"Play for the victims"
The eerie mood has finally left the air, but it's still apparent something terrible happened here.
Cards, flowers and stuffed animals cover the corner of Stillwater's Hall of Fame and Main. On any drive across town, you'll come across signs with the "Stillwater Strong" rallying cry.
No. 12 Oklahoma State is playing for a spot in the College Football Playoff, sure, but it's also playing for the community.
OSU hosts No. 5 TCU on Saturday in the first of a four-game gauntlet that could result in the road to the playoff running through Stillwater.
And it all comes at a curious time.
Four people died and more than 40 were injured Oct. 24 when a car crashed into a crowd of people gathered for OSU's Sea of Orange homecoming parade. The victims include Nash Lucas, 2; Marvin Stone, 65; Bonnie Stone, 65, and Nikita Prabhakar Nakal, 23.
"It still hurts, driving down the road and you see the setups over there, the trips to the hospital that we made, you still see things on Twitter, all that," receiver David Glidden said
On the day the tragedy occurred two blocks east of Boone Pickens Stadium, the Cowboys played only four hours later and beat Kansas. The next week, OSU came back from down 17 points to win at Texas Tech, showcasing the same resilience that allowed them to win three games this season despite not leading entering the final minute of regulation.
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"From the get-go, we know that there's going to be adversity that we have to fight through, but we're going to end up victorious," quarterback Mason Rudolph said.
The Cowboys enter their showdown with TCU undefeated, even if it hasn't always been pretty or conventional. Now, after the tragedy, the Cowboys have all the more reason to prove they can hang with the nation's top teams.
"That's what I tell guys who think they don't have a reason to play — play for the victims," defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah said. "They didn't know that was going to be the last time they saw their family members. They came out to support us, and tragedy struck."
Football, of course, is not a matter of life and death. On the day of the crash, defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer admitted he would be fine had the game been called off. Several players admitted it was difficult to focus.
But the crash is inevitably connected to this team for the rest of the season.
Stillwater is not back to normal. And maybe that's for the best.
"Things can never go back to normal after that," defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah said. "It's a really saddening, sickening feeling. You don't know when your last day on Earth is going to be. That's what I'm telling myself—'You have to go out there and do what you can now. Be the best you can be now.' You never know when that last snap is going to be."
Cody Stavenhagen is SI's campus correspondent for Oklahoma State University. Follow him on Twitter.