The stock market bounces around like the whims of an Occupy Wall Street protest. The economy threatens recession. The forecast looks gloomy.
And yet, investor extraordinaire Boone Pickens is smiling these days.
Credit his favorite venture — Oklahoma State football.
On a day when the Cowboy megabooster returned to his home state and spoke at the Jim Thorpe Association's October Leadership Luncheon, he was in high spirits. He told stories on athletic director Mike Holder. He poked fun at friends in the Lone Star State. He had fun.
And why not?
His Cowboys are a hot commodity.
“I'm not going to get out on a limb here and say what we're gonna do,” he said. “We're gonna play hard, and, of course, we want to win.
“I think we've got a good football team.”
A good team?
The Cowboys are No. 3 in the BCS rankings, heights never before seen in the program. They have gone to Texas A&M and won after being behind by 17 points. They have gone to Texas and beat the Longhorns on home soil in back-to-back years, something OSU had never done. They have established themselves as a team that controls its own national-championship destiny.
“All that's great,” Pickens admitted, “but we still got … games to play. And there's not as easy one in there.”
Leave it to one of the most successful businessmen in America to refuse to count this season's dividends until the schedule is played out.
Still, the direction that this season is headed is what Pickens envisioned six years ago when he made his unprecedented nine-figure gift to Cowboy football. At the same time, it goes beyond his wildest dreams.
Pickens, after all, just wanted to make the Cowboys competitive.
But then years ago, he told Mike Gundy to forget the competitive stuff. He wanted to win. Conference titles. BCS bowls. Maybe even a national title.
Pickens and Holder crossed their fingers that it might happen in the octogenarian's lifetime.
Now with the most difficult portion of their season behind them, the Cowboys find themselves in control of their national championship dreams. Win out, and they'll play for a title.
Talk about a great return on investment.
Making good investments has long been Pickens' plan. He made billions that way. First, it was as an oilman, then as a corporate raider, now as a financier. And he's never been a small-potatoes guy. He wheels and deals in grand terms. Big money. Big business. Big dividends.
But when he started writing massive checks to OSU, some wondered if he was throwing away his money. Cowboy football had been so mediocre for so long; could Pickens buy the Cowboys out of the doldrums?
The answer now is a resounding yes.
Pickens has long told anyone who would listen that he felt like he had gotten his money's worth — and that's saying something since he's given OSU athletics nearly $300 million.
No doubt Pickens believed his money had been well-spent on facilities. Renovated stadium. Posh locker room. Massive weight room. State-of-the-art training room. OSU has the best that money can buy.
But, of course, Pickens didn't give millions because he wanted a great stadium. He gave because he wanted a great team.
Now, Pickens has one.
He bumped into Jakie Sandefer before the luncheon Wednesday at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. The former Sooner halfback is an oilman like Pickens, but their talk was about football.
“Just wait,” Sandefer told Pickens. “If you win enough, then everybody will want you to get beat.”
“I hope that day comes.”
Don't look now, Boone, because it's already here.
Pouring money into OSU football was a gamble like no other that Pickens has taken, but now, the payoffs are as rich and grand as any investment he's ever made.
“And they're still paying off,” Pickens said.
A little smile crossed his face.
The forecast isn't all that gloomy in Pickens' world.