Teams tend to fall back on statistics when it makes them look good. The OU football teams I played on went 4-0 against Nebraska. My coach Barry Switzer had Tom Osborne's number. Hard to fathom but the Bootlegger's Boy beat Dr. Tom five straight, and eight of the first nine years they met as head coaches; 1973-1980.
Thinking back, I don't know if that dominance helped the OU teams produce the so-called “Sooner Magic” moments that helped Switzer's teams to win. Or if it was simply that we lined up with more of the Selmons and the Little Joes. Ever notice how much easier it is to create game-deciding plays, and in this case more “Sooner Magic,” when you have as dominant a talent pool as the college game might have ever seen? Sure, losing seven of the first eight to Switzer kept Osborne up at night. But he was more concerned with how to block LeeRoy and Dewey and tackle Peacock and Sims than the numerical imbalance.
I thought of that when doing a piece for our late newscast Thursday night. Oklahoma has been to 10 Sweet 16s, last one in 2009. Michigan State – grab your britches – has been to the Sweet 16 four straight seasons, and seven of the last eight! That's Duke-Ellian. Are you kidding me? Tom Izzo recruits very good players. And he may be as good a coach as there is in the college game. But to make 7-of-8 in East Lansing, Mich., in this era of parity, is beyond remarkable.
I was in Michigan State's press conference when 6-foot-6 senior forward Branden Dawson was making an articulate and humble point about his senior mates having a good experience: He said, “This is our, what, third one?” Guard Travis Trice corrected him holding up four fingers indicating that no, that's all four years, bro, we've been to the Sweet 16 four-for-four.
The important question is if the NCAA Tournament success of Sparty will have any impact once the game starts.
I asked OU's top eight players. Predictably, they all downplayed the significance. None was disrespectful of what Izzo or his team has accomplished. They just basically said once the leather is tossed to commence the 40-minute half-slugfest, half track meet, that Sparty making this thing an annual affair won't mean didly squat. At least to them.
Like Lon Kruger, to whom I also posed the question, I believe that it'd sure be nice to have. Kruger believes it won't impact his guys but the experience of the big game atmosphere could provide a special confidence to the Spartans down the stretch. And book it. If OU beats Michigan State, it'll be close down the stretch.
Which personally takes me back to Lincoln, and Columbus, Ohio. Coincidentally, we were in Columbus last weekend for the OU's first two NCAA games. I was reminded often last week about the legendary rally and 1977 dramatic victory over Woody Hayes' Ohio State Buckeyes. 29-28, good guys. With all the pressure in the world, Uwe Von Schamman kicked the 41-yard, game-winning field goal. Hey, maybe Sweet Feet Von Schamman is the guy to ask about confidence, streaks and mind games.
If the Sooners rip the cords tomorrow night the way Uwe split the uprights that glorious day, OU will have conquered another national power and Hall of Fame coach. And maybe the true impact of Sparty making it here four straight and 7-of-8, won't have been a big deal after all.
To hear what the OU players and Kruger think, check out our story tonight in OKC on News 9 and in Tulsa on KOTV Channel 6.