OK fans bummed


Published: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 2:32 a.m.

NORMAN, Okla. As he watched the final seconds tick down on Thursday night, Jeff Cox held his beer glass in his hand and predicted what would be coming for the Oklahoma football program.

"We're going to hear about this for a long, long time," the 23-year-old college senior from Norman said as the second-ranked Sooners lost in a Bowl Championship Series game for the fifth straight time, this time to No. 1 Florida.

For most of the night, hopes that the Sooners would win an eighth national title remained high among those gathered at O'Connell's, an Irish-themed pub near the campus to which fans traditionally flock when Oklahoma plays at home.

Those gathered at O'Connell's located within sight of the Sooners' home stadium followed certain Sooner traditions, such as shouting "Sooners," instead of "brave," at the end of the final line of the national anthem and doing the "Boomer! Sooner!" chant whenever the Sooners made a big play.

But when Florida scored a late touchdown to extend its lead to 24-14, then held the Sooners' vaunted offense on downs, disappointment showed on the faces of Cox and others as they realized Oklahoma would lose in a national-title game for the third time in six years.

The Sooners' last national championship came in 2000, Bob Stoops' second season as their coach.

Matt Lohn, a 21-year-old University of Central Oklahoma student from Purcell who traveled to Norman to watch the game, had no trouble pinpointing when the Sooners' game plan went awry when they twice drove inside the Florida 10-yard line but failed to score on either possession.

"Those two missed touchdowns in the first half did us in," Lohn said. "I'm disappointed, but I think we proved some stuff as far as Big 12 defenses."

Indeed, the Sooners' defense which some thought would be routinely exploited by Florida's high-octane offense limited the Gators to 24 points. But Oklahoma's offense proved able to muster only two scoring drives, which both ended with touchdown passes from Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford to tight end Jermaine Gresham.

"I hope we proved to the people who said we didn't belong that we deserved to be there" in the title game, OU senior Emily Cope said.

Oklahoma's loss will cost some merchants who had hoped to capitalize on selling national-championship items. Balfour of Norman, a popular store near the university campus that sells primarily Sooner-themed merchandise, had planned to reopen after the game had the Sooners won.

Instead, the store's owner, Jerry Hatter, now will return the already-printed T-shirts and caps touting a championship the Sooners did not win. He said before the game that losing the chance to sell such merchandise would cost his store hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential sales.

If the Sooners lost, he said, "it will be dead here for the next two months."

USA Screen Printing and Embroidery in Oklahoma City also had planned to open immediately after the game, company President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Johnson said.

Johnson said before the game that his company would probably lose $30,000 to $40,000 in setup costs and preparation time if Oklahoma lost to the Gators.

The Norman Police Department was "fully staffed" on Thursday night, Lt. Kyle Harris said, but was hoping for a quiet night. On the north side of the OU campus, what might have been a raucous scene had the Sooners won instead was quiet and peaceful, with only a few people milling about.

Late Thursday, police Lt. Todd Gibson said two Norman officers were on traffic stops that might involve alcohol, "but we haven't had any problems associated with the game. ... When OU loses, from my experience, we don't have a lot of uproar. Fans are usually depressed and go to bed."

Depression certainly was the prevalent mood at O'Connell's as the game ended. Within minutes, most of the more than 300 people who had gathered there had left. It likely was going to be an early night for them and other Sooner fans who hoped to have reason to celebrate.

"We'll all go to bed tonight dreaming that we should have been national champions," Cope said. "But there's always next year."

It wasn't clear when then the team would return to Norman.

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