FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The 8 ball is a funny sphere. Sort of like love and your tax return, the 8 ball can both enrapture and crush. The 8 ball is the avenue to both victory and defeat. The Oklahoma Sooners take their third shot at the 8 ball this week. They play Florida in the Big Bowl at Dolphin Stadium, their third chance in the last six seasons for the storied program’s eighth national championship. It’s a glorious week in the sun not just of Miami Beach but of the national spotlight, which Sooners believe to be their annual destiny. "The national championship is something I’ve dreamed of winning for a long time, and something this team has talked about for a long time,” said OU quarterback Sam Bradford, who will be the all-time Sooner hero with a victory, able to bookend that crystal trophy with the Heisman hardware he won in December. But this game is also a tightrope. A high-stakes showdown. All in. Boom or bust. A delicate little shot with that volatile 8 ball. Beat Florida, and the Sooners not only again rule Mount Gridiron, not only grab that elusive eighth national championship, but they stake claim as this tradition-rich sport’s program of the decade. But lose, knock this 8 ball into the side pocket, and OU football’s status takes another tumble as the team that can’t win the big one and didn’t deserve the chance in the first place, after multiple BCS controversies. Step aside, Atlanta Braves, there will be another organization that won a championship but failed to repeat despite years of elite contenders. That’s a precipitous difference in one little football game that could come down to a kick or a block or a yard of Florida sod. "The Sooner Nation, I understand they’re hungry, looking for the eighth championship,” said OU safety Nic Harris. "I’m going to do everything in my power, whatever we have to do to get it.” Harris is prime example of the bounty championships provide. Many years ago in Louisiana, Harris was a Florida State fan. Then he watched the Sooner-Seminole Orange Bowl eight years ago, a defensive epic won 13-2 by Oklahoma, and Harris was a convert. "I was a Peter Warrick fan,” Harris said. "Chris Weinke. OU came out and had their way with ’em. Shows what true valor of an underdog can do.” Tradition is mighty, but it’s also ever-changing. This game will have a profound impact on Sooner football legacy. For all of Bob Stoops’ talk about how the past doesn’t matter, how this Oklahoma squadron will rise or fall on its own merits, he doesn’t really believe it. Stoops knows that tradition counts. Knows that belief based on past success can rise the tides, same as doubt based on past failure can crack the foundation. Which is why Stoops is all the time turning historian on his Sooners. "He tells us every day,” said tight end Jermaine Gresham. "There was great stuff here before we were even born.” Great stuff since they were born, too. Which is why the Florida showdown has more on the line than just the crystal trophy which will accompany the winners home. Win this game, and OU will match Southern Cal and LSU with two championships in the 2000s, but without a split title, like the Trojans and Tigers shared in 2003. Win this game, and suddenly those two BCS losses to LSU and USC go from shame to strength, same as all those Jack Nicklaus runnerup finishes in majors, giving the Sooners two firsts and two seconds in 2000s title games, a noble record. Win this game, and the Sooners rank with college basketball’s Florida Gators, baseball’s Red Sox, the NFL Patriots and the NBA’s Spurs and Lakers as clear-cut, two-time (or more) champions this decade. Lose, and OU shoves aside Ohio State as the team no one wants to invite back to this party. These Sooners need to win for themselves. These Sooners shouldn’t have to carry the burden of those losses in New Orleans and here in Baja Boca Raton. By all rights, they should walk into Dolphin Stadium free of the burden of past failures. But they won’t. They know the history. They know the stakes. They know that Oklahoma football sits squarely behind the 8 ball. Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080. Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.
The Magic 8 Ball speaks: We asked the magic 8-ball, and a couple of actual people, a few questions as the Sooners head into the national title game against Florida. It looks like the 8-ball may be a bit of a Gators fan. Also, a look at the Sooners’ numerology of the number eight. On Page 6B
BCS championshipOklahoma vs. Florida →When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday →Where: Dolphin Stadium, Miami →TV: FOX (Cox 12)