It’s easy to forget about after the debacle in Houston, but Saturday’s game will mark the culmination of months of planning, spending and hard work. For the first time in the history of Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (more conveniently known as the Palace on the Prairie), OU will find itself completely surrounded by fans.
Originally proposed as a $370 million stadium renovation that involved a reconstructed press box, the slimmed-down $160 million upgrade still includes a bigger video board, new workout facilities, a more spacious locker room and, yes, a closed-in south end zone.
The renovation didn’t really affect the stadium’s capacity—it’s still going to sit right around 82,000. What it will do, though, is make Owen Field’s already-fiesty crowd into a roaring force that opponents will fear even more than they do already.
Think of the way the intimate McLane Stadium makes the 45,000 Bears faithful sound like thousands more, or the mystique behind bowled-in stadiums like The Big House in Ann Arbor or Death Valley in Baton Rouge. Those two stadiums have much higher capacities and the Palace may never be mentioned among them, but there’s no disputing the advantage a loud stadium brings.
Saturday. GFOMS like you've never seen it before. Stay with us all day tomorrow for a Wednesday photo walk-through pic.twitter.com/empnPfxxth— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) September 7, 2016
The renovation isn’t completely done, unfortunately. There will be butts in the new seats on Saturday, but it looks unlikely based on the latest photos that the new south entrance will be accessible.
There were certainly bumps on the road in this ambitious project. Several media outlets incorrectly reported that construction had been halted when Haas Metal Engineering Inc. sued the university over its bidding process last October. (The lawsuit was dropped in December.) And falling oil prices led to the aforementioned scale-down that resulted in a more modest plan.
But all Sooners fans should be excited for Saturday (and especially for next Saturday). No, the team isn’t making the triumphal return it had hoped for, but an upgraded stadium is a potent symbol of a healthy, vibrant program. The Houston loss notwithstanding, OU is coming off a Playoff appearance, defending a Big 12 title and putting together a top-5 recruiting class. There are many reasons to be optimistic, and the stadium will be the face of that optimism.