It is often said that life is full of moments all mashed together, which is a statement that is juxtapositionally as tautological as it is demonstrably false. In terms of obvious truism, one moment does indeed flow into the next; however, what is implied in that statement is that life really consists only of the moments we carry on as memories. The former needs no more discussion, the latter means that only the most memorable moments are meaningful, which we can disprove by pointing out that some of life’s most pleasurable events are not always the most memorable. Odds are that you don’t remember every bite of every delicious meal, every moment of pure, blissful relaxation on a rainy day, every furtive glance or tender touch with a lover, but the fact that they have faded from memory doesn’t make them meaningless, nor does it make them less a part of life.
This, of course, is only a part of the story. While less memorable events are not meaningless, the very fact that we do not carry them with us for long periods of time does prove the truth that they are often not as meaningful. This, despite being both tautologically true and provably false, this statement is also generally true in as much as it is a reflection of why the most meaningful moments stay with us as memories.
Ah, memories. Those things that we carry around deep in our soul that we can pull out & replay at will, that sometimes pop up and remind us of traumatic events. A familiar smell, the sound of a once-familiar tune, a face that flashes by in the distance, or any other random triggers, can instantly jerk your mind to a place and time that is no more but once was, and transport you mind and soul to an entirely different place. Once at a locale that is ethereally both new and old, our emotional state can shift dramatically, sometimes to sheer terror, sometimes to great elation. For me, sports have been such a significant part of my life that a number of those meaningful memories revolve around them, which is why I think memories and meaning are important topics on the eve of this College Football Playoff.
OUr Sooners find themselves once again at a significant spot in their history, and as your history continues in parallel with theirs, it’s likely a significant spot for you. I will wake up nervous tomorrow, run a nervous 5 miles, shower while nervous, and go about my day with one earnest hope and many pressing fears. Many of you will likely do the same, imagining watching Tua scorch OUr defense, hoping to hear Toby exclaim "UNHITCH THE WAGONS!" at least once more this season. It’s a place we’ve been many times before, but at the risk of being a huge Debbie-downer, the nervousness is likely to conjure up far more disappointing results than recent victories.
Indeed, if someone asks me to come up with Sooner memories, I think the losses stick out much more than the wins. Earlier, I incorrectly stated that Mike Stoops employed a 3-4 defense in the 2001 Orange Bowl, and I was certain it was correct (it wasn’t, and although I found several instances of a 3-4 used in that game, Mike primarily used a 4-3), but I’m certain I would have the same difficulty with other big wins from my time watching OU. Those memories are rich, and wonderful, but seemingly lack the lucidity and profundity of losses. Ask me about Mark Bradley’s fumble in the Orange Bowl, and I could take you to the exact spot on the field (and also to the Quality Inn in Raleigh, NC where I was screaming "NONONONONO" at him). Ask me about Joaquin Iglesias failing to secure a reception in the title match versus UF, or Darren Sproles destroying OU basically by himself, or Johnny Cocaine running all over OUr defense, or Bob failing to let Sam take a poke at the endzone, or Vince Young blowing us out, or, and I don’t actually advise this one due to the nuclear explosion that might also catch you and every other semi-innocent bystander, ask me about the 2006 Oregon game, and in every case (and more), my memories are crystal clear. I will never forget Baker missing Rodney on the wheel route last year, and even the most skilled exorcist couldn’t purge the memory of Sony Michel streaking to the endzone to finish us off.
Because such memories are far more pervasive, and often far more profound and clear than the good, it leads me to wonder if the negative experiences are actually more meaningful than the good. However, the idea is somewhat mitigated by one memory that stands out above almost all the others, and you’ll forgive me for stepping outside OU football to share this example.
A brief glance at my profile would demonstrate that I am a St. Louis Cardinal baseball fan, and a San Antonio Spurs basketball fan (my fandom preceded any notion of the Thunder, so don’t @ me, bro). In 2012, I had lost my father to a devastating disease. I spent many nights watching games and talking to dad, and also spent many Saturdays watching OU football and talking to dad. In the summer of 2013, the Spurs made the Finals to face the Miami Heat, and in Game 6 looked poised to win their 5th title in 14 years, cementing their spot as the best franchise in all of sports and ensuring Tim Duncan’s spot as the best player since Michael Jordan (Kobe couldn’t hold Duncan’s jock, and Lebron is a front-running diva that does half of what TD did for his team). Then Popovich inexplicably pulled Duncan out of the game, the Spurs couldn’t recover a rebound to save their lives, and Ray Allen hit an improbable three to send it to OT, where Miami prevailed. As Miami won game 7, I sat all alone on the floor of my living room, totally destroyed and distraught. I felt as though I had lost my father all over again, and grief overwhelmed me. Like a child scared of being alone in the dark, I sat there, sobbing uncontrollably into the wee hours of the morning. At one point, I called my wife (she was out of town for work), and I just cried on the phone, unable to carry on a conversation. It was a dark moment.
An odd way to start discussing good, meaningful memories, to be sure, but I’ll get there, I promise! Because the next season I found out what is better than winning, what is more meaningful than losing – winning AFTER horrible disappointing losses. In 2014, the Spurs marched to the Finals again (sorry OKC), and systematically destroyed the Heat, leading to the dissolution of the Heatles (yeah, that’s right – not only did Tim Duncan end the Shaq-Kobe Lakers dynasty, he ended the Heat’s run of dominance, too). It was glorious. The ball sang around the court as the Heat, having run by everybody for years with superior athleticism and an aggressive defense, were suddenly unable to cover shooters, looking slow and ineffective. In games 3, 4, and 5, San Antonio went on devastating runs that buried Miami under waves of great ball movement, superb shooting, and smothering defense. Every single moment was an exultant, triumphant, glorious celebration, and as San Antonio rained basketball fire on Miami, I felt as though all the darkness and grief of the prior year’s crushing loss was washed away as if in a cleansing summer rain. It was redemptive, and for the first time in years, I felt almost whole again.
So that’s the position OUr Sooners find themselves in tomorrow. Alabama comes in as a heavy favorite, which is certainly deserved. They have the games best coach, more highly appraised talent on the defensive side, for sure, and an offense that has put up numbers that approach OUr own; more importantly, they have recent history on their side. They’ve been here, every year, and they know what they’re doing. They’ll also be seeking revenge for an upset loss in 2014, and validation for their star QB they believe deserved a trophy that now belongs to Kyler Murray. But what lies before the Sooners is so much more valuable. An attempt at real redemption.
If OU rolls out and beats Alabama (and maybe wins another), the sour taste of defeat can be washed away with the cleansing champagne of victory. All of the insults from the talking heads will disappear, all of the chatter from the buffoonery salon of fans will fade into obscurity, and a memory so rich, so sweet, so meaningful, will be left behind. That’s what we hope for – I hope that OU comes with every bit of frustration, the heartbreak of every "almost" of the past 17 years, every aggravating insult about "passing against air", and every irritating bit of SEC-pomposity and unleashes it all in an unholy destruction of all things Alabama.
Can’t get Sony Michel out of your head? GOOD. Go beat Alabama and put a brand new memory in that spot.
That’s what is truly at stake tomorrow for all of us that label ourselves Sooners. Memories. Meaning. Redemption. It’s a big day, and a tough task lies ahead. Go get 'em, fellas, and Boomer Sooner.