NORMAN- Last Wednesday when he received word that Oklahoma had to postpone their matchup with West Virginia, Brian Branch was somewhere between St. Louis and Indianapolis. Due to concerns with flying during the busy Thanksgiving week, Branch was going to drive to Morgantown from Oklahoma City for the first time. Instead, he had to backtrack to St. Louis Wednesday night before returning back home with no game to attend for the weekend.
“It was a 14 hour drive for nothing,” he said. “It’s not a problem, it’s just the way it is.”
For Branch, the 14 hour detour was just a small road bump on the way to achieving a bigger goal. He’s in the midst of a bigger journey- continuing his 33-year streak attending every single Oklahoma Sooners football game.
Branch, a retired golf pro from Guthrie, has attended 420 straight Oklahoma Sooners football games, dating back to 1987.
He is a lifeline Sooner fan, and has attended games at Oklahoma for as long as he can remember.
“I’ve been going to OU games since I was a baby,” he said. “My granddad took me to every game, and I can only remember missing one home game in my life.”
Meeting up and watching the games every Saturday was just what his family did every week, Branch said.
“We just went to every home game as a family. I’ve never thought twice about not going,” he said.
During the 1980’s, Branch said he held season tickets for both the Oklahoma Sooners and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. If the Sooners were on the road one Saturday and the Cowboys were at home, they would head to Stillwater and still get to take in a game.
As time went on, it became harder to hold both sets of season tickets, and for the same price they could just attend all of the Oklahoma road tilts as well, Branch said.
With the focus back solely on the Sooners, the end of an era on the field was the inspiration for Branch’s streak that has endured three decades.
Heading into the 1987 season, Branch said he had started to hear rumblings that Barry Switzer’s time in Norman could be drawing to a close. Once 1988 rolled around, the direction of the program was clear.
“When I knew it was going to be his last year I said ‘I want to go to every game this year’,” Branch said. “I wanted to see them all.”
Dating back to Oct. 24, 1987 when the Sooners beat the Colorado Buffaloes, Branch has extended his streak to include the end of the Switzer era, stretching through Gary Gibbs, Howard Schnellenberger, John Blake, Bob Stoops and finally Lincoln Riley.
“Everybody thought I was a nut, I had seen every [Howard] Schnellenberger game, every [John] Blake game and every Gibbs game,” he said.
But even through the dark ages of Sooner football, Branch recognized his streak had become something of a personal tenet.
“When the 200th game rolled around, at our tailgate party [my family] threw a surprise party for me,” Branch said. “They all pitched in and I got $200 worth of Hooters gift certificates and a bunch of other stuff.”
“That’s when it became less of a chore than a cause.”
Branch’s cause has taken him from coast to coast to follow his Sooners over the years.
Amongst his favorite road trips were victorious treks to Alabama and Tennessee, as well as many battles against the Nebraska Cornhuskers over the years.
“I miss Nebraska, that’s one of the most fun places to go,” Branch said. “They have the nicest people.”
Along the way, he’s come to know a small group of fans who make most of the away trips.
“I see the same people on the road everywhere,” he said. “It’s fun to see the same group of people over and over again. Everybody knows everybody.”
Branch said over the years, you settle into the same hotels, the same areas of the stadium, and the same post-game spots.
Travelling in a day or two before the game has mitigated the chances for too many close calls, but one game did sneak up on Branch- the 2000 National Championship against Florida State.
Before the season, low expectations set Branch up for an eventful New Years.
“We had planned on going to Mexico for Christmas and New Years because we really didn’t think OU was going to a bowl game that year because we had sucked for so long,” he said.
“We planned our longest trip down to Mexico and OU starts doing well. We had already paid for the tickets and they were non-refundable.”
“All of a sudden we’re going to play for a National Championship and it happened to be in the middle of our trip,” he said.
The solution? Simply fly to the game in the middle of their vacation.
Luckily, Branch had friends in Florida, so they bought tickets to fly into Ft. Lauderdale the night before the title game, and flew back to Mexico the morning after.
“We mailed our clothes and stuff for the game down to our friends in Florida.”
Even though life has changed for everyone over the past nine months, Branch wasn’t going to let the pandemic end his streak.
“What I was worried about was that they wouldn’t let any fans into the games,” he said. “So I thought I could just stick my foot in the fence and take a picture of my foot inside the stadium and say ‘well that counts, I was there!’”
Branch said if the entire season was played behind closed doors, he would have traveled to all of the road games as well- but luckily he’s been able to attend each game this season inside the stadiums.
After the Sooners face the Baylor Bears, he’ll be headed back toward Morgantown, this time by plane.
After 33 years, Branch said he’s still motivated to extend his streak.
“Someone told me I need to set a goal, so I just set it at 500,” he said.
“I’m going to all of them. It’s just a cause, I’m going to 500.”