West Virginia Mountaineers vs Oklahoma Sooners (#4), Sat, 9/25/2021, 6:45pm
Score: Oklahoma 16 – West Virginia 13; Attendance: 84,353
Weather: Sunny / Clear, 86; Ticket: $36 StubHub, Face $90; Parking: $117
Review: “Lessons Learned” by Tree
The University of Oklahoma is in Norman, Oklahoma. Our general assessment of Norman is that it’s not much to look at. However, it is only about thirty minutes from Oklahoma City. It isn’t exactly a convenient location to get to but not impossible either. We made the six hour drive up from Houston. However, the trip was worth it. We stayed downtown Saturday night in Oklahoma City and were impressed with Bricktown along with canal and river trails. Unfortunately, the game was late enough that we really didn’t get to enjoy the nightlife. However, our Sunday morning walks/run were fantastic.
Oklahoma is one of those schools that does the tailgating on campus and it is free. The bad thing is that it is first come, first served. It is a scenario that works well if you are on campus the day before, not so much if you are driving in on Saturday. Accordingly, I pre-bought a parking pass for what looked to be one of the better lots for tailgating. Now, I knew that it wouldn’t be in a prime spot, but I needed to ensure we had a spot for the grill, tent, etc. What I didn’t realize was that our lot would be barren. There were about three or four others tailgating with us. Adding salt to the wound was that when I talked to campus tailgaters, they had only arrived on Saturday morning. With that knowledge, I recognized that I would have done things a lot more differently. Next time, we’ll come in Friday night, hang out in Oklahoma City and then head over to Norman to grab a primo spot. By the way, the folks tailgating in Sooner nation couldn’t have been nicer. Everyone I talked to offered me beer and food. I would say they are top tier when it comes to friendliness. The same could be said for the fans in the stands.
The Sooners play in Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The stadium is almost as big as its name, with a mix of old and new features. The lower tier is very old school, heavy brick and trough toilets. The second tier outside had video scoreboards on each end zone, with video ribbon around it. True to the stadiums old school roots our end zone bench seats were snug. We were packed in like sardines. The price was right at $36. It was a bit surprising that the tickets were that cheap and plentiful. Based on ticket availability, we thought the stadium would be a bit empty but it was nearly full by kickoff. It may just be a sign of the times with the ticket e-market allowing for very easy late buying. I would expect tickets will be more difficult, when they switch to the SEC whose fans will travel better. We got to the stadium early as per the instruction of some the tailgaters. Among the pregame traditions are a five plane flyover, entrance of the boomer schooner and the fans singing the alma mater accompanied by the band. There was an ironic entrance with all the colors of the Big 12 Conference. I know this; they are going to need to get some new flags.
The Sooner fans capitalize heavily on the “O” from Oklahoma in various cheers. They also do the cross-stadium cheer of “Sooner” and “Boomer” although end zone fans were admittedly confused as to their role in the whole process. The rough riders of OU would shoot guns off every time they Sooners scored. It took me until late in the third quarter before I got used to that. The band was very strong and played a lot of music to fire up the fans. My better than hearing some recorded riff from an ’80s hair band. The concessions seemed fairly standard although everyone was buying something long on a stick but I couldn’t quite identify. What I could clearly identify was that they sold me the prior week’s souvenir cup. That was very disappointing. They were selling beer, a lot of beer. The fashion style at OU is probably what I would characterize as BIG 12 Cowboy Casual. The women sported lots of skirts and cowboy boots. The men were either golf shirts or Sooner t-shirts.
West Virginia came in as an unranked, 17 point underdog to Oklahoma. We were just hoping they could keep it close. They opened up with a convincing drive, highlighted by a number of inside slant and post patterns to extend the drive. It was an impressive start for Mountaineers. It also gobbled up nearly seven minutes of the first quarter. The Sooners answered in a quick fashion, scoring a mere three minutes later. The highlight of the drive was a gutsy fourth down and four call by OU’s coach, Lincoln Riley. Riley appears to be on thin ice at OU, with the fans actually jeering him at one point. The remainder of the first half was an ugly mix of punts and a couple of interceptions. WVU managed to string together a late drive and took the lead into the half with a field goal. The OU QB, Spencer Rattler, looked rattled most of the first half, with the fans griping about the off the field money he was making as if he was mailing it in. It really wasn’t fair as he was running for his life for most of the game. WVU’s quarterback, on the other hand, had all day to throw most of the time.
The second half continued much like a cabaret, with a lot kicking – some field goals but mostly punts. It was amazing that Oklahoma made no halftime adjustment to address the slants and over the middle passing of WVU. It was about the only the thing the Mountaineers could do to move the ball, but OU just couldn’t stop it. WVU got the ball with about eight minutes to go in the game and commenced a slow methodical drive down the field. It looked like they were going kick the winning field goal until a bad snap put them out of field goal range and ended their drive. It left OU with about three minutes and 92 yards to go. This drive brought the best out of Rattler. He had pinpoint passes and confidently drove the Sooners down the field. As the time expired, they kicked a short field goal for the win. The OU fans let out a big sigh of relief rather than cheers of joy. They knew there’s a lot of work to be done before the Sooners look the number four ranking they currently carried. As for WVU, it had to be a bitter pill between an early 2nd and goal from the one opportunity that deteriorated into a field goal and the botched final drive. It was a game they should have won.
This trip was not without its logistic challenges. I bought the parking pass on StubHub, which other than craigslist is often the only way to get them if you are visitor. They also tend to be expensive, but that’s just the way it is. So this was an email pass and the Stubhub site said it would be available on the Friday electronically a day before the game. I actually got an email that said the pass had been released a week early, but when I couldn’t immediately find the email I didn’t worry. I mean I had pulled up electronic tickets minutes before kickoff. So, late Friday I finally located the email, went to the OU ticket site only to find the pass was no longer accessible. Amazingly, or frighteningly, I was able to not only identify the seller, but their cell number with a google search in about a minute. That was useful because I was on hold with StubHub for about an hour. In the end, thanks to all involved, I did get the pass downloaded a couple of hours later. Special kudos to the OU ticket office which was closed when this mess started on Friday for actually emailing me on Saturday morning to confirm it all worked out.
One thing that did not work was a “Light up the night” bit where everyone held up their cell phones with their flashlights on. It was uninspiring for sure. Much the same could be said for most of the early experience in Norman. It wasn’t bad, but I had higher expectations. There’s no doubt that OU has an impressive history with six national championships and a Heisman corner for all their trophy winners. It is hard to argue with the program’s success. The tide began to turn when I walked around to some of the more established tailgating spots. The folks were friendly, and it was clear that we probably could have gotten a spot for free on Saturday morning. The game, if sloppy, was still entertaining. The stadium is nice enough with loud fans participating in a tradition rich environment. However, what sealed the deal for me was the downtown of Oklahoma City. It is just far enough to avoid huge hotel markups and the combination of bars, restaurants and public space was impressive. It was effective enough that I would go back to OU for a game. Next time, though, it is Friday night in Oklahoma City, with tailgating spot secured on Saturday morning. My guess is I will be back.