I was never a big believer in homefield advantage. I scoffed at the notion that a fan could actually have an impact on a football game. You have a hostile crowd? Good. I feed off of hostile crowds, and I embrace it when fans ridicule me. You think you’re loud? Whatever. We use a silent count anyways, and noise is only a factor on three to four plays a game. Your homefield advantage is incredibly overrated. Bring it on. You’re wasting your breath.
And then I ran out of the tunnel in Knoxville, Tennessee, FOR WARMUP and was greeted by thousands of screaming fans and the chorus of “Rocky Top.” The game wasn’t set to start for over an hour, and these people seemed to think it was kickoff time. I exited the tunnel for the pregame warm-up, and those psychotic students were already there, giving us a small preview of what to expect in the hours to come. What had we gotten ourselves into?
What followed in the 4 quarters and 2 overtimes of play was a dissertation on the impact a crowd CAN have upon a football game. The Vol faithful made it absolutely impossible to communicate. On the first drive, we had to change our snap count, because even our silent count was ineffective against that wall of noise. I came off the field after that first drive and reassured Coach Bedenbaugh that the fans would settle down in due time, and that noise was not going to be an issue going forward. Boy was I wrong. The noise was a constant, oppressive force. I could literally feel it on my skin. But these fans weren’t just loud on the first drive. Or just on 3rd down. Or just in the fourth quarter. It was every. single. play. On the offensive line, we couldn’t hear Baker’s play calls, we couldn’t make our own combo calls, and we couldn’t communicate checks and alerts verbally. We resorted to a makeshift hand signaling system that was at times more confusing than informative. At times, we were much more worried about simply KNOWING the play than we were about actually EXECUTING it. That night in Neyland Stadium, playing football seemed all but impossible, and that can be attributed as much to the men and women in the stands as to the uniformed men on the field itself. That night, as I boarded the flight back to Norman with Rocky Top ringing in my ears, I realized that I had been converted. From a man skeptical of fan impact, to a man in awe of it.
My Call to Sooner Nation
I have a question for you, Sooner Nation.
How do you view your role?
Are you there to be entertained? Or are you there to participate?
Are we playing 11 on 11? Or 85,000 on 11?
We NEED you like never before. This Saturday promises to be one of the biggest games and one of the most electric atmospheres in our storied history, and we need YOU to do your part. You’re a part of this team, just like each of the individuals on the field. Baker Mayfield has to lead the offense and take care of the football. Charles Walker has to dominate the line of scrimmage and get pressure on the quarterback. Orlando Brown has to protect Baker and pave the way for Samaje and Joe. You, the fan, have every bit as important of a job: Make their lives a living hell for 3 hours, 4 hours, or however long it takes. Make it impossible for them to communicate. Get inside their heads on the sideline. Set the tone in pregame, and then bring fanatical energy and noise for every play, not just the third downs or crucial moments. Be a FACTOR. Make your presence felt!
This cannot and will not happen without the students, for that portion of the crowd is the most influential in setting the tone and carrying it through the game. This past Saturday, I watched our craziest student fans line up outside the student gate for the first time. At 4 PM sharp, they literally SPRINTED to their seats and set up for the debut of the newly minted Palace on the Prairie. Wow. What dedication!
But, unfortunately, that attitude is not reflected in the rest of our student fans. I love this university, and I very much appreciate the support of the students, but I have admit… I’ve been very disappointed in the student section during my time here.
I’ve seen the student section half empty for a Bedlam game.
The student section is usually not completely full at kickoff.
I’ve watched the student section empty out in the third quarter of games that were far from decided on multiple occasions.
Students engage in what I would call conditional participation. Only in very certain scenarios will you stay for the duration of the game.
- If we blow anyone out (good teams or bad teams), you leave out of boredom.
- If we are in a close game with an average team or a poor team, you leave out of indignation.
- The ONLY way that you stay for the whole game is if the game is close and the opponent is elite.
When compared to the rest of the 85,000, you’re the last ones there and the first ones to leave.
The game generally seems to be viewed as a warm-up for whatever social event is planned for the night.
I’m not saying that you owe us (the players) anything at all.
I’m not saying that we don’t appreciate your support.
I’m saying that you’re a part of us.
I’m saying that we need you.
- Set the tone by getting there early and harassing Ohio St. during warm-up. They need to know what they’re getting into.
- Bring energy the ENTIRE game. The team feeds off the energy of the crowd, and the crowd as a whole draws its energy from you guys.
- STAY. This game and every game. The bars can wait. You get 6 Saturdays a fall. 24 college football games in your time at OU. Make them count. Twenty years from now, don’t tell your kids that you “watched” the Ohio St-OU game in 2016. Don’t tell them you “were there.” Tell them that you were A PART of the craziest atmosphere in Sooner football history. You weren’t just “there.” You made an impact!
When the Buckeyes come into town on Saturday, they will be the highest ranked team to visit Norman since the 2008 Texas Tech Red Raiders. That week, Coach Stoops challenged the crowd to “Create a Ruckus”, and they delivered! From all accounts of the game, that was the loudest and craziest Sooner fans may have ever been. The Sooners walked away that day with a 65-21 blowout victory, and they rode that momentum to a national championship appearance. I think you get the picture. Bring it. From the first play to the last, and make those Ohio St. players go home talking about “those psychos in Norman, Oklahoma.”
LET’S WIN THIS THING!
All of us.
I don’t know about you, but I kinda wanna Jump Around on Saturday.