Home field advantage is much, much more than 100,000-plus fans bearing down on you, screaming their heads off, and cursing the next three generations of your family. All of this because I happened to be on a team in the way of their own.
Fans (and the noise they make) can and do have a real effect on the game. It’s a huge part of it, but home field advantage is a different beast entirely. It’s about more than what happens between the first and final whistles.
Being on the road completely takes you out of your element. It’s the odd-hour flight to a hotel in an unfamiliar city. It’s the limited amount of resources and the lack of basic comforts you would have easy access to at home. Hotel conference rooms are now central command, and everything from meetings to game day walk-throughs are conducted in them.
And, if you’re a light sleeper like I am, it’s waking up up to 12 hours before kickoff and wondering how the hell you’re going to pass the time. As a chronic overthinker, I did anything to keep my own game off of my mind, even if it meant randomly wandering the halls of the team hotel.
And then there are the locker rooms. At one D1 school we visited, there were only three doorless stalls, the showers smelled of mold and there was standing water on the floor. The conditions in that locker room (which was probably built when the stadium was) were almost prison-like. Many visiting locker rooms weren’t much better.
Imagine glancing over and seeing coach Les Miles using the restroom with no door for privacy.
Home field advantage goes much deeper than the fans, but it wouldn’t be the same without them. In a hostile environment like the one the Sooners will be facing Saturday in Columbus against Ohio State, as many as five plays will be influenced by the crowd noise. In a game of inches, that could turn out to be the deciding factor.
When I think of milestone moments in my life, my wife and my kids share the top part of the totem pole.
But the next 10 experiences are football related. Whether it was travel, fan interaction, or something that happened in the game, these moments made me who I am.
Like OSU’s game against Texas A&M 12 days after after 9/11, 2001.
That was my most memorable experience in football. After such devastation, a sense of normalcy was needed. Fans, players, and coaches alike all stood united. Kyle Field was everybody’s field that day. The crowd noise was unreal — not that Aggie fans needed any extra motivation to be loud.
I’ll never forget the deafening roar of the 100,000+ in attendance that day after the national anthem.
It was literally impossible to communicate on the field. If you can’t even hear yourself talk, how are you supposed to point out blitzes or stunts?
That was a bigger than football moment for me regardless of the final result.
And then, in 2002, we beat the Nebraska Huskers for the first time since John F. Kennedy was sworn into office. That day, Cowboys fans mate it hell on the Huskers. It was a sloppy game by them, and no small part of that is on the fans.
After the game, as fans rushed the field, I met eyes with a gentleman who looked to be at least 70. He tearfully choked out a thank you, saying that this was the first time he’d seen OSU win over Nebraska since he’d held season tickets.
That kind of gratitude sticks with you.
And, of course, I’ve heard and seen plenty of venom from Sooner fans. In 2003, I remember a dad hoisting his child up so he could spit down on me as we waited to run out on the field. I wore a visor during my playing days, so all he got was a thumbs up from me. Coach Miles did his part to invite that.
In a weird way, I almost appreciate fans like that as much as my own fans.
Of course, I can’t ever forget the loyal ones — the ones that stayed after games for autographs, the ones who still wish me well and follow my career. They helped inform my story as much as my actions on the field did.
I think athletes take experiences like that for granted. The vast majority of people have no experience being cheered or jeered at that level — no other career compares. It’s truly an indescribable experience.
Fans at OSU during my time at the university grew, believed, and started great traditions. They helped create a foundation that’s still being built upon. That’s true home field advantage.
For the non-athletes out there, who question whether or not home field advantage exists? I’m here to tell emphatically that it does. Crowd noise is just part of it.