Welcome back for another installment in our 2019 Countdown to Kickoff! As of today, there are 96 days until the Oklahoma Sooners return to the gridiron.
Now this year’s team figures to contend for another conference championship as well as a berth in the College Football Playoff. These are good times we’re living in, folks. In fact, for most OU fans, one of the darkest ages for the program wasn’t that long ago. That’s right, I’m talking about the 90’s, and to be more specific, I’m going to reflect on the 1996 Sooners.
It’s pretty incredible how Oklahoma has dominated the Big 12 for so long, yet during the year that the league was expanded, the Sooners were anything but a contender. Some of you might be wondering, “why on earth would anybody want to revisit such a depressing time in an otherwise illustrious history for one of the premier programs in the nation?”. Well, in order to fully appreciate the good times, we mustn’t forget the bad times.
So just how bad was that 1996 season for Oklahoma? Well, the John Blake era didn’t get off to the rosiest start.
vs. TCU - L, 20-7
at San Diego State - L, 51-31
vs. Tulsa - L, 31-24
vs. Kansas - L, 54-24
I honestly couldn’t tell you which one of those losses is the toughest to accept. The fact that three of them took place at home is amazing by itself, but then you look at the scoring margins and it just boggles the mind. Quarterbacks Justin Fuente and Eric Moore didn’t exactly give OU the QB depth nor the star power it’s enjoyed in recent seasons, but RB De’Mond Parker and LB Tyrell Peters proved the cupboard wasn’t completely bare.
While those first four games were completely awful, the ‘96 season also proved why the annual meeting with Texas at the Cotton Bowl is legitimately a toss-up every year, as the winless Sooners were able to defeat a ranked Longhorns team in OT, 30-27. It would go down as easily the best moment during Blake’s three seasons at Oklahoma, and one of the program’s biggest wins of an otherwise desolate decade.
The rotten cherry on top of this spoiled sundae came against another rival — Nebraska. All Tom Osbourne and his Cornhuskers did was waltz into Norman and deliver one of the nastiest beatdowns Oklahoma has ever received. At least, that’s how I would describe a 73-21 pounding. If it weren’t for a few garbage scores in the fourth, Oklahoma would have added a shutout to the embarrassment.
Blake and his floundering Sooners rebounded the following week in a 27-17 win against Oklahoma State. It’s a bit remarkable that the Cowboys couldn’t even beat this OU squad in Stillwater. I suppose Pokes will be Pokes.
Overall, the ‘96 Sooners went 3-8 on the season, 3-5 in Big 12 play, and averaged a nearly two touchdown (-12.5) loss per contest. The immense struggles would continue for two more seasons before the one and only Bob Stoops came to the rescue and restored Oklahoma’s name back to national prominence. Thank goodness.
Now let’s cover the days we missed since our last countdown post:
97 days! - Tommie Harris was a disruptive force on Oklahoma’s D-Line
They don’t make football players much better than Tommie Harris. The Killeen, Texas native manned the middle of the Sooners’ defensive line for three years, including his true freshman season in which he started every game. If a run was designed to come his way, Harris ate it up. If the QB found himself alone in the backfield, or tried to scramble away, Harris said “nope”, and then ate him up.
Harris was the keystone for a dominant Oklahoma defense. Still, even while being surrounded by defensive studs throughout his career like Rufus Alexander, Derrick Strait Rocky Calmus and Roy Williams, No. 97 made his presence felt in every game. By the end of his OU career, he was named a two-time All-American (consensus in ‘02, unanimous in ‘03), and the Lombardi Award winner in 2003. He went on to be selected by the Chicago Bears with the 14th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, and it was there he played for seven seasons.
97 days Bonus! - Kelly Gregg didn’t play for the greatest teams, but shined nevertheless
From 1995 to 1998, defensive tackle Kelly Gregg swallowed up opponents right and left in the backfield, and he did so without the glory of winning championships or even going to a bowl game. He finished his career with 319 total tackles, including 53 tackles for loss, a mark that’s good for third-best in Oklahoma history. While he never had the opportunity to play on the biggest stage in college, his incredible production and high motor did not go unnoticed by the NFL. In the sixth round of the 1999 NFL Draft, the OU and Edmond product was picked by the Cincinnati Bengals. After struggling to keep his career afloat with the Bengals and Eagles, he eventually moved to Baltimore, where he would be a key contributor in the vaunted Ravens defense for 11 seasons before ending his career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011.
98 days! - Lucious Selmon, one of three brothers who are regarded as Oklahoma Football royalty. You can check out last year’s post dedicated to his impressive contributions right here.
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