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The Norman Conquests They're doing fine in Oklahoma, which is basking in a bright golden haze of athletic triumph

April 08, 2002
April 08, 2002

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April 8, 2002

Golf Plus

The Norman Conquests They're doing fine in Oklahoma, which is basking in a bright golden haze of athletic triumph

"The Seed Sower" statue, two stories tall on its plinth, stands
astride the campus of the University of Oklahoma like a
cast-iron colossus. Hat on his head and seed sack on his
shoulder, the Sower last weekend sported two new accessories: a
leather basketball, plugged into his elbow crook, and a white
nylon net, worn around his neck like a garland of roses.

This is an article from the April 8, 2002 issue Original Layout

T-shirts in the campus bookstore call Norman A DRINKING TOWN WITH
A FOOTBALL PROBLEM. But Normanites now have multiple addictions.
In a single ridiculous month, the Sooners sent their men's
basketball team to the Final Four and their women's basketball
team to the NCAA championship game, finished third in the NCAA
wrestling championships and found themselves nationally ranked in
softball, baseball, and men's and women's gymnastics. Still, the
most urgent question in Norman is the one men's basketball coach
Kelvin Sampson jokingly asked immediately after winning the West
Regional: "What day does spring football start?"

"Spring ball," as they say in Oklahoma, started last week. (And
so did a Broadway revival of Oklahoma!) Oklahoma, where the wins
come sweepin' down the plain, is only 14 months removed from its
most recent national football championship. It is also, by many
accounts, only nine months shy of its next one. Not that the
Sooners will know what to do with it. You can't find the remote;
Oklahoma can't find three of its national championship trophies.

"We've won seven national championships in football," says coach
Bob Stoops, conducting a tour of his mahogany-paneled offices in
the Barry Switzer Center, "but we can find only four of the
trophies. We have 37 conference championships, and we can't
locate half of those trophies. We've won 12 Orange Bowls, and I
don't think we can find more than seven of 'em. Fortunately,
we've won at least one of every trophy there is in college
football: Heisman, Outland, Butkus...."

Funny, because in matters not involving trophy storage,
Oklahomans have exceedingly long memories. Ask Gary Nord. Before
his first (and final) season as an OU football assistant in
1995, Nord toured rural Oklahoma with head coach Howard
Schnellenberger and afterward told a banquet-roomful of the
state's dentists, "I thought Kentucky people were hicks, but
these people win hands down. I could have used a dentist with
me. I didn't see a full set of teeth the whole time."

Two seasons ago Nord became the head coach at UTEP. In his first
game Oklahoma promptly beat the dog out of his team, 55-14. Nord,
meanwhile, has remarked that he still receives in the mail from
Sooners fans set after set of wind-up novelty chattering teeth.

"The women's softball team won the national championship the
year before we did," notes Stoops, "and I personally was
inspired by that." The football team's title in turn inspired
both basketball teams, and the Sooners are now seed-sowing on a
grand scale. Stoops's office overlooks the construction crew
that is poised to wedding-cake a second tier of seats onto
Memorial Stadium and finish a new indoor practice facility for
football. Last season it completed the Sooners' stunning locker
room. Roughly the size of The Breakers and more richly
appointed, it is studded with leather couches, leather easy
chairs, foosball and pool tables and a Wurlitzer jukebox. "I
don't know who measures these things," says Stoops, from
somewhere in the 10,000-square-foot room's carpeted vastness,
"but I'm told it's the largest locker room in America by more
than a thousand square feet."

On Saturday the coach flew to Atlanta to watch the Sooners men
play Indiana. Back home, OU's 73-64 loss silenced the patrons of
the Crossed-Eyed Moose bar in southern Oklahoma City. There,
40-year-old Scott Raper looked glumly at the plate of chicken
he'd reduced to a pile of bones and said of the loss, "You wanna
throw up all the food you just ate."

Still, he knew there would be other Norman conquests, and for the
moment the Sooners women were alive. Their win over Duke last
Friday further prefigured a Golden Age for Oklahoma, particularly
if you watched that game in downtown Oklahoma City, 30 minutes
from campus, in the beautiful and bustling Bricktown development
that seems to have risen from the ashes of the Alfred P. Murrah
Federal Building blocks away.

One such viewer was Cord Fitzgerald, 24, an OU alumnus who'll
return in the fall for a postgraduate degree. As the women put
away the Blue Devils, all things seemed possible to Sooners fans,
especially when Fitzgerald was asked what he will study.

He said, "Dentistry."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ZOHAR LAZAR