"What's a Sooner?" Well, Longhorns, it's not a colorful bird. In 1889, the U.S. government opened part of what had previously been designated "Indian Territory" to settlement, forsaking their pledge to the five civilized tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole -- whom they had summarily displaced from the Southeast along the Trail of Tears a few years earlier), and gave yet more white entrepreneurs yet another sweet deal: You settle the land, you own it. So, interested parties from near and far gathered on a sunny April day at the boundary of nearly three million acres of farmland in covered wagons and on horseback, and, at the boom of a cannon, the "Boomers" raced to stake their claim in what came to be known as the Great Land Run of 1889. Those who snuck across the line the night before to stake an early claim came to be known as "Sooners."
"Cheaters!" senior Florida State offensive lineman Jerry Carmichael said as he grasped history in an interview with former University of Oklahoma tailback cum Fox Sports commentator Spencer Tillman. "Cheaters! Cheaters! All they do is cheat!" Not quite true. Though the OU football program has taken its share of bumpy rides in the NCAA paddy wagon, Sooners players and fans like to think that being a Sooner means doing whatever is necessary to win games. And they have.
Six national championships (seven if they won Wednesday night in Miami) in the modern era (second only to Notre Dame), 36 conference championships, three Heisman trophy winners, and a 12-0 record in 2000 would be enough for most fans giving it the old college try, but Sooners fans and players don't like losing to anyone. Ever.
"Football is life [at OU]," 2001 commitment Chris Chester of Tustin, California, recently told Rivals.com. "The environment, the people, and the town really support the football team." I should say so. To the point that anyone would want to move to Norman, Oklahoma, from anywhere in California is testament enough.
And taking the "football is life" theme to the extreme, when I last visited Norman for the OU/Nebraska game October 28, friends said there was a palpable energy in town like they hadn't felt since the late 1980s, when the Sooners were last in the Top 10. One even postulated that Norman might see the rebirth of a music scene as a result of the team's success.
So, with all this going for them, why didn't anyone think Oklahoma would win the Orange Bowl? Do people think the Seminoles are still chafed about that Land Run deal and have decided to symbolically take back their land nearly 112 years later? Not likely.
Looking for a more logical reason why Oklahoma would win, one need look no further than second-year head coach Bob Stoops. Just two years ago, John Blake "led" OU to an abysmal 3-8 record. Last year they lost the Ballpoint Pen Bowl. This year they ended the regular season undefeated with the same core group of players. Why? Stoops likes to credit Heisman runner-up quarterback Josh Heupel, but the truth of OU's resurgence is more innate: Stoops is a Sooner. (As a prep in Ohio, he painted his shoes silver to be like OU's all-time leading rusher, Joe Washington.) He coaches with the methodical precision of Bud Wilkinson as much as he does with Barry Switzer's gambler instinct. He is the living embodiment of Oklahoma football tradition and the final link in a triumvirate of great coaches who redefined college football while coaching at the school whose first initial happens to be B.
Like the fans, he lives and breathes the game of football and has instilled the same in his players. My hat goes off to the winning coach of the 2001 Orange Bowl: a man named Bob.