Flashback: First Weeden Sighting

John Helsley

Publisher's Note: I should have done this way before,but most of our readers will notice that during the COVID-19 pandemic that longtime Oklahoma State beat writer for The Oklahoman and now faculty member at Oklahoma State and chief advisor to The O'Colly John Helsley has been handling our historical features. He was there, so he knows what happened, why, and how, I truly appreciate having John on our team and it gives me a partner on The Old Guys podcasts. 

Before one eye-opening night behind center – November 19, 2009 – little was known about Brandon Weeden or his potential to ever really make an impact for the Cowboys.

Third-team quarterback. Big arm, but supposedly lacking full commitment at the time, according to Mike Gundy. Solid history as a prep quarterback at Edmond Santa Fe, although not considered an elite prospect by any means; although he was all that in baseball, which is how he spent five post-high school years chasing a diamond dream in the minor leagues with the Yankees, Dodgers and Royals.

Eventually, Weeden made his way back to football, which is how he landed at OSU in 2007… as a walk-on. He toiled on the scout team and as a reserve before breaking out in a big way in 2010, then guiding the Cowboys within a whisker of the national title game in 2011.

But first, Weeden’s career shifted on that crisp fall evening in 2009, a Thursday night special when the Cowboys wore all-black uniforms (which didn’t look all that great, to be honest) for the first time since 1994, against a scuffling Colorado squad.

Even then, he needed help making an entrance.

Zac Robinson, the team’s ultra-successful starter, missed the game with an injury. Still, Weeden didn’t get the call, not until former prized recruit Alex Cate bombed in his first career start, going 0-for-9 with an interception (and two more near-picks) through the first two quarters.

“At halftime, we felt like we needed a spark,” Gundy said following the game.

Did they ever. The Buffs led 14-10 at the half, with OSU’s touchdown coming on an early Perrish Cox punt return for a score. And it would be 21-10 before Weeden – and the Cowboys – finally got untracked, rerouting what would have been a disastrous loss to a Colorado team that left Stillwater 3-8.

Keith Toston broke free for a 45-yard touchdown run, putting some life into the OSU offense. Then Weeden settled in, hitting Toston for a 47-yard scoring pass, then connecting with Justin Blackmon on a 28-yard score for the game-winner with 8:11 left. Before scrambling under pressure right and finding Blackmon in the end zone, Weeden had thrown strikes twice on third-and-long to keep the drive moving.

The defense did the rest, and finished with five sacks overall.

Weeden finished 10 of 15 for 168 yards, after not appearing in a game since Week 2 against Grambling State.

Looking poised and like he belonged, Weeden pushed the No. 12 Cowboys to 9-2, keeping them in the Big 12 title hunt. And he put himself firmly on the map for 2010, when he would take over for the graduated Robinson.

“Life-changing,” is how Weeden described his Colorado performance to Tulsa World columnist Bill Haisten just last year.

Who knows what would have happened if Robinson hadn’t gotten hurt? Or if Cate had played even OK, going back out to start the second half?

At the time, Gundy portrayed Weeden as a guy who seemed to be waiting for the time to be right – after Robinson’s era ended – rather than being a guy who wanted to prove he was next in line.

And Weeden, in talks that carried into the next season, didn’t disagree.

One Thursday night changed all that.

“He did play well,” Gundy said in the postgame press conference. “Surprised may be the right word. He’s shown signs of that, but he just hasn't been out there enough. The last time he was out there was against Grambling, and the game was somewhat put away.

“You're not really sure how a young man is going to react. He performed pretty well tonight. He ran around and made a couple plays when protection broke down. Obviously, he gave us a chance to win the game.”

And win it they did. And kept winning, too.

The next two years, with Weeden firmly in control, the Cowboys went 23-3, posting first an 11-win season, then a 12-1 mark in 2011, after the program hadn’t won as many as 10 games in a season since 1988.

Colorado 2009 had all the makings of a forgettable game. Instead, Brandon Weeden made it memorable, setting up even greater memories ahead during a career that changed the course of OSU’s offense, prompting the hiring of Dana Holgorsen as offensive coordinator, and then Todd Monken to further feature the passing game.

“I had been there for a few years, hadn’t played very much but just kind of excited for that opportunity and just kind of wanted to make the most of it,” Weeden said in a later interview. “No one obviously knew who I was, guys were probably looking at me like, ‘God, we’re in trouble.’

“I wanted to make those guys confident and confident in me and I tell people this, I’m very serious when I say it: That night changed my life forever. Gave me the opportunities obviously for the following year to become a starter and kind of do the things we did. That was a big turning point for me as a player.”

That night changed a lot of lives; those of Cowboys teammates, coaches, fans and more, as the Cowboys would win their first Big 12 championship and first league title of any kind in decades under Weeden in 2011.

Changed the media, too, providing an intelligent and engaging voice to stories that in turn offered excellent perspective and insight to readers and viewers.

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