By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The whole town’s a party site with fans from across the nation descending on Norman. If only the presidential candidates had the sense to realize it, they should have been campaigning in Oklahoma this weekend.
The University of Oklahoma campus was already edging into a pre-game frenzy of activity Friday afternoon and parties were breaking out all over Campus Corner and in the RV park adjacent to the Lloyd Noble Center, where out-of-town fans from both teams park and tailgate for the weekend.
The excitement-charged atmosphere is more comparable to a national championship-level game than a typical home game.
But this game is different than most home games. It’s Notre Dame vs. the Sooners, and Norman — with the OU campus at the heart of the city — has taken center stage in the nation.
Along with the national media, fans in support of both tradition-rich universities have come from across the U.S, some flying in, others driving hundreds of miles to watch what they believe will be the game of the year.
Lissa and Delbert Galusha, Sooner fans from Illinois, said it was worth the 600-mile drive. They planned to watch the OU women’s basketball scrimmage Friday night at the Lloyd Noble Center. Their RV is parked in the Lloyd Noble parking lot.
“We’ve just met so many nice people,” Lissa Galusha said.
“I think this is the game of the century,” Delbert Galusha said.
A crimson car with New Mexico’s bright yellow and red license tag seemed coordinated with the OU flag it sports, as it edges along a traffic-filled Lindsey Street.
On campus, university staff covered flowers on the South Oval so they wouldn’t freeze during the night. Everything needs to look great for the 80,000 fans expected to descend on campus today.
And that’s just the people with tickets.
For the OU student media staff, it’s been all Notre Dame all week. As Kelsey Hightower, senior producer of “OU Nightly,” and Bob Dickie, news director of “OU Nightly,” prepared for the 30-minute newscast Friday night, they were aware that the College GameDay crew was just down the block at the end of the South Oval. But the student staff had their own shots to film and students to interview.
Notre Dame hasn’t just been the biggest story all week — it’s been the only story.
Fans mingled at the GameDay tents long after the Friday afternoon interview with Sooner Coach Bob Stoops had ended.
Gordon Miller is on-site security with GameDay. He will be busy today checking the signs fans bring to the filming to make sure none of them have profanity or politics. He also checks T-shirts to keep the GameDay crowd clean and appropriate.
So far, there have been no problems here. But, then, things are just getting started.
Notre Dame fan Ralph Ferrara traveled from New Jersey for the game.
Marc Beaver traveled from Philadelphia.
“I’m a huge Sooner fan,” he said.
The two friends are staying at a local hotel on the south side of Oklahoma City. The hotels in Norman booked up too quickly for them to get rooms in town.
The Bakers are an Oklahoma City couple that have come to Norman because of GameDay. They weren’t able to snag game tickets, but they said it’s fun to be part of the atmosphere.
“We’re huge College GameDay fans,” Mrs. Baker said.
Greg Sech is a Notre Dame fan who came in from Atlanta. He’s friends with an OU alum who traveled to Norman from Denver. The friends had lunch at O’Connell’s, where they enjoyed hearing the OU chant.
Sech is staying at a local motel. He attended the Michigan game and the Miami game.
“I’m used to hostile, even unfriendly environments,” he said.
But in Oklahoma, he expects hospitality.
“We’re such big underdogs,” he said. “We’re loose.”
He hopes that relaxed feeling will lead the Fighting Irish to a victory.
At the RV park at Lloyd Noble, the university flags were out and many RVs were the sites of tailgate parties, some of which will continue right up to game time. Many fans said they were planning to eat and party Friday night on Campus Corner.
One group of grad students from Notre Dame said they got tickets a year and a half ago, as soon as the game was posted.
“We knew we had to come,” one student said. “I think it’s the tradition. You know it’s going to be a good game. College GameDay is here. You get to watch two national contenders.”
“Everyone has been very welcoming,” they said. “We really couldn’t ask for a better experience.”
One set-up bearing Notre Dame emblems is decked with American and Texan flags. There’s meat in the smoker and beer in the coolers.
“We’re Notre Dame fans who know where to get barbecue,” they said.
Another group said they drove straight through for 15 hours from South Bend, Ind.
“We’re excited to be here,” they said.
That’s the word for the weekend. And everyone is expressing, that, while they are hoping for victory for their team, they want a good game, a hard-fought game. The kind of game the two universities are known for.
It’s been years since the two teams have met, but they will meet again next year in Indiana.
“I’m coming to South Bend next year,” one OU fan told a group of Notre Dame fans. “Welcome to Oklahoma. Look for me next year at South Bend.”
And the tradition of “intermittent rivalry” continues.
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