NORMAN — Remember when Bob Stoops used to wax so eloquently about the character of his team?
The Sooners had been playing great defense from the beginning, went to Notre Dame and seemed to win with intestinal fortitude more than talent and even a three-point victory over TCU seemed more like a character builder than a great escape.
Absolutely, it’s funny how the narrative can change. It seemed like 2000 all over again until Chase McCoy found lightning in a bottle Oct. 12 at the Cotton Bowl and OU, very out of character, fell 36-20 to a desperate, but still not very good bunch of Longhorns.
It seems long, long ago.
Now, the original narrative is back. The Sooners are a team of character.
How else would they land a pair of away-from-home upsets to close out the regular season? How else would they beat Oklahoma State, when you really think about it, two different during a freezing fourth quarter in Stillwater?
Narratives can change, but this one’s finally staying put.
If the Sooners upset Alabama Jan. 2 in New Orleans it will simply be further testament to the virtue of hard work and continuing the fight. If they get blown off the field, the story will be about how OU maximized down the final stretch of the regular season just to have the opportunity to play the college game’s stand-alone Goliath.
Also, Monday, there was additional indication of that character Stoops about which Stoops was only too happy to crown, back when folks still asked him about it, before Texas and before Baylor.
All-American and all-everything-else center Gabe Ikard made the point.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “You don’t get chances like this very often.”
It was a statement that begged a question. What opportunity? There are no championships up for grabs and, anyway, Ikard’s a senior. Whether the Crimson Tide is vanquished or victorious, his time as a Sooner will be up.
Ikard answered that one, too.
“This could be a victory that really sets things into motion, to really increase the talent we get here and that’s something we need to prepare for,” he said. “The seniors, obviously, we’re leaving, we know that we’re not going to get to play with any of the guys coming in, but we need this victory to get some more talent in this program.”
He even offered a punch line, saying, “we have to stop making tight ends linemen.”
You have to love it.
Ikard, appearing to speak for the seniors — and there’s no reason to believe he doesn’t — sees the Sugar Bowl as a going-away gift to the program that’s helped shape him and others in his class.
If OU can win, it’s looked at differently, by a college football nation, and the next batch or two of prospects about to enter that nation.
You want to know how to start competing with Alabama at the very top of the college game?
Well, one way is to stem the Tide at the Sugar Bowl.
Bob Stoops will never cop to such direct positive consequences, qualifying everything by saying “no one’s going to base their decision, usually, on one game, but it never hurts.”
And still, he had to like that the most influential player on his team thought it might, and saw it as one last wonderful opportunity.
“You love that kind of character,” Stoops said, “that that matters to them.”
Consider it a tiny peek inside a program that suffered one of its most alienating defeats Nov. 7 at Floyd Casey Stadium, only to turn it all around against some very long odds.
Back when OU was winning the 2000 national championship, and in 2003 and 2004 when it played for two more, you’d often hear about how the players policed themselves and held one another accountable.
In a way we hadn’t quite heard about it recently, we heard about it this season before — all of us being results-oriented naysayers — we decided it couldn’t possibly be true.
Only it was.
Heck, you know the one big problem OU really had this season?
Yet, even there, Trevor Knight and Blake Bell, eventually, came back better than ever.
Once again, it’s a very easy team to root for.
Monday, we got to see a little more of the reason why.
Follow me @clayhorning
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