The Bob Stoops era ended Saturday, December 6 at approximately 6:30 p.m.
Ended in the most appropriate fashion for the most disappointing season in the Stoops eras 16 years.
A mind-boggling decision by the head coach to punt a second time with 1:01 seconds remaining in a 35-28 game.
Tyreek Hill's 92-yard punt return for a touchdown amidst the fog-mist skies to tie the game was about as surreal a moment as I have witnessed in 35 years of attending football games at Owen Field.
And completely justified for the stupidity of the head coaches decision as it was a final nail in the coffin of a coach and a disastrous football season.
A microcosm of a season that was derailed in early October in Cowtown by a series of coaching miscues and bad quarterbacking.
A follow up performance in Norman two weeks later again featuring more questionable coaching, bad quarterback play and a record-setting field goal kicker who went astray when we needed him most.
A complete melt-down three weeks later once again in Norman in embarrassing, crowd-booing fashion to the new king of the Big 12. Same culprits hit again. Poor quarterbacking, poor coaching and a complete lack of competitiveness which was non-chalantly explained post-game as "separation" between programs.
And, finally a complete meltdown in the final moments of a Bedlam game that will go down in infamy one day prior to Pearl Harbor Day as the most sorry coaching decision in the Stoops era.
Sadly, 21 seniors played their last game at Owen Field and left with about the worst scenario they could ever imagine--walking off the field the better team but defeated by their in-state little brother in walk-off fashion.
The shock and disgusted feeling that overcame myself and the remaining fans who stayed to the bitter end (local media reported about 1/3 of the announced 85,000+ crowd had hit the exit gates prior to the painful final 1:01 of the game) was only a small percentage of the feeling of anguish that must have overcome those seniors.
Blake Bell. Mr. Bedlam-killer last year whose last minute heroics while coming off the bench stunned OSU with a last minute touchdown for the win. And, his last-second touchdown in his patented Bell-Dozer formation for the tie leading to the overtime win in 2012. He switched to tight end this year to give his team a better chance to win a championship by paving the way for Trevor Knight to take over the starting quarterback job. His final game as a Sooner won't be remembered for his spectacular catches but the last second loss. I am left to wonder how he would have done staying at quarterback all year.
Aaron Ripowski. The unsung senior fullback whose bone-jarring blocks sprang countless runs by OU running backs the past four seasons as well as leading Samaje Perine to smash the college football rushing record against Kansas earlier this year. Ripowski incredibly scored three touchdowns in Bedlam, one by pass from freshman Cody Thomas, and no one is even talking about it after the game.
Tyrus Thompson/Daryl Williams. How about two of the best tackles in Oklahoma history going out to this Bedlam disaster?
Chuka Ndulue. How about Mr. Bedlam buster in last years' game in Stillwater when he bulled through the line and stuffed an OSU running back on the goal line ending a last minute scoring opportunity? Nope. My lasting memory of Chuka will be after the final field goal for the win watching him sitting on Owen Field, helmet off with hands by his sides looking helplessly around to the scene as if saying "WTF?" Ndulue summed up his coaches decision like this: “If you’re a smart guy, you’d figure the defense can hold them from going down the field,” said OU defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue. “But you know, things didn’t go as planned."
Michael Hunnicutt. How about the best kicker in OU history? Shanking a 42-yard field goal in overtime that layed the foundation for the ending? Nope. He'll go down in history as the kicker who blew two games by choking on field goals and an extra point.
There are other seniors who played their last game Saturday. Julian Wilson, Adam Shead, Quentin Hayes, Tony Feo, Caleb Gastelum and Tyler Evans among others. All but Hayes played Saturday. They will all be remembered for better moments than the final scene in Norman Saturday but this one will reverberate in their minds forever.
My final images from Owen Field last Saturday will remain a long time as well.
Bob Stoops. A eerily fidgety Bob Stoops standing on the field before the pre-game senior introductions with their families at mid-field. Coach Stoops was leaving for the locker room after just huddling with the players only, when he suddenly stopped in the end zone and turned and looked back upon the scene. I am sure it is hard for any coach to not feel the sense of loss of losing his senior players, many of whom have been in the program for five years or more. But this moment seemed more poignant. Stoops stopped, looked back, put his hands on his hips, turned back toward the locker room, stopped again, put his hands in his pockets while looking one final time at the players and their families and then finally turning and walking off of the field. I am sure I am making more out of this than there is but it sure looked like a coach who was unsure how to handle his emotions and who might have just been taking in the scene one final time. Who knows?
Tony Feo. A senior offensive lineman who hadn't played much in his career. I noticed he was in the last few series of the game at left guard. Amazing. Feo hadn't played much if any at all this year but there he was with the game at 35-28 in the final moments. I was thinking, "What the hell is Stoops thinking?" A tight ball game that was not at hand and needing a couple of first downs to run clock and keep OSU off the field and there was Tony Feo at guard. Was Coach Stoops rewarding his seniors with mop-up playing time during crunch time? No. As it turned out Feo was subbing for starting Adam Shead who was injured during the game but it was a head-scratcher to look up and see Feo playing in such a pivotal moment.
Julian Wilson. The much aligned senior safety turned corner had made national network highlights during his Baylor sideline meltdown yelling at Mike and Bob Stoops after Baylor marched right down the field twice for scoring drives to open the second half essentially putting the game out of reach. He of broken thumb fame suffered during the first half against Baylor. Julian had not played much if at all in the games since Baylor including Saturday during Bedlam. Replaced by freshman Jordan Thomas. But lo and behold, there was good ole' Julian Wilson inserted back at right corner during OSU's final touchdown drive. You can bet Mike Gundy and the freshman quarterback spotted Wilson because two passes later, OSU scored over Wilson. My picture frame moment of his career flashing right before the Owen Field eyes. Like Feo, was Coach Stoops giving Julian one more series in his career? No again, as Wilson was subbing for an injured Jordan Thomas. Which begs the question--how much more did the Stoopses brothers need to see of Wilson to know that he couldn't cover in that situation? Is he the only corner OU has?
Just a few final images.
For the record, Bob Stoops is certainly not dead and probably not going anywhere.
Too much success equity.
Arrogance. Stubbornness. Complacency.
But the Bob Stoops era as we once knew it is certainly dead.
Gone as suredly as is Big Game Bob.
And 8 Big 12 Championships.
And 1 National Championship.
And a once potent home field advantage that blew up with a 3-3 home record this year.
And a four loss season record.
Losses to TCU, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
Don't look now but there is a new sheriff in the Big 12.
And their names are Patterson, Snyder, Briles and yes Gundy who has now beaten Stoops twice in the past four games.
Bob Stoops who is one of the best coaches the past 16 years isn't even the best coach in the Big 12 anymore.
Will he ever surface again?
Not in his past form.
It will have to be a reincarnation and rebirth that began at 6:30 p.m. last Saturday in Norman because that Bob Stoops is certainly dead.
Stay tuned to see how long the second act lasts.
History shows it may not be too much longer.
Bud Wilkinson hung it up after 17 years.
And, yep. Barry Switzer only lasted 16 years as well until the rapin', shootin' and druggin' ran him out of town. His words not mine.
Coincidentally, Switzer's last game was January 2, 1989 in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando against Clemson. A 13-6 loss was his last as coach of the Sooners. He resigned under pressure the following summer.
If you haven't noticed, Bob Stoops just finished his 16th season in Norman and his next game is the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando versus Clemson. Against his former defensive coordinator Brent Venables who was pushed out in 2011 in favor of a return of brother Mike Stoops for posting the 55th ranked defense in the country. Don't look now but brother Stoops just turned in the 53rd ranked defense in his third season. What a turnaround.
Somewhere I think there are disgruntled Sooner fans hoping for a 50-0 beat down by Clemson and Venables to put a final nail in the Stoops era once and for all.
I'm not one of those but after this disastrous season, the thought did cross my mind.