For those of you that have either been living under a rock in the state of Oklahoma or haven't been perusing the local sports pages or message boards in the past week, let me update you on a controversy that has been brewing in the Oklahoma football program for most of the last decade and seems to be coming to a head in the days leading up to the Saturday afternoon contest with Air Force. No, it doesn't involve a former Sooner giving his Heisman trophy back, forfeited games, coaches bolting, or probation (wow, I just unintentionally burned USC on all fronts...just kidding, it was intentional), and it doesn't even have anything to do with the action taking place on the field either. This controversy takes place before the coin toss. The Star Spangled Banner. Yes the Star Spangled Banner, the red white and blue event that takes place to honor America and the flag all across the country before the beginning of each game is causing a great divide in the Sooner Nation that packs Memorial Stadium each fall Saturday. Apparently the fans in attendance are in agreement with all of Francis Scott Key's lyrics minus the last one. As the song reaches its dramatic ending of 'O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave' a steadily declining (but still majority) number of OU fans shout 'Sooners!' instead of 'Brave!', ruffling feathers of disrespect in some fans while a president and athletic director scramble to find a solution to the problem. On the surface it would appear that the fans objecting to this have a valid point and anyone thinking otherwise should possibly be questioned for terroristic activities. It's a sensitive issue, granted, but if everyone would put down their apple pie, hot dog, and/or take off their Harley Davidson sunglasses for just a minute, take a deep breath, and look closer at what's going on here, you might just change your opinion.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the tradition started. I was lucky enough to be in attendance for Bob Stoops first game in 1999 against Indiana State, and I don't recall it happening then. I returned in 2000 for games against Kansas, and Nebraska and seem to remember it happening, but the memory is a little fuzzy because I was too preoccupied with another tradition gaining traction when someone would yell 'who let the Sooners out??? O-O-OU!' (why didn't someone get offended when this was happening? and whatever happened to/what is wrong with the good old fashioned Sooner Stomp? I enjoyed that one, of course I was 8...let's move on). I returned in 2001 for Bedlam and unfortunately remember everything about that game to include 'home of the Sooners!' and trying to protect my orange clad friend out of the stadium after the first of Stoops two losses in Norman. I literally found nothing wrong with it(other than the loss of course) and actually found a great deal of pride in it. If you're a Sooner fan, and I MEAN a Sooner fan, you eat sleep breathe Sooner football, grew up on it, changes your day, your entire week depending on what happens on that field on Saturday, then you know what I'm talking about. The feeling you get inside that stadium can be indescribable. Emotions run high. You've waited the entire week, the entire year,for the beloved Sooners to take the field. From the flags flying high over the stadium, to the special video intros from past Sooners and coaches, to the kickoff, it's an amazing feeling. The feeling doesn't just last for the game. In general, Oklahomans take a great deal of pride in their state and country. I'm not saying everyone does, but growing up and living here for most of my life...well they've done studies, and my theory on this? 60% of the time, it works all the time.(Sidenote: 'Anchorman' quotes can be used in almost any argument to make a point) So, during the Star Spangled Banner it's a natural Oklahoma human emotion to associate the two together. It's not a blast to America or the flag, far from it. If it's anything, it's a TRIBUTE to the flag AND the Sooners. Right or wrong when those Sooners step on the field it's for America! For those three plus hours, OU is battling for the University and the United States! This may sound like nonsense to you, and if it does, then I'll be the one to kindly ask you to step off the bandwagon and quit telling me 'I cheer for OU and OSU until they play each other.' Sure buddy. So how did we get to the point in 2001 when the rumblings about it were low to non existent, to days before a game against the Air Force and it's a touchy subject? I think I may have the answer...
I realize that I've made a case for why Sooner fans do it, and haven't delved into the other side other than to dismiss it. In fact, some of you may be wondering who am I to make a correlation between Sooner football and protecting America. For one, take it with a grain of salt, and realize I, and fans of OU can actually differentiate between a game and people sacrificing their lives for freedom. I think I can safely make this claim because I served my country in the Air Force for four years from 2006-2010. I'm not so full of myself to make a claim that because I can deal with it, then any other member of the military, present or past, should deal too. In fact, they can have any opinion they want on the subject, and more than likely I won't have a problem with it. They deserve that. I just happen to think that is not where the problem lies but more with society in general.
I grew up in a sports world where every game, every stat was analyzed from the time I was in first grade. Walking off a field or court, you knew whether you won or lost. In today's sports world, EVERYBODY WINS!! Kids go out and play early on for four quarters and get praise heaped upon them without any won-loss record kept, or regards to how to get better(and maybe not make the same mistakes) for the next weeks contest/non-contest. In other words, to borrow from George Carlin (and edited for content), its the 'kittycat-ification' of America. I think the reason for the low rumblings in 2001 to the loud roar in 2010 comes directly from that. It reminds me of Mike Lupica on the Sports Reporters the Sunday following OU's 2003 spanking of Texas A&M 77-0 saying Bob Stoops and the Sooners ran up the score, and that it was terrible what they did. Come to find out, he hadn't even watched the game nor saw the kneeling on the ball on fourth down, or the four straight fullback up the middle plays Stoops troops made late in the fourth to keep it out of the 80's. I'm not saying the 'home of the brave' backers aren't in the stadium when they get the feeling of disrespect, but the general feeling these people get from society that 'something is wrong' or 'your being wronged and need to stand up and fight it' from people and media that largely have no idea what they are talking about is crap. A defense may be made that the people didn't have a large voice but still felt the same way from the start. It's crap.
In the end it just makes me laugh. It resembles the outcry of free speech for the people looking to build the mosque in New York City around the 9/11 site. Most didn't pay much attention to the people making the point that it's also free speech to object. I'm not trying to get into a Christian/Muslim debate, but what I am saying is that the people in the stadium shouting 'Sooners!' are exercising that right...and more than likely, for another fall Saturday, making America and the Sooners one.