STILLWATER/NORMAN — It was indiscernible when fear turned to elation. I don’t know exactly when panic became relief.
It was probably sometime in the third quarter Saturday night, well before the end of Oklahoma’s 56-3 victory over Kansas, that I looked up, nodded my head and said, “You got this.”
Until that moment, whenever it was, I had my doubts whether I could pull off covering two college football games in one day.
I’m not even sure where the idea came from.
All week, my friends and co-workers had asked which game I was covering this week, Oklahoma State’s home game against No. 10-ranked West Virginia, or 16th-ranked OU’s home game against KU?
Seems easy enough, right? Mike Gundy’s Cowboys faced a monumental challenge against the upstart undefeated Mountaineers. Winning this game would be OSU’s best win since Bedlam 2014. Gotta cover that one, right?
But I couldn’t avert my eyes from the defensive train wreck at OU. Following the Sooners’ 66-59 victory at Texas Tech, during which the Red Raiders made the Oklahoma defense look historically bad, and after I had asked Bob Stoops 14 questions during his Monday press conference, I absolutely had to see the Sooners’ next game for myself, right?
Thanks to the Big 12 schedule makers and the television networks — OSU kicked at 11 a.m., OU at 6 p.m. — I had an opportunity to be in two places at once. If I hustled. And if there were no traffic snarls or weather delays or homecoming parking snafus.
So for the first time in my 30-year career, I covered two college football games in one day.
And it was absolutely glorious.
I’ve actually done something similarly insane before.
On Dec. 12, 1999, when I was covering the NFL beat for the Tulsa World — that was, at the time, the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs — I took advantage of the schedule to pull off the rare NFL doubleheader: a noon kickoff in Dallas (a 20-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles) and a 7 p.m. kickoff in Kansas City (a 31-28 victory over the Minnesota Vikings).
That doubleheader was a little more involved and a bit riskier because it included two game day cab rides and a jet airplane. But I did it, although I had to leave Chan Gailey’s postgame press conference at Texas Stadium a little early and I missed about the first 10 minutes of Gunther Cunningham’s game at Arrowhead Stadium.
Saturday, I stayed for all of Mike Gundy’s postgame presser and still took my seat in the OU press box before kickoff.
Didn’t miss one play.
Here’s my account of a crazy day.
7 a.m.: Time to wake up. This is a normal time for most folks, but for a night owl like me, 7 a.m. is unnatural, made more so by having stayed up until 2:15 a.m. on Friday night watching the Oklahoma City Thunder (the wife had to work late, so we DVR’d the game and watched it together).
8:30 a.m.: Pulled out of the driveway. It took a bit longer to get my act together because I had to dress for an early morning (59 degrees), an Indian summer afternoon (90 degrees on the Boone Pickens Stadium turf) and a late night (69 degrees when I left Norman).
8:55 a.m.: Panic sets in (or maybe it was the second coffee) just 10 minutes west of downtown Tulsa on S.H. 51 as the highway is narrowed to one westbound lane. Construction is an enemy I hadn’t anticipated. Traffic is backed up for almost a mile. I knew it was too good to be true. But then, like soap down a drain, the tangle just dissolves and we swirl right through.
9:40 a.m.: After a quick and trouble-free drive, southbound traffic into Stillwater hits a standstill on Washington Street. It’s backed up almost a mile north of Lakeview Road. Well, the right lane is backed up. So in a humanitarian effort to keep traffic moving and avoid adding to the congestion, I slide into the left lane and make it all the way up to Lakeview without slowing down. Just a quick jog to the right when the light changes and I’m on my way.
10:02 a.m.: It’s homecoming in Stillwater, one year after the homecoming parade tragedy, and it’s expected to be one of the largest crowds of all time. In addition to the almost 60,000 that will attend the game, it’s said that another 20,000 come just for homecoming. But after just 20 minutes in town, my car is parked in the media garage. Feeling lucky.
10:20 a.m.: After a 10-minute walk, I sit down for a pregame radio/TV hit with The Franchise’s Colby Powell and Donovan Woods outside The Garage on Knobloch and Elm. My Further Review co-host, Lauren Rew, is there but has to head across the street to Eskimo Joe’s for her in-game Coaches Cabana gig with Pat Jones.
10:52 a.m.: After Colby, Donovan and I have dissected every aspect of the OSU-WVU matchup as well as the Big 12 Conference and even some chatter about the OU defense, I’m off to the stadium. Overhead, the pregame flyover — four fighter jets — shakes the still bustling pregame parking lot and stirs a round of applause.
11 a.m.: OSU’s pregame meal for morning games is usually terrific — bacon and eggs, sausage, potatoes — but when I walk in, it’s all gone. It dawns on me that I forgot to eat breakfast. On the press box TVs, Lee Corso is making his headgear pick. The food may be gone, but the bathroom is open (it wasn’t last time) and the bottled water is cold.
11:10 a.m.: Mike Molina’s 36-yard field goal gives West Virginia a 3-0 lead. The Mountaineers, a 3 ½-point favorite, are off to a quick start.
11:20 a.m.: Ben Grogan’s 32-yard field goal ties it at 3-3. Looks like we’re in for a game. During the TV timeout, the American Football Coaches Association’s decision two weeks ago to retroactively award OSU the 1945 national championship is recognized on the field as Queen’s “We are the champions” is played. OSU fans cheer.
11:41 a.m.: Shortly after Grogan’s second field goal puts OSU up 6-3, an OSU media relations student assistant kills a deadly press box wasp with a fly swatter. He stomps the aerial assassin just to be sure. Sportswriters cheer.
11:51 a.m.: We are finally treated to the day’s first touchdown, a bold (or was it inaccurate?) throw from WVU quarterback Skyler Howard to Shelton Gibson, who beat safety Kenneth Edison-McGruder to get wide open, but still has to extend for the ball and drag his feet in the corner of the end zone. Nice play.
12:03 p.m.: OSU, wearing 1980-83 throwback uniforms — matte black helmets with a small “oSu” logo, orange jerseys and white pants — gets the first turnover of the day when Vincent Taylor chases Howard out of the pocket and, when Howard holds onto the ball too long, knocks it loose with his throwback helmet. Cole Walterscheid scoops it up, and two plays later, Mason Rudolph’s throw to Chris Lacy gives the Cowboys a 13-10 lead.
12:31 p.m.: Rudolph completes all four of his third-down throws on OSU’s next scoring drive, including a 3-yard hitch pass to Jalen McCleskey, to give the Cowboys a 20-10 lead with just 15 seconds before halftime.
12:40 p.m.: With Halloween two days away, the OSU marching band plays Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” They even line up from sideline to sideline to form a slow-moving, moon-walking giant (presumably it’s The King of Pop himself), before shifting around to spell out “Happy Halloween.”
1:31 p.m.: Three minutes after left tackle Victor Salako steps out of his shoe and Rudolph is sacked deep in OSU territory, Ramon Richards gets things rolling for the Cowboys when he plucks a WVU pass out of the air — Howard’s throw downfield was behind Ka’Raun White, and the ball deflected off White’s hands to Richards — and returns it 59 yards to the West Virginia 9-yard line. Three plays later, Rudolph keeps it himself from two yards out to give the Cowboys a 27-10 lead with just 2:08 to play in the third quarter.
2:12 p.m.: After Rudolph’s second TD throw to Lacy gives the Cowboys a 34-20 lead with just 5:15 to go, I’ve left the press box and headed to the field.
2:15 p.m.: Just as I’m on the concourse between BPS and GIA — out of view of the field — a roar from the crowd goes up. Kevin Henry has intercepted Howard, and the Cowboys are set up at the WVU 6-yard line. Grogan’s 22-yard field goal makes it 37-20 with just 1:39 left.
2:28 p.m.: The final gun sounds on Mike Gundy’s 100th career coaching victory. He is doused with Gatorade, dons a fireman’s hat and gets a big hug from his oldest son.
2:31 p.m.: After singing the alma mater with fans, OSU players bounce through the tunnel into the locker room. After catching six passes for 117 yards, James Washington shows his 40-inch vertical to high-five a couple of fans. Linebacker Chad Whitener concludes his 13-tackle performance by shouting “Easy money!” The party will linger, too. After all the players are in, the day’s recruits follow. One OSU staffer said there were 125 recruits on the list (about 20 or so on officials), though it was hard to know how many showed up. “We had a big day,” the staffer said with a big smile. “A really big day.”
2:36 p.m.: In the locker room, away from prying media eyes but caught on camera, players chant “Gundy! Gundy! Gundy!” as Gundy does another one of his goofy postgame dances. Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer gives Gundy a game ball. “He deserves it so much,” Spencer tells me.
2:56 p.m.: I step away from Gundy’s postgame press conference to get a few minutes alone in the hall with Spencer. Knowing I have to leave early, Spencer kindly accommodates, talking about how his defense took this week — and all the talk about how great WVU’s defense was — personally. Spencer politely declines to shake my hand however. Said he’s come down with some kind of bug, was up all night and spent parts of the game between defensive series with his head down on his desk. A tip from one of those West Virginia moonshine jugs would probably cure him, but it seems the Mountaineers aren’t sharing.
3:12 p.m.: Interviews are done. Time to go. The Sooners kick off in just over three hours. This should be no problem. Google Maps says it’s a 92-minute drive to my designated lot in Norman. But I’m naturally nervous. Google Maps isn’t trying to leave Stillwater on Homecoming Saturday, or arrive in Norman on Homecoming Saturday.
3:20 p.m.: My worst fears are realized. Trying to leave the parking garage, I’m funneled into a right-turn-only lane. The right turn puts me northbound on Monroe Street (I needed to go south) where traffic is absolutely frozen. I sit patiently for almost 10 minutes, but we don’t move an inch. Not one inch. This is atrocious traffic management, and pretty unforgiveable. Did somebody forget America’s Biggest Homecoming was coming to town? So I execute a three-point u-turn, probably illegal, but the traffic officer waves me past to Hall of Fame Boulevard. Thanks buddy.
3:33 p.m.: I’m nervous now mostly because, after 30 years as a sportswriter, it dawns on me that I’ve never really been in postgame traffic. I’m always getting interviews and stuck in the press box writing about the game. But I’m thankful. Slowdowns are minimal, and I’ve reached Sixth Street westbound. I can only hope there are no traffic snarls on Highway 51 or Interstate 35.
3:34 p.m.: I remember that my radio hit for The Franchise OU pregame show on Campus Corner is scheduled for 5:20. I’m past the panic stage at this point, but it looks like this one will be by telephone.
3:46 p.m.: I’m encouraged that I’m now southbound on I-35. Come on folks, let’s all drive safe. And fast.
4:25 p.m.: After an uneventful 40 minutes on the interstate, I exit to get on my super secret back door into Norman. Sorry, can’t tell you where it is. These things are sort of like secret fishing holes.
4:51 p.m.: As usual on this route, my path to the stadium is free flowing. Traffic is at a minimum. I finally hit stadium traffic at Morren Street, six-tenths of a mile from my turn. But, just over an hour until kickoff, it’s not bad at all. I’m suddenly hopeful.
4:56 p.m.: Wow. I’ve successfully parked in the Sarkeys Energy Center lot just off Boyd, and I still have time to make a stop on Campus Corner for a bottle of water and a restroom break. Also, a new idea: instead of walking up Asp Avenue to the Franchise pregame tailgate party right into the heart of the Campus Corner crowd (it’s like a salmon swimming upstream, or the final Saturday on the midway at the state fair), I sneak through the alley. Man that’s fast.
4:59 p.m.: What the heck is OU president David Boren doing on a golf cart just outside Campus Corner? Shouldn’t he be sweet-talking some millionaire in the president’s box?
5:20 p.m.: Franchise contributor Bob Przybylo finishes with Colby Daniels and Sam Mayes as I settle onto the stage for the final segment of the pregame tailgate show. We talk about the need for OU to show any measure of improvement on defense and staying healthy for the short week against Iowa State, about the state of the Big 12 and about Mike Gundy’s 100th victory.
5:33 p.m.: OU announces on its Twitter feed that seven players (including six potential starters) are out tonight: Jarvis Baxter, Parrish Cobb, Matt Dimon, Obo Okoronkwo, Samaje Perine, Matt Romar and Charles Walker, and also that backup defensive end Armani Bledsoe is out with an indefinite suspension. Colby, Sam and I discuss.
5:55 p.m.: Colby, Sam and I leave the tailgate party, which is pretty much deserted except for a lady carrying two rats. “They’re the smallest Sooner fans,” she cackles at us. I want to stay and ask about a thousand follow-up questions, but, you know, the game and all.
5:59 p.m.: The clock tower at the OU student union starts chiming six bells as I’m walking up Asp toward the stadium. I’m just now getting on campus, and I figure I’ll miss kickoff for sure. Then, I see a good sign: another military flyover, this one with vintage aircraft. I made an 11 a.m. kickoff in Stillwater under the watchful eye of the United States Air Force, I can make the 6 p.m. kickoff in Norman, too.
6:02 p.m.: A man is selling T-shirts — probably not officially licensed by the university, I’m guessing — that say, “B**** I’M A SOONER”. A fan behind me laughs at the shirt and replies with, “Go Mountaineers!” Huh? Guess I’m not the only one who made this crazy doubleheader.
6:04 p.m.: I’m on the stadium grounds now. I can hear the starting lineups being announced. Redshirt freshman Ricky DeBerry is starting. How long will it take to get through security?
6:06 p.m.: Security is a breeze. But the press box elevator is always a crapshoot. Today, thankfully, it’s fast. The doors open and there are OU media relations guys Mike Houck, Ben Coldagelli and the newest member of The Franchise family himself, former Sooner center Ty Darlington.
6:07 p.m.: I’m standing over my seat in the press box, somewhat out of breath, as referee Brandon Cruse calls the pregame coin toss. I made it. Just time for another bottle of water and another bathroom break.
6:31 p.m.: After a sluggish start, Oklahoma gets going when Dede Westbrook returns a punt 71 yards to the south end zone. Man, that guy can fly. It’s his 10th touchdown in the month of October.
6:49 p.m.: Westbrook takes another return to the house, this one 100 yards on a kickoff following a Kansas field goal. But there was an unnecessary illegal block penalty, and Westbrook’s greatness is nullified. Which stinks. How often do you get to see a game where one guy runs back both a punt and a kickoff for TDs?
6:53 p.m.: According to the bank of TV screens behind me, Texas somehow has beaten Baylor.
7:01 p.m.: The entire OU medical staff is checking out running back Joe Mixon. He got dinged a few plays back.
7:17 p.m.: Westbrook shows his elite speed again, this time catching up to an overthrown pass from Baker Mayfield in the back of the end zone for his 11th TD this month (this one from 41 yards out). That’s more than some FBS teams have scored this entire season. It’s his 12th of the season, and nine of the 12 have been 40 yards or more.
7:19 p.m.: Sooner sideline reporter Chris Plank introduces former OU quarterback Nate Hybl on the video board. The crowd goes mild. OK, I’m kidding, the crowd gives Hybl a nice ovation.
8:21 p.m.: Up 28-3 at halftime behind two more TD throws from Baker Mayfield (to Mark Andrews and Dimitri Flowers), Mayfield opens the third quarter by escaping pressure and dumping a short throw to Mixon, who’s apparently fine. It’s third-and-15, so the Sooners were just trying to get some positive yards, but Mixon busts free for a 13-yard pickup to the KU 43. Bob Stoops sends out the punt team, but then calls timeout. He later says offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley “talked me into” going for it. Riley later says he only guaranteed Stoops a first down. Mayfield throws a quick hitch to Westbrook for a 7-yard gain. It may ultimately prove to be the most important play of the season. OK, not really.
8:22 p.m.: Westbrook takes a 35-yard catch and run to the KU 1-yard line, where Mixon powers in for the touchdown and a 35-3 lead. The happiest guy in the stadium, though, is Sooner fan Cody Edwards, who had entered a restaurant promotion to win free chicken for a year if OU scores a TD on the opening drive of the third quarter. Hopefully Edwards invites Riley out to dinner to reward the coach’s guarantee.
8:54 p.m.: The Sooners push it to 56-3 when walk-on running back Devon Montgomery plows into the end zone. Three times among the press box denizens, the word “who?” goes up. We’re not being mean. We’re just a little ignorant sometimes.
9:37 p.m.: Mercifully, this thing has ended. Sooners win 56-3 to improve to 4-0 in Big 12 Conference play. Much harder games lie ahead.
11:42 p.m.: Pressed with postgame interviews and finishing up two game columns for The Franchise website, I’ve lost track of time. The last story is posted, I’ve Twittered and Facebooked, and I’m the last one out of the interview room. On my way to the car, I snap a photo of the east side exterior of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. It’s stunningly beautiful at night.
12:01 a.m.: Hey, it’s Sunday. Officially my birthday. Back at the car, I catch up on a few more tweets. Then I see the Tulsa football Twitter feed has posted video highlights of TU’s 59-30 victory at Memphis. So before backing out, I watch the 4-minute video. James Flanders (249 rushing yards, five touchdowns) is a beast.
12:06 a.m.: How lucky is this? My choosing to sit in the parking lot for five more minutes to watch a football video allowed me to lend a hand to three stranded colleagues. Freelancer Justin Hite and Oklahoman writers Brooke Pryor and Ryan Aber were in a rental car with a dead battery (Aber just drove back from Chicago, where he watched Game 4 of the World Series and apparently left the lights on). They asked if I had jumper cables, and of course, I do. I wasn’t a Boy Scout, but I always wanted to be.
12:40 a.m.: Time for a stop at OnCue Express on Sooner Road. They’re not Quick Trip, but they’re a tremendous copy. Really. I swear by QT. But OnCue Express has essentially cloned the QT model. Again, there are subtle differences, just like a clone, but you appreciate the nuances. Like, really good coffee at almost 1 in the morning ahead of a two-hour drive.
12:47 a.m.: For the first time in 17 hours, my shoes are off. At this, I’m thankful I made this trip solo.
2:23 a.m.: I’m in the driveway. Home at last. Total miles driven: 314. Total time worked: 17 hours, 53 minutes. My journey has ended, and sleep beckons. My teenager, however, is awake and wants me to watch
him play video games. My dog is jumping around and wants to play tug-o-war. I oblige both, before dreaming of kickoffs and radio and paragraphs and highway markers.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.