSU through and through and whether we go undefeated or 6 and 6, we'll be out here.”