No team wants to come to a bowl game and lose, but the pressure for Oklahoma to defeat Washington State in the 89th Rose Bowl this afternoon could be especially heavy given the nature of the team’s fans.
The so-called Sooner Nation can be fervent about its football, and the players understand that.
“We don’t have a pro football team in Oklahoma,” tight end Trent Smith said. “We have an NHL farm team but that’s it. People look at us as their pro team.”
Norman, Okla., isn’t like any NFL city. The Sooners were reminded of that after losses to Texas A&M; and rival Oklahoma State late this season.
“College football is tougher,” center Vince Carter said. “In the NFL, you lose two games and you’re great. We know we can’t please everyone.”
Swarms of red-clad fans on the streets around the team’s Century City hotel have provided a constant reminder of the expectations. Not all the players see it as a bad thing.
“There are thousands of fans here,” quarterback Nate Hybl said. “You can feel it’s going to be electric. I’m expecting it to be crazy.”
Sooner defensive tackle Tommie Harris has heard all about the injury to Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser. He knows that Gesser suffered a severe high-ankle sprain against Washington late in the season. He knows that Gesser claims to be well short of 100% recovered.
Harris isn’t buying any of it.
“All of us are banged up,” he said. “I’m banged up too.”
The 6-foot-3, 280-pound sophomore has struggled with a groin injury and doesn’t expect to feel better until he gets an extended rest.
“It’s the last game of the season,” he said of Gesser. “I don’t believe he’s holding back.”
When Coach Bob Stoops played in the 1982 Rose Bowl as a defensive back for Iowa, he was struck by the picturesque view of the mountains from down on the field. So he told his players to look around and soak it all in during a team photograph session the other day.
Now he wants them to forget about it.
“We’re looking at 100 yards of turf,” he said. “Go out there and get at it.”
Coaching a program steeped in tradition, Stoops tries to ignore history and focus on the task at hand. But the way he sees it, the Sooners now have a chance to leave a mark on their first trip to the Granddaddy of Them All.
“Fifty or 75 years from now, they’re going to be talking about this game,” he told his team. “It’s our first time in the Rose Bowl, maybe our last. We want to make a good impression.”