After a stellar freshman campaign that saw him toss a freshman program-record 36 touchdowns, the expectations for Sam Bradford in his second year as starting quarterback were sky high.
With a roster that included future NFL stars DeMarco Murray, Jermaine Gresham, Trent Williams and Phil Loadholt, along with one of the greatest college receivers of all-time in Ryan Broyles, everyone expected Bradford and the Oklahoma offense to put up jaw-dropping statistics all season long.
Somehow, despite everyone expecting greatness, Bradford was even better than anyone was prepared for him to be.
But before diving into what he accomplished on the field in 2008, let’s revisit how he got to this point.
Bradford was a local kid attending Putnam City North High School just roughly 40 minutes from the University of Oklahoma campus. When he was 13, he would watch the Sooners capture their seventh national title in program history led by quarterback Josh Heupel.
Heupel would go on to be Bradford’s quarterbacks coach at Oklahoma and help guide him to the historic career he would have. The one who he looked to emulate would be the one to teach him how to succeed under the intense spotlight as the Sooners signal-caller.
“You were one of my heroes growing up,” Bradford told Heupel.
"I dreamed about playing for Oklahoma and watching him play when I was younger. Now, to call him my coach, and learn from him every day and everything he does for me, I can't thank him enough."
Although playing in Norman was always on Bradford’s radar as a strong desire as a local product, it wasn’t exactly a given he would play there due to the fact that he was far from a highly-touted recruit. In the class of 2006, he was only rated a 3-star prospect and ranked just the No. 307 overall recruit in 247Sports’ composite rankings.
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Eventually, Bradford did start to get the attention of Division I programs in the area. He received offers from Iowa State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and, eventually, Oklahoma. When the offer from Bob Stoops and the Sooners came, Bradford didn’t hesitate. He committed the next day.
Bradford redshirted his first season with the intention of sitting behind incumbent starting quarterback Rhett Bomar after his solid first year running the show in 2005. But, that offseason would see plans change drastically when Bomar was suddenly dismissed from the team just roughly a month prior to the start of the season.
After Paul Thompson was thrust into the starting position for the 2006 campaign, the job was up for competition in the offseason ahead of the 2007 season.
The top contenders for the starting quarterback position were Bradford, junior-college-transfer Joey Halzle and true freshman Keith Nichol. Certainly, Bradford looked to be the favorite and he would go on to win the job and be named the starter less than two weeks before the season opener against North Texas.
“It was a lot of fun, great competition,” Bradford said. “I remember every day you had to be on your A game because I knew Joey and Keith were going to bring their A game. Every snap, every practice mattered. It brought out the best in me and those other guys.”
Bradford would begin his career in spectacular fashion completing 21-of-23 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns in a 79-10 evisceration of the Mean Green at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. It was only the beginning of two years filled with video game stat lines for the former Putnam City North Panther.
The following week, the Sooners welcomed in an old rival in the Miami Hurricanes in a marquee matchup of two historic programs. Bradford would complete 19-of-25 passes for 205 yards and five touchdowns in another blowout Oklahoma win 51-13.
Bradford would continue his stellar play to put together quite arguably the best season by a freshman quarterback in Sooners' history throwing for 3,121 yards and 36 touchdowns en route to a 12-win season and a Big 12 title.
This all set the stage for a 2008 season where the hype and expectations were understandably through the roof for what Bradford could potentially do in his second year under center with the heaps of offensive talent surrounding him.
The pressure and weight of fans and media alike expecting nothing less than elite play is a whole lot to handle, but not for Bradford who put on a display of epic proportions from start to finish.
With Bradford at the helm, Oklahoma would score over 50 points in 9 of their 14 games during the 2008 season.
64 percent of the time, the Sooners “hung half a hundred” on their opponent.
A number that is truly hard to process.
In each of Oklahoma’s last five games prior to the National Championship, including the Big 12 title game, the Sooners would strike for at least 60 points. Statistics that simply are not supposed to be attainable in real life, but only in video games.
Bradford’s 4,720 yards and 50 touchdowns are still an Oklahoma program record today. Not even the absurd combination of Lincoln Riley and Baker Mayfield, or Kyler Murray, could reach those numbers.
Matched up against Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who won the 2007 Heisman Trophy, and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy as finalists for the most prestigious award in college sports - Bradford would bring it home to become the fifth Heisman in Sooners history.
"I was really nervous," Bradford said during his news conference. "I'd much rather play in front of 100,000 people than wait for an award to be handed out."
Unfortunately for Bradford and Oklahoma, their historic offensive run would come up just one game short of true immortality, falling to Tebow’s Gators in the BCS National Championship Game 24-14. A game that still haunts many Sooners fans who think of the 2008 bunch as the greatest Oklahoma team to have not won the title.
The following offseason would see Bradford make the incredibly bold decision to return to school, and put off the NFL for one more year, to have one more crack at that elusive national title.
But the 2009 season is always remembered as the “what could have been” year for the Sooners after Bradford suffered a shoulder injury in the season opener that would eventually force him to miss the vast majority of the season and thrust a young Landry Jones into the starting role.
Despite the injury, Bradford would be selected No. 1 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams and promptly win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award after a superb first season that saw him break Peyton Manning’s rookie completion record.
But, as all Oklahoma and NFL fans know, Bradford’s career would go on to be muddied by injuries that he could seemingly never escape, sprinkling in stellar play when he was able to be on the field across eight NFL seasons with the Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals.
Bradford’s career both collegiately and professionally is amazingly unique as someone who both accomplished so much, but also leaves so many wondering what he could have been had his health not betrayed him time and time again.
You just don’t see many players in sports that you can definitively say both of those things are true.
Bradford make the extremely gutsy decision to declare for the NFL after missing nearly an entire year due to injury - and it absolutely paid off.
Emphasis on paid.
Sam Bradford’s career earnings are estimated somewhere around $130 million despite the injuries affecting him so often throughout his seasons.
So while we all will wonder what Bradford could have accomplished had he stayed healthy, the man still did a whole lot in the time he did get on the field.
Even when the bar was high, he always managed to exceed it.
The definition of an Oklahoma legend, through and through.