If you had told me five years ago that I would plan a vacation around a college football game, I would have laughed hilariously, but it is 2014 and people change. In the intervening years my husband and I have become football fans. It started with the CFL, but because the season ends so early we branched out to the NFL. Then last summer my brother took a job as an Assistant Track Coach at the University of Oklahoma, and after listening to him talk about the games, I knew we had to expand our horizons even further. It had been a year and a half since we had visited with my brother and his family, so my husband and I packed our bags and flew south to the state of Oklahoma.
The University of Oklahoma is located in the town of Norman, which is about twenty-five minutes south of Oklahoma City. It became apparent right away that the town revolves around the university. Everywhere you go, on and off campus, you see people wearing “OU” apparel in the crimson and cream colours. School was just resuming after the summer break and the excitement about the season opener vs. Louisiana Tech was palpable. After all, the Oklahoma Sooners were the 2014 Sugar Bowl champions.
On Thursday, two days before the game, people began staking out their tailgating spots. There is a designated place for fans that come to town with their RVs. It is called SooneRVillage and it includes water, a sani-station, security, and shuttle bus service to the game. We were even told that some loyal supporters have bought houses in town, which they leave empty and use only on game weekends. (This is not so surprising, considering you can buy a decent three-bedroom house for $150,000.)
Make no mistake about it; college football is a big business. According to Forbes, OU football generated $70 million in revenue in 2013, with $45 million of that being profit. The head coach, Bob Stoops, will earn $5.25 million for the upcoming season. There are also plans for a $370 million dollar upgrade to the Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. It is mind boggling to think that a college sport could be so lucrative.
Saturday was game day. After sampling some tasty bbq at Rudy’s, we headed home to get ready. Game time was 6:00 pm. Although it was early evening, the temperature was 100 degrees F and we were sitting on the east side of the stadium in full sun. You are not allowed to take any food or drink into the game with you. We spent a small fortune on bottles of water just so we could stay hydrated. At times, I felt like I was going to melt, but I kept reminding myself that it was all part of the experience.
Watching the game is like going to an amusement park. You are constantly scanning the stadium to make sure you don’t miss something. There is the Band, the Cheer squad, the POM squad, the mascots (Boomer and Sooner), the Sooner Schooner and the RUF/NEKS (The all male spirit squad). Oh yeah, and don’t forget the real reason why you are there…the football game.
Sooner fans are passionate and fully involved. Most of the game is watched while you are standing. Barely anyone actually sits in his or her seat. My favourite part was when a kick off or punt occurred. The crowd would yell “OOOOOOOOOO” and then “U!!!” and when the ball was kicked, black powder rifles were fired. It sent shivers down my spine every time. There are fireworks after every scoring drive, and horses pull the Sooner Schooner around one half of the field. By 8 pm, the sun had gone behind the west side of the stadium and we were able to comfortably enjoy the rest of the game. The final score was Sooners 48, Louisiana Tech 16.
While the game was a blowout for the Sooners, it was a privilege to go to Norman and experience football in a typical American college town. We really don’t have anything like it in Canada.