Travis Lewis held the brim of his hat at a jaunty angle, then doffed it to his adoring public.
You'd have thought he was channeling John Wayne.
Last October on the Cotton Bowl turf, the Oklahoma linebacker snagged the Golden Hat — the spoil given the winner of the Red River Rivalry — and took it for an impromptu victory lap. He hopped onto a bench on the sideline, paraded across the field, posed for a few photos, then sauntered up the ramp with the hat on his head and a smile on his face.
Was it a little over the top, a wee bit silly?
But you can forgive it from a guy who does what Lewis does — he plays a big role in big games.
Heading into this year's edition of the Red River Rivalry, there is no more sure a thing in this game than Lewis. Not in burnt orange. Not in crimson either. He is starting his fourth game against the Longhorns. He is as reliable as landing a pair of aces at the poker table.
Pocket rockets, they call them.
That seems fitting for Lewis. He soars in marquee games, blasting into another stratosphere when his team most needs him.
We saw it first in the 2008 Red River Rivalry. Lewis was only a redshirt freshman then, but he led the team that day with 19 tackles.
Yes, 19 tackles.
Half that many would've still made him the Sooners' leading tackler that afternoon.
That kind of big-game performance has become the hallmark of Lewis's career. Look at the stats from just about any marquee game in the past few years, and his name is sure to be near the top.
Red River Rivalry, 2010: Tied for the team high with 10 tackles in a 28-20 victory.
Big 12 title game vs. Nebraska, 2010: Two fumble recoveries and one interception in a 23-20 victory.
Fiesta Bowl vs. Connecticut, 2010: Team-high 10 tackles in a 48-20 victory.
Then, of course, there was the Florida State game a few weeks back. Lewis hadn't practiced in weeks. A cracked bone in his big toe put him in a walking boot and on the shelf.
Originally, it was an injury that was slated to keep him out until this week.
But he returned to the field three weeks early, and even though his toe was still busted and his conditioning was way behind, he played like he had never been injured. He played the entire game, and he played well.
Lewis led the team in tackles with eight, including one tackle for loss, but beyond that, you could see how much better he made everyone around him. Tom Wort played lights out. Ditto for Javon Harris and Demontre Hurst and so many others.
The truth is, Lewis isn't the best player on this Sooner defense. I'd give that nod to Tony Jefferson.
But there is no one I'd value more on this crew than Lewis. That's because of the way he performs on the biggest stages, the way he brings it when the stakes are highest. He looms over those contests like Big Tex at the Texas State Fair.
Never has that been more valuable than Saturday.
Texas has a cadre of youngsters leading its offense. The Longhorns platoon two quarterbacks, second-year sophomore Case McCoy and true freshman David Ash, and when those guys aren't passing, they're often handing off to true freshman Malcolm Brown.
That's a lot of inexperience in this big-boy game.
If the Sooners can get into the backfield and rattle some nerves, that could go a long ways toward deciding this game. From his linebacker spot, Lewis will have a significant hand in how effectively the Sooner defense is able to disrupt the Longhorns.
And from his track record in games like this, Lewis will be at the top of his game.
The man in the Golden Hat is the Sooners' ace in the hole.