MIAMI, Fla. — When the music started, Marquise Brown couldn’t help himself.
Ankle injury or no ankle injury, Oklahoma’s fleet-footed wide receiver was going to dance.
But that was at practice on Thursday at Nova Southeastern University, the dingy white bubble in which the Miami Dolphins work out.
The Sooners’ most dangerous passing target figures to play on Saturday when No. 4-ranked OU takes on No. 1 Alabama in the Orange Bowl. Hard Rock Stadium will be pulsing with football fury, and there will be fireworks in the sky and on the grass, and there will be noise and bands — and plenty of music.
The question fans want answered is unknowable until they see for themselves in the College Football Playoff semifinal: will “Hollywood” Brown be dancing on Saturday night—past the Crimson Tide defenders, through the ‘Bama secondary and, ultimately, in the end zone?
“It’s a game-time decision,” Brown told The Franchise on Thursday before practice.
Thursday was Orange Bowl Media Day, and Hard Rock Stadium’s second floor club level was a tangled mess of humanity: first the Alabama players and coaches for 45 minutes, then the Oklahoma squadron for 45 minutes, all mingled with hundreds of media panning for a quote, a sound bite, a storyline.
“It’s getting better,” Brown said during the big scrum. “I’m doing the best I can, treatment and everything. I’m just trying to get it as close to 100 percent as I can by Saturday.”
For his part, Brown was all smiles, showing off his new chrome grill for anyone who wanted to pop a picture. And why not? He was 5-10 miles from where he grew up, Hollywood, Florida, and was proud to be showing off his old stomping grounds to teammates.
“It’s been fun,” said fullback Jeremiah Hall. “I went with him and he showed me a lot of stuff I haven’t got to see out here in Miami. This is his place. We’re good friends. He took me out to eat to a real fresh restaurant. I had some good food.”
“Steak,” Hall said. “He told me to get the steak. I’m normally not a big fan of steaks, but I got it.”
“He was joking with us after practice on Christmas, ‘Hey, everybody needs to come to my Aunt’s house for Christmas dinner, we’re going to show you how to really throw down,’ ” said receivers coach Dennis Simmons. “So I don’t know if all of them went or not but I thought that was pretty cool of him to even extend the invitation to invite those guys over. Marquise is a very quiet kid.”
“Hollywood” was shining like the nickname bestowed on him by Fox Sports announcer Gus Johnson — a reflection of his hometown, yes, but also a nod to the flash with which Brown plays.
“You want to put on for your city, you want to put on for your section,” said OU linebacker Curtis Bolton. “So just having the nickname as your hometown, that’s really cool. I mean, just when people speak of you, they have to know about the city, and now people are realizing that — I know a lot more people know about Hollywood, Florida, now than they did 5-6 months ago, so that’s great.”
When the media day wave finally subsided, Brown and his teammates hopped a bus caravan and headed to nearby Davie, Florida, where they practiced out of the brief drizzle.
And when the in-practice soundtrack started thumping, Brown started jumping. In between mild jogging and pass-catching, while waiting his turn, he would dance, as if to show the world that his ankle (and his rhythm) are just fine.
Almost 15 minutes into the practice, however, Brown sat down, took off his left shoe and began adjusting the tape job that protected the foot and ankle he injured a month ago against Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. It wasn’t anything serious, but it illustrated clearly that while he may be healthy enough to give it a go against Alabama, he’s not 100 percent comfortable.
“If I’m breathing,” Brown said, “I’m playing.”
More videos from Orange Bowl Media Day:
The Sooners were supposed to practice at Brown’s high school on Thursday, Chaminade-Madonna. They retired his jersey last fall, but he couldn’t make it. They tried to video chat with him to bring him in the ceremony, but he declined the call because he wanted it to be more special. He said he was going to see the commemorative sign later Thursday.
Brown said he doesn’t get home much, but when he does, it’s all about family — and not that much football.
One of Brown’s old youth league coaches, Coach Coco, once nicknamed him “Jet Fuel.”
When you’re this fast, you apparently get a lot of cool nicknames.
“It’s a lot of excitement,” Brown said. “I was happy to get to play back here. Right around the corner — my friends, my house, and just for everybody getting to see me live. Nobody has really seen me play down here in person in a while.”
OU coach Lincoln Riley said Brown has been motivated to get back on the field. But doing it in front of your home crowd?
“I don’t know if it’s added anything extra,” Riley said. “I mean, he was going to rehab and push as hard as he could anyway to be in this game, whether it was played here or on the moon. I mean, it’s — I think he’s excited about playing at home, but I don’t know that it’s had a big factor on his rehab or his approach to it. I think he’s motivated for this team and wants to help us win a championship.”
In addition to his new chrome grill, he also sported a gold “HOLLY5WOOD” chain around his neck, a tribute to his hometown and his jersey number.
Silver and gold are what Brown’s two seasons at OU were made of. After attending College of the Canyons, he burst onto the Division I scene last year with 57 receptions for 1,095 yards and seven touchdowns. This year, he caught 75 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns — and counting.
“He’s been a dynamic part of their offense,” said Alabama co-defensive coordinator Pete Golding. “So obviously you’ve got to have the plan for him.
“Right now, we’re planning that he’s going to play.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.