OU's football season in 1981 started with high expectations not unlike 2011: pre-season #2 ranking, high expectations after a season in which OU landed in the top 5 after winning an Orange Bowl, and a big game on the road against a top 5 team early on the schedule, number 1, in fact, the USC Trojans. OU, quarterbacked that day or at least for some of it by Kelly Phelps, lost in the waning moments on a TD pass. A severe disappointing feeling in the gut to go down to defeat in the late afternoon sunshine in LA (and OU would get shutout by USC the next year at home 12-0, but I won't go there). I have awful memories of Marcus Allen's end sweeps that day. We'd help make a Hesiman winner of him that year. The year 1981.
I figured the next week OU would get it's feet back under them with an assault against hapless Iowa State. I mean, we owned them. And the result? A tie at home to sucky Iowa State, 7-7. Iowa State, who would go on to finish 5-5-1. I'll never forgot how windy it was that day, while I tried to kick back uncomfortably in my dad's old green Chevy pickup listening to the radio during the 4th quarter, lips chapped, after playing a soccer game I didn't give much about because the Sooners were on the radio. We tied freaking Iowa State. But we're Oklahoma.
It would get worse.
Kelly Phelps was on the next week against Texas after the USC loss and the Iowa State tie. And we were pre-ranked number two. I don't use "we" lightly as the past several years since it's not me out there making coaching decisions or putting on the pads, I've been careful to avoid the "we", when it's Stoops and his players. However, back then, as now, when OU wins I'm extremely proud... but when they lose, it really cramps the pride. Oklahoma got creamed by Texas; lost by 20. Pre-season #2 and at this point, we're 1-2-1 with our sole win over Wyoming by 17 points.
We, I mean OU, led by Switzer, of course, would go on to rack up some easy victories against the likes of Kansas, Oregon State, and Colorado. In fact, OU's defense gave up a total of 10 points to those three teams combined. And, yes, I looked this up on the internets. But these teams weren't very good. The next week I was stuck with a friend somewhere (gosh, could have been Stillwater for an OSU game), and I know I was pissed to hear that OU squeaked one out against K-State. Kansas-fricking-State. We won 28-21, and I think by this time Darrel Shepard had taken over for OU at the quarterback spot... or something like that. K-State would go on to win two games that year... including one over Iowa State... yeah, the team we just tied earlier in the year. Snyder would not arrive until 1989. Enough said about Kansas State.
I realized the writing was on the wall after the disappointing game against the Wildcats. I had to realize grim reality when listening on the radio again for hope against hope when the Sooners took on Mizzou. What a lonely Saturday afternoon. Man did that suck for a kid. We lost 19-14. There's an image of the scoreboard you can find on the web. Horrible. I couldn't remember losing to Missouri before but knew there had been some close calls like back in 1975. But hey we're Oklahoma.
Things grew from bad to worse. At home. Against Nebraska. Yeesh. Mike Rozier and Roger Craig. Turner Gill too. But most of us fans knew this was coming, I guess. Lost in a similar fashion to Nebraska as against Texas... by about three touchdowns. We'd make a Heisman winner out of Mike Rozier eventually too.
Now you think Tempe is bad. Try El Paso. Yep, that's where the Sooners would land all right against the mighty Houston Cougs. But I think it was a freshman that day, Freddie Sims, I believe, who had an historic day against the Cougs, all in the second half racking up close to 200 yards rushing, and at least that took the cramp out of my pride. But Freddie we hardly knew ya. I don't think he did much the rest of his career at OU.
I know, I know... the Blake years. I didn't pay attention to those, but 1981 was different. Severely disappointing because of the unfulfilled expectations. Yeah, like this year but worse. And it would only go downhill from there. 1982 and 1983. Some of the most unbearable OU football moments of my life. Switzer almost got railroaded out of Norman back then for losing like four times a year. OU would almost win a national title in 1984, however, as Switzer fed us more and more. The next (1985) you probably know about. And as Sooner football fans we probably share some aspects with characters out of Dostoevsky novels. Think Crime and Punishment. We suffer. Full-on existential crisis. The moral anguish! And, man, do we suffer. But hey we're Oklahoma.