When Vincent Smith’s helmet finally came to rest, and Mike Tirico managed to catch his breath, the legend of Jadeveon Clowney had officially reached its own fever pitch.
Few will ever remember the previous play, a fake punt with a little more than eight minutes to go. The Michigan ball carrier got close to the sticks, close enough for a measurement. Upon chain extension, however, it was clear that the South Carolina defense had stopped the Wolverines several inches short of the first down.
Only, it hadn’t. Inexplicably, Conference USA officials abruptly awarded Big Blue a fresh set of downs.
Clowney, a 6-5, 275-pound freak of nature, merely exacted justice on the following play, coming untouched through the B-gap and demolishing Smith. It was, by all accounts a text book form tackle; crown up, eyes forward, mask to chest. Clowney arrived at the back virtually simultaneously with the football, jarring it free, and plucking it up, himself.
The play remained perched atop ESPN’s Best of the Best before eventually earning an ESPY for Best Play of the Year. It also turned the Outback Bowl on its ear, as South Carolina – trailing 22-21 at the time – rallied to win in the waning seconds.
Now hear this: Were it up to ACC officiating supervisor Doug Rhoads or Pac-12 officiating consultant Mike Pereira, the same play in 2013 would result in a Clowney ejection.
That’s because of insanely moronic legislation from the NCAA that requires the very same oft-inept officials, that just moments earlier missed a call that was sitting completely still, to interpret the intent of a defender at full speed, and to run those players deemed to have malicious intent at the jerk of a knee.
Despite the fact that Clowney planted his face in Smith’s shoulder pads, he would have been tossed because – are you ready for this? – he arrived nanoseconds before the hand-off, and the poor Michigan running back was, at that moment, “defenseless.”
That means, in order for South Carolina to avoid losing its best player – and likely the game – Clowney, upon realizing that he was coming scot-free, and upon recognizing that Devon Gardner was about to hand the ball to Smith on a power play being run directly at him, would have had to slam on the breaks, wait for Smith to take the hand off, and hope to catch him falling backwards.
Nevermind the obvious physical impossibility of that. Pereira and Rhoads never played in college – which also sheds some light on how effectively they even managed to play in high school. They have no idea that you can’t expect Clowney to do anything other than what he did, because they have no idea what it feels like to be Clowney – or a slow, short, 230-pound version of me, for that matter. And they share that disposition with the vast, overpowering majority of NCAA rule-makers.
Get ready. A player on your favorite team is going to be ejected this fall. Tossed. Gone. All because a middle-aged referee, in way over his head, haphazardly deduces that said player should have – on the other side of the 30 yards that he just covered in three seconds – contorted himself in a different way, recalibrated, while moving the body of bengal tiger at the speed of a gazelle, in order to avoid touching the wrong spot on a moving target.
Better yet, it won’t even take an obvious collision in order for a player to subject himself to such snap judgment. In addition to the no-no that is “lowering the crown of the helmet” and the highly debatable “defenseless player” rule, check out this beauty: “Players may be ejected for leading with helmet, forearm, fist, hand or elbow into the head or neck area.”
In essence, unless a player executes a flying judo kick to the facemask – an act that would constitute an unnecessary roughness penalty, but actually could not result in an ejection – he may not, by the letter of the rule, touch an opponent anywhere above the shoulder pads.
Think about that. How ambiguous is that?
Subjective enough that it has already become quite clear that conferences are going to legislate the rule individually. Clowney is tossed in the ACC. He’s tossed in the Pac-12. But in the SEC? He’s good to go. At least, according to Steve Shaw, SEC head of officials, who says the hit was clean.
So, the Southeastern Conference is going to let the boys play, because of course it is, but what happens when top-ranked Alabama is on the ropes versus two-loss Florida in the SEC Championship? You don’t think the Gators become just a little too malicious all of a sudden? Really?
Better question: The National Championship game will not be officiated by referees from either participant’s league. That means that Alabama or Georgia or Florida or South Carolina may very well run into a group of trigger happy ACC officials in the most important game of the season – a season during which physical play has been rewarded, only suddenly it’s outlawed. Every conference in the country not called the SEC is sick and tired of those three letters, and now they can do something about it – even if they could otherwise do nothing about it.
Didn’t you wonder why the Muschamps and Bielemas and Sabans of the world were a singular opposing voice at SEC Media Days, while no other coaches from any other conferences had anything – anything at all – to say about the new ejection rule?
Late into the evening of Nov. 26, 2004, on a patch of grass in the heart of Little Rock, Ark., I began to cry uncontrollably.
I didn’t want to cry. I wanted to be strong, even stoic. What I wanted didn’t matter, though, because my heart was overpowering my pride. Minutes earlier, the clock abruptly struck zero on my high school football career and the finality of it all was overwhelming.
It wasn’t that I wouldn’t play the game again. I would, and I knew that I would. Rather, my lack of composure was a byproduct of the realization that I would never again play for this team, with these guys and those coaches.
I turned away from the playing field and latched onto a diminutive fullback named Brock Posey. Brock and I had been friends and teammates since the eighth grade. We shared a locker at Southwest Junior High and spent countless nights smuggling beers and girls back into the barn behind his parents house on the fringe of east Springdale.
Brock’s dad passed away in August of that year. He got the news just before we scrimmaged Conway, and by “just before,” I mean literally moments before we were scheduled to leave the locker room for stretch lines. Brock didn’t leave, though. Instead, he simply asked me say a prayer for him. So, clutching my friend, huddled beneath a sea of red jerseys, I prayed that God would offer comfort and shield him from grief.
The prayer was answered before I could finish. You see, Brock stayed with us, his brothers, because with us, underneath that helmet, was the one such place in which comfort and the avoidance of grief were possible.
On the evening of May 20, 2013, standing before the television in my apartment, I cried again.
I didn’t want to cry. I wanted to be strong, even stubborn. Once again, however, what I wanted didn’t matter. My heart was filled with sorrow and helplessness for an area that I consider my second home.
My cousin, the one you’ve heard me repeatedly refer to as my sister, did her student teaching at Plaza Towers Elementary. I taught as a substitute at Briarwood. One of her favorite students, now a sophomore at Moore High School, lost his home. A friend of mine and her husband, newlyweds, couldn’t even find the street they used to live on.
Children, parents and family pets, gone; the city of Moore reduced to a vast wasteland. Tornadoes aren’t new to Oklahomans – not by a long shot. Hell, we notice more when there’s not a storm watch in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. But, this. This was different. This was earth shattering and horrifying and catastrophic. Storms aren’t supposed to be sinister.
Twenty-two members of the Southmoore High School football team lost their homes. One player lost his “buddy,” a husky-mix, named Koda. Freshman Taylor Neely lost his mother. That sort of loss, this magnitude of destruction and the enormous task of rebuilding the broken, is virtually unfathomable.
Yet, no more than a few days after the storm, Southmoore players were already asking their head coach, Jeff Brickman, when the Sabercats could get back to football.
Now, you might think a game would be trivial and forgotten under these circumstances, but you’d be very much mistaken. It isn’t that football is somehow larger than life, or life’s tragedies, mind you. Football is a sanctuary. It’s a place to forget the world away from the turf and the stripes.
More pointedly, a football team is almost never a team, but a family; brothers and fathers. More than any other sport, the gridiron breeds solidarity. It teaches discipline and perseverance. Above all else, it instills passion and compassion for your comrades, accountability for often uncontrollable circumstances, and a sense of responsibility for picking a man up when he’s fallen.
These young Sabercats, residents of that Moore, Oklahoma, will rise to meet this challenge, just as they will rise to meet future challenges. They will do so, partially, because they’re Okies and that’s what Okies do. But, also, because they’re a team, a band of brothers, and just as their home state is so much more than lines on a map, their sport is far more than a sport.
Fans and alumni of the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University are different in many ways; a profuse, abounding, abundance of ways.
In large part, OU students and alumni see Stillwater as a nothing town, full of sheep and cattle, the highlight of which may be found at the local Buffalo Wild Wings; far removed from the refined comfort zone found along the edge of Oklahoma City’s cup runneth over. The Cowboys, easily entertained as they are, remove the charm thought to be inherent with Wranglers, boots and a sun dress in acutely obnoxious fashion, otherwise thought to be limited to the swamp-infested marsh that harbors those hayseed Cajuns at Louisiana State. Degree seekers in Norman would choose to hook ’em at the University of Texas before they’d suffer through more than a Thursday night in motionless h2o.
Said degree, itself, is precisely the problem with OU, though, if you ask a ‘Poke. As in, most Sooner supporters don’t have one from the very school they claim as their own. Of folks yelling “Boomer” on any given autumn Saturday in Norman, no more than 1-in-3 have actually attended the school – even fewer own a degree from the institution. This drives the orange-adorned masses absolutely bananas. There’s nothing quite like defending your university versus the Evil Empire to a guy from East Central, mind you. As for those with actual ties to OU? Aggies describe them as uppity, assuming, even downright haughty. Their intensity and grossly over-inflated sense of self-worth makes establishing and/or re-establishing camaraderie next to mission impossible.
It seems, however, that there is one point upon which the rival fan bases can agree: Hating the Southeastern Conference.
Unlike the source(s) that may be typically attributed to such outward and unadulterated abhorrence, this particular distaste cannot be chalked up to geographical, cultural, or even philosophical differences – at least, not entirely; not chiefly. Oklahoma State and Arkansas share a generally cordial disposition toward one another. The same can be said for Oklahoma and Alabama. Moreover, universally common ground may be found in everyone’s aversion to LSU fans. This isn’t a surface wound. This isn’t houndstooth versus straw hats.
No, Nas, the urban philosopher of Brooklyn, may have summed this one up best when he surmised that we simply hate that which we cannot conquer.
Since the inception of the Bowl Championship Series, the SEC has won nine national titles collectively – including seven straight. And while your cousin’s boyfriend would have you believe that the league’s dominance has been limited to the exploits of Nick Saban and Cam Newton, such is simply not an accurate depiction of the circumstance. Prior to the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri, 42 percent of the conference owned a BCS championship trophy; nine crystal footballs are scattered across five of the now 14 member institutions, from Knoxville, Tenn., to Gainesville, Fla.
Of course, the tired rebuttal to such grandstanding includes semi-coherent ramblings regarding the SEC bias that is allegedly exalted by the Worldwide Leader, and therefore contaminates the BCS. Child, please.
If anything, the BCS has worked to relieve the country of a far more substantial level of southern fried overload.
Don’t forget, before Oklahoma was dismantled at the hands of Southern Cal and Ashlee Simpson’s vocals in 2004, an undefeated Auburn squad featuring the likes of Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams and Jason Campbell was shut out of the title game. Don’t forget, on three separate occasions since 1998, the SEC has finished the regular season with three teams ranked inside of the Top 10 – the BCS draws the line at two bids per conference. Most recently, a season ago, sixth-ranked Arkansas was exiled to the Cotton Bowl; punishment for the aptitude of Alabama and LSU.
The league placed 42 players on NFL rosters last April. The Pro Bowl will feature 20 former SEC standouts, including 14 starters; ten players topped the AFC depth chart, alone. Five of the 15 winningest programs of the past decade reside down south; nine of the top 50. Admittedly, that is an annoying level of achievement, leaving little wonder as to the root of such outward invidiousness.
Only, all of that winning, all of that production, it doesn’t adequately explain the vitriol aimed in the general cyber-vicinity of those of us so bold as to suggest the notion that Notre Dame was, for the first time this season, exposed to “grown man football” on Monday evening.
I would be amiss to ignore the lonely trigger amid the statistical bravado; that which is but a simple chant, yet explodes as a crescendo of collective pride near the tail end of those all-too-familiar demolitions of the Buckeyes, Seminoles and Sooners of the world.
Nas also suggested that folks fear what they don’t understand, and though fear likely exists to a reasonable degree, egotism suppresses this emotion. Instead, confusion fuels indignation, and I get that. I absolutely get that. No one is bellowing about the Big Ten. “A-C-C” did not echo throughout the Georgia Dome when Clemson upset LSU in the bowl of chicken.
Of course, if it did, it wouldn’t bother you. Listening to the confused medley of Pac 10’s and 12’s would be laughable – not maddening. But the sound of DawgNation, in the wake of destroying previously unbeaten Hawaii, reminding anyone within earshot of the league they call home? Repugnant. Why? Well, for starters, because you’re sick of hearing it. But, also, because you just don’t get it. Why, in the aftermath of a bowl win in Jerry’s World, would the Razorback-faithful opt for a unified conference chest thump versus a hog call? Why, a year later, was Aggieland so eager to remind the Sooners – a team that has historically owned Texas A&M – of the new league in which they reside?
Why was Alabama so proud of the SEC? And why on earth was the rest of the SEC so proud of the Crimson Tide?
In actuality, the concept isn’t really too difficult to grasp, and it has nothing to do with bandwagon jumping or coat tail surfing. Fans of SEC schools are fans of the SEC because the alternative is loathing the league and longing for a retreat to the Big East. Players, coaches, students and supporters of these football-playing institutions understand the arduous grind that is the regular season, and it is an understanding that one can only gain through experience.
A lot was made of a Notre Dame schedule that featured road tilts at Southern Cal, Oklahoma and Michigan State (ranked 1, 4 and 12, respectively, during the pre-season), a group that finished the season with a combined record of 24-15. Yet, outside of the southern region of the U.S., not much was said of a three-game run for the Tide that included trips to then-unbeaten Mississippi State and LSU, followed by a visit from Johnny Manziel and the Aggies.
As dominant as Alabama was in Miami, Fla., on Monday, the Crimson Tide were five yards away from the Capital One Bowl. While the rest of the country celebrated the coming playoff system, Southeastern Conference members shrugged with indifference. “Down here, we’ve been playing a national semi-final for years,” they said. “Awfully kind of the rest of y’all to show up.”
‘Bama may have been far superior to the Fighting Irish, but they weren’t far superior to Georgia and Texas A&M, who weren’t far superior to Florida and LSU – who weren’t far superior to South Carolina and Vanderbilt. See where this is headed? Outsiders complain because a two-loss team from the SEC can still navigate its way to the main event. Meanwhile, those within the league scoff at the ignorant dismissal of the hell through which a group must wade just to get there.
There are no bye weeks in the SEC – well, except for Kentucky and a Gus-less Gene Chizik. There is no Kansas. There is no Colorado, no Boston College. In sum, there is no margin for error. A cupboard full of talent cannot overcome John L. Smith, just as Gary Pinkel cannot overcome a barren cupboard. Good enough to compete in the Big 12 isn’t necessarily good enough to compete in the SEC.
We’re looking at you, Mizzou.
In much the same way as the oppressing elements of summer two-a-days unify a team, the unforgiving demands of the conference slate similarly bond southerners from Fayetteville, Ark., to Columbia, S.C. Trial and adversity breeds solidarity among those affected; such is human nature.
In this case, the affected are also the inhabitants of a slew of red states; a relevant variable.
To see the SEC as merely an athletic conference, to assume that the pride that exists therein is simply a byproduct of winning football games, is to view the phenomenon amidst the depth of a lazy river. The SEC is a subculture, an admixture of hospitable southern capitalists, dark liquor and an affinity for tradition. In most cases, it’s an inheritance, a predisposition that follows an individual through adolescence and into adulthood.
You see? The SEC wins more because the SEC, in sum, contains better players playing better football for better coaches, but that isn’t ample explanation for why three letters have turned the 107 miles separating College Station and Austin, Texas, into what suddenly feels like 1,000.
Oklahoma is the winningest program in modern day history. Texas is the most valuable, by far. Victories and exposure didn’t turn the Big 12 into some esoteric occult – or even stabilize the league, itself, for that matter. The ACC nabbed Virginia Tech and Miami – and a combined three BCS title game appearances – in 2003. The move didn’t create some regenerative social movement along the Atlantic coast.
The Southeastern Conference means just as much to the plaid-clad business major in his boat shoes and Croakies, just as much to the Zeta in a cocktail dress, as it does to the blue chip wide receiver listening to Kevin Sumlin’s sales pitch. It’s just a different sort of different in the south. At West Virginia they burn sofas, at Cal they hang out on a hill. In Norman, folks reenact the Land Run of 1889, claiming and reclaiming real estate upon which to construct a tent each Friday morning prior to a home game. All of that is cool – torching love seats a little less so – but that isn’t this.
This is slacks, high heels and outdoor chandeliers, fused with Southern Comfort, southern pines and southern drawls – on gamedays, too. The fact that the best damn brand of football on God’s green earth is found in this part of the country is a source of dignity, to be sure, but it’s nothing more than an auxiliary to a grander way of life.
The chant, itself, is a tip of the houndstooth fedora to the lovelies in The Grove, a good ‘ole Rammer Jammer to be shared with the Pride of the Southland. You don’t like it? Fine. But it won’t stop Dixie from heeding the advice of one Anthony Burgess.
“It’s always good to remember where you come from and celebrate it,” he said. “To remember where you come from is part of where you’re going.”
There aren’t many things that southerners do better than football, but, as it happens, celebrating is one of those things. And with as many as six teams likely to be ranked near the top of the 2014 pre-season Coaches Poll, where the SEC is headed appears sure to aggravate the rest of the country every bit as much as where it’s been.
Here’s a list of things that I did expect on Saturday:
• I did expect Arkansas to cover the spread at home vs. Kentucky.
• I did expect the Sooners to knock off Texas.
• Believe it or not, I did expect Landry Jones to play well. He’s been consistently proficient at the Cotton Bowl – two words that you’d never use to describe the New Mexican in any other scenario.
As for happenings that I did not anticipate? Suffice it to say that I did not expect to witness the end of the Mack Brown era manifest itself in the form of a 63-21 Red River wreck.
Oklahoma was a better team due, in large part, to Mike Stoops’ defensive reckoning. That much, we knew. Still, just three weeks ago, many were digging the Sooners’ grave and singing UT’s praises in the same breath. David Ash was the real deal. Texas was a complete team – you know, as in, it had a defense to accompany its offense. Oklahoma couldn’t move the ball, nor could the Sooners tackle.
Now, it seems, they can do both – quite well, actually, and thanks for asking. Conversely, the question, “What has Brown done for you lately?” has never been so pointed.
Since Colt McCoy’s arm went dead in the 2009 BCS Championship, Brown’s record in Austin is 17-15, 0-3 vs. Oklahoma. Worse than going o’fer Landry Jones, is going o’fer by an average margin of over 40 points per game – a harsh reality of the past two seasons, following Saturday’s meltdown at the Midway.
If not for the goal line fumble that wasn’t, the mighty Longhorns would be 0-3 in the Big 12 during a season in which “experts” like Phil Steele and Athlon Sports ranked Texas as high as No. 7 during the preseason. The offense is bad, the defense is worse, and the UT coaching staff has developed an unwanted – but unavoidable – reputation for failing to develop its constant influx of top shelf talent. That, or we’re really supposed to believe that the University of Texas just can’t seem to find any elite linebackers, wide receivers or quarterbacks. Which makes more sense?
Mack had a nice run, a really nice run, complete with one of the most memorable national championships in the history of collegiate football. Unfortunately, however, the remainder of the 2012 regular season was turned into a swan song by Damien Williams and Kenny Stills, Blake Bell and Trey Millard. There exists too much pride, too many inflated self-images in Austin, to allow Brown to stick around after this one. Significant house cleaning is imminent – but Texas won’t be alone in that endeavor.
Arkansas’ campaign became a series of unimportant scrimmages less than a month into the regular season. The deep pockets residing in the state’s northwest corridor figure to position the Razorbacks at or near the top of the coaching carousel. Elsewhere in the SEC, Derek Dooley is a lame duck in Knoxville, Tenn., and Gene Chizik is who we thought he was in Auburn, Ala. – a considerable plummet for two of the top football programs in the country.
So with Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn headlining the list of schools in pursuit of a new ball coach, I thought it appropriate to outline the top ten potential replacements:
10.) Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State
Am I biased? Probably. And just to be clear, the obvious omission from this group is one Pete Carroll, who, if interested in returning to the collegiate ranks, should be No. 1 on the list – moving the rest of these gentlemen down a notch and, in the case of Malzahn, off the board. But I doubt Carroll’s desire to go back to school given the season he’s having in Seattle, and with Arkansas and Auburn in play, it’s tough not to connect the dots in the direction of Jonesboro, Ark.
9.) Art Briles, Baylor
Briles has turned the doormat of the Big 12 into a Heisman Trophy producing, perennial bowl squad – an achievement that cannot be overstated. Just a few years ago, a fall wedding in Texas or Oklahoma carried with it two options: Schedule the big day for a bye week, or schedule it for Baylor week. Unfortunately for autumn nuptials, there is now but one option, and it isn’t the Bears.
8.) Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
To appreciate what Mullen has accomplished in Starkville, Miss., you need to understand that a) Mississippi State’s cupcaketitude was matched by only Vanderbilt and Ole Miss prior to his arrival, and b) he has absolutely no chance of ever winning the division, therefore he may not be measured in BCS bowls and conference championship appearances. The Bulldogs are relevant, an adjective that did not describe MSU pre-Mullen, nor post-Mullen.
7.) Dana Holgerson, West Virginia
Admittedly, I’d have likely placed Holgerson a tad higher on the list were it not for witnessing the demolition that ensued in Lubbock on Saturday. Still, Holgerson is as brilliant an offensive master-mind as the game has to offer. Given the recruiting reach afforded to the likes of Texas, Auburn, Tennessee, and even Arkansas, the Red Bull Space Jump would seem to be the limit.
6.) James Franklin, Vanderbilt
Franklin had me at Marc Panu. I understand that the Commodores are just 2-4 this season, but that number figures to improve with a job interview vs. Auburn on tap for this weekend. More importantly, Franklin has managed to ignite an otherwise apathetic football fan base, winning six games in his first season and recruiting far better than the head coach of Vandy should be able.
5.) Charlie Strong, Louisville
Strong is no stranger to this game. He was tossed around as the potential ship corrector at numerous schools – including Arkansas – while the defensive coordinator at Florida. All he’s done since arriving to the ashes of the Steve Kragthorpe-era is resurrect the Cardinals, currently at 6-0 and in the driver’s seat of what used to be the Big East. Strong is an Arkansas-native, and a graduate of Central Arkansas.
4.) Bobby Petrino, Harley Davidson
Say what you will about his obvious character flaws. Odds are, I probably already have. Still, Petrino is a winner. He won at Louisville. He won at Arkansas. He’ll win at Kentucky or Auburn. All John L. Smith & Co. have done, is solidify Petrino’s value as a head coach.
3.) Gary Patterson, TCU
Patterson has transformed the Horned Frogs from Mountain West also-ran, to Big 12 contender. He has shown no fear when it comes to recruiting against the OU’s, UT’s and A&Ms of the world, and there’s no doubt that a school like Arkansas could out-bid TCU for his services. He’s 114-31 in 11 seasons at Texas Christian, and he deploys the smash mouth defensive brand of football that seems to exemplify the SEC.
2.) Chris Petersen, Boise State
At the end of each season, Petersen tops the list of a handful of schools looking to make a coaching change. And at the end of each off-season, he remains the head coach in Boise, Idaho. Maybe he’s the Mark Few of college football. Maybe he never leaves the smurf turf for the greener pastures of bigger programs. Maybe. But what if Texas offered him $5 million a year?
1.) Jon Gruden, ESPN
Gruden is one of the brightest minds, at any level, in the game today. There’s no way you’re convincing me that he’s content to simply retire to the Gruden Quarterback Camp, and hang out with Mike Tirico.
His name continues to come up amid the grumbling in Fayetteville, Ark., where one of the nation’s wealthiest athletic departments could afford to make it worth his while. Unfortunately for Razorback Nation, Gruden has strong ties to the University of Tennessee. He was a graduate assistant in Knoxville, married a Volunteers cheerleader, and seems like an obvious answer to what ails Rocky Top.
I must admit, conference expansion has been more palatable than I previously anticipated.
The college football world, as we know it, did not implode. The landscape did not chasm into four lore-less pseudo regionals – nor is such a scenario imminent. The Big 12 did not cease to exist. Instead, the argument can be made, that the league has flourished, in spite of offensive defense.
Admittedly, my oppositional stance was fueled, in large part, by stark traditionalism. Naiveté? Sure, I guess. Resisting change, in any arena, is a futile campaign. The leaves will always turn, a wave of reds and yellows, indifferent to a person’s preference for warmth.
For me, as it pertains to the hallowed sport of football – and, particularly, the collegiate version – warmth can best be described as Switzer vs. Osborne, Aggies and Longhorns on Thanksgiving day, and a Southeastern Conference comprised only of institutions located south of the Mason-Dixon line; all of which were compromised by the pursuit of excess.
But in the dead of winter, the sunshine provides the promise of spring – and with it, the return of a warm breeze from summers past that once seemed so far away. Similarly, multiple reports have recently surfaced that lend optimism with regards to the eventual restoration of Oklahoma-Nebraska, as well as the Lonestar Showdown.
As for the cultural, geographical discernment that led Missouri to the SEC, well, as it turns out, watching an utterly delusional fan base squirm as it is inundated by weekly reality checks offers inherent entertainment value.
Suffice it to say, Middle America’s conference hasn’t missed the Tigers, nor has it missed Pac-12 doormat Colorado. Nebraska fits right in with the Big Ten, and they haven’t been your father’s Cornhuskers since Eric Crouch won the Heisman.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M has adapted favorably to its new league, and visa versa, serving as a natural rival for division-mate, Arkansas, while competing admirably in spite of a relatively inexperienced roster.
In other words, college football is still college football. All is well. But never is the sport so romantic as when the Sooners and Longhorns meet beneath Big Tex.
There is no setting in college football quite like it. Ohio State–Michigan may be bigger, it may not be. But the spectacle of the Red River Rivalry is unmatched. It is the essence of college football at its pinnacle.
Most games are just that – one game. This isn’t that. This is three straight days of crimson versus orange, the invasion of one of our country’s largest cities, a score to be settled in a neutral setting – a good ‘ole fashioned western shootout at high noon. Twelve months of angst is decided in four quarters – 60 minutes for 365 days.
Thursday night is a celebration. Friday night is, too. But you had better sleep in on Friday morning, because you won’t find shut-eye again until Saturday afternoon.
I understand the reasoning behind the noon eastern kickoff, the national broadcast, yada, yada. But I’ve always wondered if the powers that be don’t simply enjoy the social experiment involved with pulling fans out of beds that we no more found our way to, only to usher us away to the most intense sporting environment known to man.
No matter, the Cotton Bowl brings out the best in us all. A river runs through it, so to speak, a boundary between territories and teams. Divided, a sea of burnt orange abruptly turns to crimson and creme; half in ecstasy, half in despair.
The passion fueling the rush of adrenaline that carries each through this day is one handed down from generation to generation. From Barry and Daryl to Bob and Mack. From grandfathers, to fathers, to sons and daughters.
OU-Texas is a rite of fall, and while each program has seen better days, nothing else matters on the second Saturday in October. There is a rank to maintain, a guard to reclaim. It’s the Red River.
The first of a three-part series highlighting the Scott family focuses on the Hall of Fame career of Sequoyah assistant coach Bill Scott.
By Kolby Paxton
Bill Scott couldn’t have known that he would come to lead a football legacy spanning multiple generations. Growing up in Stilwell, he’d never even seen a game.
“The first football game I ever saw, I played in,” said Scott. “We didn’t have a television. I went to a country school with 32 kids, and we didn’t play football. We played a lot of basketball. I thought I was a basketball player.”
Stilwell High football coach Francis Wheeler saw things a little differently.
“I didn’t go out for football,” said Scott. “I played basketball. But in those days, they had two coaches; one coached football and one coached basketball. One day, during study hall, coach Francis Wheeler came to me and said, ‘How come you aren’t playing football?’ I said, ‘I’m a basketball player.’ And he said, ‘You can’t play basketball if you don’t play football.’”
With that ultimatum, a legend was born.
Playing tackle and end, Scott was a star on the gridiron, eventually garnering the attention of Frank Broyles and the University of Arkansas.
“I played under a lot of great coaches, Broyles, Jim Mackenzie, Barry Switzer, Merv Johnson, Joe Gibbs was a GA, Mike Shanahan was a GA,” he said. “There were a lot of great coaches over there.”
An all-star assembly of leaders to be sure, Scott was exposed to Switzer, in particular, before he became “The King” of Sooner lore.
“Switzer was my coach on the freshman team,” said Scott. “Freshmen weren’t eligible. You had your own field. We had 77 freshmen there my year. Those were the days of unlimited scholarships. He was a graduate assistant there, then the next year he was a scout team coach, and the next he was an assistant coach. He was as good a guy as he was a coach.”
In 1964, during what would have been his senior season in Fayetteville, Ark., the Razorbacks won the school’s first and only football national title, but Scott was elsewhere.
After two seasons at Arkansas, he momentarily hung up the spikes and moved home. Once the coaching staff at Northeastern State caught wind of his availability, they sent Scott’s wife, Terry, to recruit him.
“She wouldn’t know a first down from a touchdown, but that wasn’t important,” he said. “She was always there. She hasn’t missed a game since I’ve been coaching. She supported Bear, now she’s supporting Cub. She has always been there, if we won, same way if we lost. The sun’s going to come up the next day. Fortunately, we haven’t lost much.”
With a nudge from the Mis’ess, Scott became an All-American lineman for the Redmen, before joining the Los Angeles Rams in 1966-’67.
“I played on a team that had three Hall of Famers on defense, Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones and Lamar Lundy,” he said. “Roman Gabriel was the quarterback, and he was bigger than I was. I weighed about 235. It was tough.”
When Scott’s playing career ended, his coaching career began, and what a career it has been.
After two seasons at Muldrow and another two as an assistant at Bristow, Scott was promoted to head coach of the Pirates.
“When I got the head job, the year before we had 28 kids out for football,” he said. “Twenty of them graduated. So we had eight juniors and seniors to start with. They asked me what I was going to do, and I said, “Well, I’m going to beg some kids to play.”
Beg he did, addressing the student body at school-wide assemblies, pushing to make football a priority. The results of his campaign were staggering.
“My first year, we had the only undefeated team in Bristow history, had 65 kids out,” said Scott. “They were oil field workers, poor, country boys, and they came together. It just became a deal where it was good to play football. Everybody likes to be a part of a successful team.”
From 1972-’93, Scott’s teams won 218 games, three state championships, two runner-up finishes, and 16 district titles. They did so by deploying innovative schemes on both sides of the football, philosophies inspired by some of the most prominent names in the profession.
“Ara Parseghian was the head coach at Notre Dame at the time,” said Scott. “I called him up one day, he had a home phone. We visited for about two hours. Then we got a video from Delaware of the Delaware Wing-T. Davey Nelson and Tubby Raymond were running it, and they were very successful there. So we just used what we learned and turned it into our own.”
In many respects, within the state, Scott helped to lead an offensive revolution of sorts. Amidst an era during which the Split-T, the I-formation, and even the Wishbone were prevalent, Scott’s Pirate squads strung together two decades of dominance with a look that remained visible up to the turn of the century – a run that led to his subsequent induction into the Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1986.
“I think we threw the ball 24 times one of those state championship years,” he said. “We ran the ball. I always believed that if you could run the ball, it made you tough. It was a tough game.”
Of course, the irony of the above statement knows no bounds, given the quarterbacking prowess of his son and grandson. Still, a lack of emphasis on the passing game never translated to the subsequent devaluing of the signal caller.
“I’ll tell you how important quarterbacks are,” said Scott. “We won the state title in ’75 and ’76. We graduated our quarterback, but had 18 starters back in ’77 and didn’t even get out of the district.”
Nearly four decades have passed since the patriarch Scott, quarterback-less, struggled on the heels of his second state championship. Today, his son, Brent Scott, has no such issues.
That’s because Brent is the head coach of a team led by the state’s top field general, his own son, Brayden.
The Memphis-commit plays and speaks like the son of a coach, walking the walk, talking the talk, and tipping the cap to those responsible for his disposition all the while.
“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Papa is winning,” he said. “That’s the one thing about him, he always wanted to compete at anything that he did. Dad had that, and he passed it down to me. One word that will always describe the three of us is ‘compete,’ in anything and everything that you do. Whether that’s school work, throwing a ball, that’s the word that puts us three together.”
Together, the trio has competed and won aplenty, though they aren’t finished just yet. In what likely amounts to Bill Scott’s last season wearing a whistle, the Indians are talented and readily capable of stretching this story book ending into December.
“This year is more special because its the last time that all of us will be together on the same field,” said Brayden Scott. “We don’t want it to end until the state championship. We know it’s the last year. We want to make it memorable.”
If you are a fan of the Cowboys, Rangers, Sooners, Razorbacks, or even the Thunder for that matter, I have a confession to make. I am to blame for your team’s recent championship short-comings.
It wasn’t Mark Lowe or Nelly Cruz. It was this guy, in his stupid, unlucky baseball cap. It wasn’t the impostor dressed as James Harden. It was the idiot pining for the right to wear Harden’s jersey. It wasn’t Landry Jo– ok, it was Landry Jones, but you get the point.
When I say it aloud, it sounds so irrational, so outwardly narcissistic. But, after much denial, many mendacity-filled attempts at more conventional rationalization, there remains one common denominator: me.
When Joe Nathan blew his third save of the season early Sunday, it didn’t shock me. Quite the opposite, actually. I readily braced for it, using the NFL as a coping mechanism. What did catch me off guard, was a bounce back performance by Nathan and the Rangers in the night-cap. Too bad my guys are getting swept in Oakland.
When the U.S. Ryder Cup team collapsed Sunday afternoon, I didn’t bat an eye. I spent all day Saturday reasoning ways that it could happen anyway. Lefty and Furyk choked? Of course they did.
I love sports, but the harsh reality that only one team can win, coupled with the fact that my teams are never that one team, has turned me into a total fan pessimist; a fansimist, if you will. I hope for the best, but fully anticipate the most gut-wrenching, floor-caving scenario.
During moments of weakness, when my imagination wanders into “What if…” land, I quickly return to a far more damning reality, deriding my own subconscious for allowing such naiveté to slip through the cracks.
I was seven years old the last time Arkansas won a national title in anything other than people running in circles. I spent half of the Cowboys’ last Super Bowl appearance pouting in my bedroom because my team was losing. Why? Because I was eight years old. That’s why. The last time the Sooners hoisted the crystal football, I was an eighth-grader wearing a Florida State hat, yet to be initiated into Sooner Nation.
3.) The bare spot on the press box
I remember watching the national championship celebration inside of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium from my grandparents house, days after Torrance Marshall and his teammates “got his boy’s trophy back.” Actually, that’s not entirely true. I remember very little about the celebration, itself. Rather, I distinctly remember watching as they dropped the sheet, revealing the year 2000, the latest addition to the running championship tally on the press box.
Four years later, they remodeled the facade of that box, leaving one, lonely, empty space for another national title. That space was supposed to be filled the very same season, by a team dubbed as “scary good,” by Sports Illustrated. All went according to plan until a muffed punt in the Orange Bowl.
Not quite a decade has passed since that now ominous vacancy was created. Thanks, in large part, to comically prodigal quarterback Landry Jones, it will remain without tenant for yet another year – and not because of a September loss to Kansas State. One early loss to a quality opponent does little to derail a title shot, even pre-playoff. No, it was how OU lost, with the same ‘ole Landry, that has effectively crushed collective optimism.
Oh, sure. Others are at fault. Josh Heupel hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with his play-calling prowess, relying heavily on the passing game in spite of a stable of seemingly capable ball carriers. The linebackers are weak this season, the defensive line as shallow as they come. Still, it begins – and, subsequently, ends – with a fifth-year senior quarterback that has actually managed to regress over the past two seasons.
Of course, on the comedy of errors that is Tulsa Sports Animal Program Director Kevin Ward’s morning show, former Oklahoma quarterback Steve Davis (1972-1976) leapt to Jones’ defense.
“All he’s done is win more games and throw for more yards than any other quarterback that has played at the University of Oklahoma,” said Davis. “And that’s 117 years of OU football.”
Correct, Steve. One hundred and seventeen years, for 13 of which the Sooners have been passing the football. Though, I realize, it isn’t so impressive sounding when you mention that little tidbit, is it? Nor is it quite as earth-rattling when you throw in the part about Sam Bradford, Jason White and Heupel each playing essentially two full seasons a piece – versus a mind numbing four full seasons for Jones. But, hey, whatevs.
“All this kid has done is work his fanny off,” said Davis. “All he’s done is do everything that’s been asked of him, and he is obviously the leader of that football team.”
Glad you brought that up, as well, Steve. The world isn’t fair. Skipping spring break to sling balls around doesn’t guarantee improvement – clearly. But, you’re right, he is the leader of this group. And you know what, Steve? Attitude reflects leadership: passive, tentative, and easily rattled.
And what was the Steve Davis-proclaimed leader of Oklahoma’s public response to yet another home conference loss?
“Everyone has bad games,” Jones said on his Facebook page. “Let’s see you go play vs. a top 15 defense and play ‘great’. Exactly. Never again.”
Well put, Landry. Nothing says dominion quite like diffident avoidance of accountability. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the winningest quarterback in program history.
4.) An open letter to prospective Sooner signal callers
Dear sir(s): Before you agree to become – or attempt to become – the next in a long line of successful Oklahoma quarterbacks, you must understand one thing above all else: The position will come with a heavy burden. That fact in no way differentiates OU from the Floridas, SC’s and Alabamas of the world, but it bears mentioning.
Oklahoma isn’t Cal. It isn’t Colorado, or Arizona State, or Maryland. Those are all fine institutions of higher learning, with solid athletic departments, and semi-respectable football programs. But losing is tolerated more readily in those places; it’s not tolerated at all in Norman.
Playing quarterback at OU will set you up for life, without ever requiring that you use the degree of which you were given. You’ll have the opportunity to sell cars, air-conditioners, buffalo wings, you name it. People will pay you for the right to simply use your voice in their ad, or plaster your face on their billboard. There is no professional football team in Oklahoma, so you will be treated with the same reverence within the state as Aaron Rodgers finds in Wisconsin. All of these things are good. But they don’t come for free.
You will be expected to win. You will be expected to show improvement over the course of your career. You will be expected to shoulder the Herculean task of upholding the gold standard at one of the nation’s winningest programs, and you will be expected to never, ever, under any circumstances, lose on Owen Field.
At OU, the only statistics that matter are wins and losses – as evidenced by the general disdain with which the now-current holder of nearly every school passing record is regarded.
Someone should have explained these terms to said record-holder before he signed his letter of intent. No one did, and we are all witness to the fallout.