Jalen Hurts cracked.
He cracked following Oklahoma’s 34-27 victory over Texas. He cracked two days later, Monday, speaking at a lectern high above Owen Field.
They’re small cracks.
But they’re cracks.
“You talk about emotional ties to this university,” Hurts said Saturday, “they’re there now.”
He probably felt it before.
He had to.
He’d been welcomed by the program, made its starting quarterback, voted captain by his new teammates. For all of his auditory minimalism, his heart strings had to have moved.
But after playing the game that defines so many seasons for the Big 12’s two most dominant programs, that offers something the Iron Bowl never will — the 50-50 split of fans meeting at the 50, mentioned by Hurts Monday — he wanted to put words to it, wanted to share.
The man who’s given us so little of himself offered sentiment he needn’t, yet felt he must.
Monday, a few minutes, after being asked about those sentiments — did he feel the emotional ties before his Cotton Bowl experience or only in the midst of it and after? — Hurts cracked again.
Eddie Radosevich, writer and videographer for SoonerScoop and probably the funniest guy on the beat, had a serious question.
“It happened to Kyler and Baker in recent years,” Radosevich began, referencing quarterbacks Murray and Mayfield, “but do you feel snubbed about not being nominated for homecoming king this year?”
“I’ve never been homecoming king, never,” Hurts answered, to which Radosevich, in a show of solidarity, quickly said, “Neither have I.”
“I’ll have to get you to get my homecoming king campaign going,” Hurts said.
He was smiling.
It wasn’t a toothy crescent moon grin. Mostly, as Hurts spoke, the right side of his mouth became a littler higher than the left, and just before walking off, the left side became a little higher than the right.
It was a twitch.
More than one.
And twitches count.
It appeared Hurts stood there, asking himself, “What did he just ask me? Seriously? Homecoming king?” and before he knew it he was answering and before he knew that he was enjoying himself.
If that feels like projection, endure a little more.
Hurts is not asked personal questions, funny questions, questions about how he feels or questions about what he really thinks because the people who cover him are trying to win, take him off his game or tarnish his over-serious brand.
Mostly, they think he’s a great story, having graduated from one school and its historic football program so quickly, thereby earning the right to move on to another one, a place he might play, excel, raise his professional stock and maybe win a championship.
And being a great story, because media folks are real live human beings with weaknesses for great stories, we’d like him to enjoy it.
Yeah, if he’d committed four turnovers rather than two, and if OU had lost rather than won, we’d have been writing about that because, guess what, we’re here to tell it like it is, too.
But if we root for anything, we root for the story and Hurts is nothing but a great one.
Maybe he’s beginning to realize it as something other than “rat poison." That, or the facts on the ground following his first Red River rivalry experience have changed a bit and because they have, he has, too.
So much of Hurts’ over-the-top, nothing’s-ever-good-enough persona has felt like well-meaning public vigilance directed toward teammates.
He wants to win it all before saying goodbye. That means developing extreme discipline and mental toughness because there’s going to be a game it’s required. If that calls for monotonous stoicism, so be it.
Yet, how could Hurts have known the game in which his team would be tested, it would be tested by his mistakes?
“I didn’t put the team in the best situations,” he said.
The game he’d been preparing everybody for was this one and, irony or ironies, the adversity overcome was adversity he created.
Lincoln Riley may not see it so dramatically, but gets it.
“As you go throughout a season … you continue to learn more and more about the guys you’re going to battle with,” the Sooner coach said, “and each situation presents new challenges and new opportunities to learn. So, I think he learned more, probably, about his teammates in that type of game.”
Enough to be moved to speak about his emotional ties afterwards.
Enough to go with a hilarious question from the beat’s finest comedian.
Enough, maybe, to relax, enjoy and even participate in the terrific story he’s been writing.
Oh, that question, is he more emotionally attached because of what happened inside the Cotton Bowl?
His head bobbed right twice.
Everything but a “Yes.”
It was more.