As a Michigan Man, I’m familiar with game days in Ann Arbor and I’ve been to my share of Ohio State games, having grown up in Ohio. I’ve also been to Michigan games at every Big Ten stadium except Minnesota, and I’ve attended college football games at Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, and USC (among other smaller FBS schools).
Yesterday, my job took me to Norman, Oklahoma, where I got my first taste of Sooner football, and I was both impressed and not impressed.
I got to campus at noon for the 7pm game in order to knock out my work duties for the day. At that point, tailgating was just getting started. At 2pm, I ventured across campus to the Campus Corner area which houses all the bars and restaurants. On game days, this area has a street festival-like atmosphere with the roads closed and lined with vendors.
I had to find somewhere to watch the Michigan game and O’Connell’s (which is where the big Boomer sign is in the above photo) was recommended. However, it was packed, had no space at the bar, and a long wait for a table, so I ventured on in search of the perfect place.
While walking through, I passed a few other Michigan fans decked out in maize and blue garb and gave each other a hearty “Go Blue!” A security guard stopped me and asked, “What’s with all the Michigan fans around here today?” He said he had never seen so many in Norman.
A couple blocks away, I found a gastropub called Blackbird’s which ended up being a great place to watch the game. They had four or five house-brewed beers and a solid gameday menu selection, not to mention plenty of big screen TVs throughout. The best part was it was fairly low-key and not overcrowded so I was able to have the bartender turn the sound on to the game.
I watched until the first rain delay and then had to trek back towards the stadium to finish my work duties. By this time, campus was much more crowded with Sooner fans and tailgating was in full swing. One thing I noticed throughout the day was the tailgating was a much more relaxed atmosphere than what I’m used to seeing at Michigan and other Big Ten games. Instead of a party atmosphere, OU fans were mostly just sitting around watching other games on their flat screen TVs fed by satellite dishes, playing cornhole, and talking.
The ticket I scored was a student ticket, which was general admission. Because of my work responsibilities, I wasn’t able to get in the gates until game time, and by then, there were long lines to get into the general admission sections. When I finally got to the ramp to start walking up to the sections, there were two guards checking student IDs. Obviously, I didn’t have one, and was decked out in maize and blue, but I told them I was a Michigan fan eager to check out a game at OU and they let me through.
I found a seat (actually, a spot to stand) near the top of the section at about the 20-yard line. It was a great vantage point to take in the pageantry of Sooner football. Unfortunately, and to my surprise, there wasn’t a whole lot. The in-game atmosphere was nothing compared to the Big House. The crowd wasn’t very loud (although the stadium may have something to do with that, being open on the ends). The in-game music was about half marching band and half piped-in rock music which always assaulted your eardrums right when it started.
The students as a whole were generally disinterested in the game. Of course, at every college stadium, you have your share of students who get tickets just for the sake of getting tickets and only care to make an appearance at the game and leave during the second quarter, but this seemed to be the sentiment amongst many of the OU student section. It’s as if they care more about looking good than cheering on their Sooners.
Game day attire was short dresses and cowboy boots for the girls and polos, visors, and sunglasses with neck cords for the guys. I saw very few OU jerseys being worn, which is what you see in the Big House and other Big Ten stadiums.
Yes, it was against Tulsa and wasn’t very competitive after the first couple of drives, but I’ve been to my share of Michigan games against the Ball States and the Eastern Michigans of the world to know the difference. I can best describe the in-game atmosphere of an Oklahoma game as an Indiana or Northwestern game with guns and horses. After each score, shotguns were fired off behind the endzone and fireworks were shot up from the scoreboard. After the extra point, the Sooner Schooner took a spin around half the field and that’s about it.
While I was disappointed with the actual game atmosphere, I was impressed with the class and genuine niceness of the Sooner fanbase. In the approximately 11 hours I spent on campus wearing a Michigan shirt, I was never once heckled. I didn’t hear a single “Michigan sucks” or “Muck Fichigan.” What I did hear was Sooner fans asking me how I think Michigan will do this year and telling me that they hope Michigan returns to being great again because it’s good for college football. You don’t usually get that from other fanbases.
I’m sure they’re a bit different when Texas or Oklahoma State is in town, but I was thoroughly impressed with the courtesy I was shown as an opposing fan in their home.
If you get the chance, I would recommend catching a game in Norman sometime. I’d pick a bigger game than OU-Tulsa if possible to at least make the in-game experience more enjoyable, but you will have a good time.