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Sugar Bowl Review
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Oklahoma went into the Superdome and made believers out of a lot of folks who gave the Sooners no chance
NEW ORLEANS — They were polite and friendly, almost to a person, that crazy drunk Bama lady who went all flying ninja kicks at the game excepted. Just like we expected them to be, they were polite and friendly and said sportsmanlike things, wishing us luck, saying how they respected our team and expected a close, hard-fought game. All the things that nobody said or even thought the last time OU came to New Orleans.
And they weren't just saying those things just to be polite, at least not on purpose. But they didn’t really believe it.
No, the Bama fans, whatever came out of their mouths, didn’t believe Alabama could lose or come close to losing to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Just like the TV talking heads and the writers. They didn’t believe it would be close or hard-fought or a good game. Not really. They didn’t expect it any more than your average LSU fan expected to wake up sober the last time we were here, or any day since.
And if a lot of Sooner fans were honest about it, they didn’t believe Bama could lose any more than the Bama fans did. The reasons why are many and complicated, but it seems that even in a season without many expectations, a lot of people’s expectations weren’t met for whatever reason, and this team would never be good enough.
Never mind the loss of the two best players on defense and the best player on offense and countless other starters who missed games because of injury. Never mind the revolving door while trying to get the QB position settled. Never mind the masterful coaching it took to get this young, battered team to a 10-2 regular season.
Put that together with Alabama’s unquestioned run — three titles in four years, atop the polls from day one, unseated only by the most stunning ending to a college football game anyone can remember, widely considered to still be the best team in the country and basically unbeatable without a miracle. No, there was no way that this team could beat that team. Not on its best day.
But I watched the Tide come out onto the Superdome turf, and not a one of them was 8 feet tall or ran 60 miles an hour. They were just a team, 11 at a time, the same as everyone else. Those crimson helmets with the numbers on the sides might strike fear in the hearts of lesser teams, but they didn’t strike fear in the hearts of Oklahoma, nor should they have. There were two sets of crimson helmets on that field, after all. But still, they didn’t believe. Not really.
They certainly didn’t believe it when the Tide cut through the Sooner defense like a hot knife through butter and took an early 7-0 lead. They didn’t believe it when Trevor Knight made like Johnny Manziel and picked apart the best defense in the country again and again and again. They didn’t believe it when the Sooner defense sacked Heisman finalist A.J. McCarron seven times when the Tide had only given up a handful more than that all season.
They didn’t believe it when Zach Sanchez baited A.J. McCarron into an interception that led to a brilliant end-around touchdown on the next play to put the Sooners up 31-17 at the half. I don’t think they really even believed it when Knight dug us out of a first-and-30 hole before improvising brilliantly to throw his fourth TD pass of the game to stretch the OU lead to 38-24 in the fourth quarter.
No, it wasn’t until Eric Striker looped around an All-American tackle for the umpteenth time of the night and hammered McCarron from behind and the ball skittered free and Geneo Grissom snatched it up and dove for the end zone like a man possessed that they really, really believed that Alabama could lose this game.
By then, it was too late to do anything about it anymore.
And then there were stages and confetti and interviews, and a 50-yard-line photo delayed by TV types, and a horde of Sooners jumping onto the ESPN set and nearly collapsing it and killing Lou Holtz in the process.
And when it was done and the Superdome was empty and the confetti cannons were silent and the cold, cold wind whipped down Poydras Street in the wee hours of a Friday morning, they were still polite and friendly and said sportsmanlike things and congratulated us. But this time they believed it.
There was a lot of talk this season about how Oklahoma was no longer elite, that it was a level or two below the Alabamas of the world, and that there was a long way to go to get back there. What happened in New Orleans put to rest to that line of nonsense. Knight said after the game that Oklahoma was back. He was wrong. Oklahoma’s not back, but only because we never left.
The 2014 season is going to be a special, special season. The Schooner is full and, in the immortal words of a one-time Alabama coach, it’s rolling, baby, it’s rolling. Can it be August tomorrow?