PRYOR, OK —
Let me preface what follows by saying I'm a Sooner fan.
We Sooner fans, especially Sooner fans my age, suffer from a certain affliction called "Expecting a National Championship Every Season." It's a crippling, debilitating disease built on hubris and tradition, and every year for the past 13 it's hit us like the flu.
My first memories as a Sooner fan are hazy. I vaguely recollect watching Ricky Williams torch OU in a Red River game (it was 1998), and I somewhat recall seeing Oklahoma and Kansas play on TV in the late '90s (I would find out later John Blake was the coach then). That's back when the block "OKLAHOMA" in the end zone was spelled out in a diamond pattern, and there were 12 teams in the Big 12.
My first lucid memory as a Sooner fan came in 2000, watching OU don crimson and the Golden Hat after blowing out Texas 63-14. Then Kansas State, then Nebraska. K-State again, then the Orange Bowl win over Florida State. They made it through the gauntlet without a scratch.
2000. What a year to latch on to a team. My dad had long been an OU fan, and had Bob Stoops not led the program to an undefeated season and a national title I might be rooting for Mike Gundy and the Cowboys now. But I was young and impressionable, and I took to the team that was winning.
If Torrance Marshall hadn't returned the pick against Texas A&M, if Nebraska had held the 14-0 lead, if Chris Weinke hadn't fumbled in the Orange Bowl — if that were the case, I wouldn't care as much about what happens to Blake Bell and Damien Williams and Sterling Shepard now.
My fanhood isn't grounded in any tangible connection to the program, other than I've spent my fair share in licensed attire over the past dozen years. I didn't attend the school, and the only member of my family that did — my sister — got her degree from the Tulsa branch.
That's my team, though. At some point, you have to pick, and I picked the tragic Sooners. As I've slowly come to realize, having high expectations for a team that never lives up to those is much more stressful than pulling for an average team.
The 2000 season is a distant but clear memory, because it's the last time OU ran the table and won it all. Every season since then, there's been at least one loss. A Colorado here, a Texas Tech there. Sometimes Bedlam is the first to strike late in the year, sometimes it's BYU on opening day. But it always happens.
I've started to pencil in a "1" in the loss column for the Sooners at the start of every season. Once the annual loss comes, I can mark it in ink and move on with my life. Until then, Stoops is sure to keep me in suspense.
That's what makes being an Oklahoma fan different than any other kind of fan. Your team was perfect once, and now you expect to lose. It's backward, aggravating and totally appropriate, all at the same time.
All we can do is hope that, at the end of a season, we'll get to flip the pencil, erase that "1" and mark a zero instead.