November 22, 2012
Unlike most Oklahoma State graduates of similar age, I was mercifully spared the soul-crushing agony of the 1988 Bedlam football game. Separated by 500 miles and a father who compassionately shielded his children from Squinky's spectacular advent*, I was raised oblivious to the adventures of Brent Parker, Mike Gundy, and Hart Lee Dykes. Arriving on campus in 1995, I had no idea who handed the ball to Barry Sanders a mere seven years prior, but I certainly knew about Coach Sutton, Bryant "Big Country" Reeves, and Randy Rutherford. In the fall of 1995, Sutton's first trip to the Final Four (as a Cowboy) was fresh in everyone's memory and Oklahoma State was reveling in its newfound identity as a basketball program. For most of the student body, Bedlam had everything to do with men's basketball; the gridiron result being a foregone conclusion. First year football coach Bob Simmons began to change this perception, winning his very first Bedlam match-up. Before Internet memes, viral videos, and #CCCMFC hashtags, there was "12-0". Requiring no accompanying narrative, the score of the 1995 Bedlam game was emblazoned on shirts, outlined in the stands at (then) Lewis Field, written in outdoor lights on rooftops across Stillwater, hung from banners across campus, and generally served as notice that hope — that dangerous and heretofore fleeting denial of inevitability — had alighted in Stillwater. The next three years provided optimism a tenuous footing within the football program, as Oklahoma State twice more crushed their in-state rival, running the Bedlam tally to 3-1 during my collegiate stint. Yet, despite the exhilarating and frequent Bedlam wins of the Simmons-Miles era, Thanksgiving break and the start of deer season conspired to make 2004 the year of my first Bedlam game experience. That year, College GameDay was in Stillwater to feature the contest between #2 Oklahoma and #20 Oklahoma State. Riding a fresh wave of hope, Les Miles' Cowboys were playing with a confidence exceeding their talent level. The 2004 Sooners entered Stillwater with national championship aspirations and included two Heisman finalists in Adrian Peterson and Jason White. For the Cowboys, Vernand Morency and Prentis Elliott were tearing up opposing defenses and Les Miles seemed always to save his best invectives and coaching decisions for Bedlam. The stage was set for Oklahoma State to make a statement. Excited for my first Bedlam football experience, I cobbled together two signs to parade before the ESPN cameras. The first included a patriotic "V*MO for Prez" slogan and the second simply stated "Adrian Who?" - in mock reference to the much ballyhooed Sooner tailback. As an afterthought, I even converted a plastic orange ball into a hideous mask to wear during the game**.
For the first two quarters, the score remained close (hope!) - although it quickly became apparent I had chosen poorly when drafting my signs. By the third quarter, both placards were folded neatly under my chair as Adrian Peterson ran absolutely wild against the hapless Cowboy defense. Peterson finished the day with over 250 yards rushing and Morency was held under 100. Surprisingly, the Cowboys were a fingertip's width away from overtime - if not the outright win. To this day I can still see an open Prentis Elliott diving after a slightly overthrown ball, and a wide left kick from 49 yards that sealed the Cowboy's fate (despair!). Oklahoma State had taken the country's #2 team to the wire, yet no one was celebrating a moral victory. Those days belonged to an era bygone.
It would be seven long years before I returned to Stillwater for Bedlam. In that span of time, the stadium had undergone a makeover, OSU had a new set of coaches, and the balance of power had shifted. The Cowboys were now ranked #3 and the out-manned Sooners were vying for respect. On that chilly December day in 2011, redemption was won for a long-suffering fan base. This Saturday begins a trend. "Sooner Magic"? Never heard.