TO THE POINT

In season filled with many challenges, Sooners worked together to persevere

 

Oklahoma hasn't played Iowa State as I write this column. I don't know how the Big 12 championship game turned out.


OU hasn't been slotted in a bowl game. I don't know where the Sooners will wind up their 2020 season.


None of that really matters to me, though. Not when it comes to reflecting on the '20 season.


Let's give the Sooners the same grade everyone playing college football deserves: An A for effort.


Isn't that what this comes down to right now? Fighting like crazy to stay out of the clutches of the coronavirus, and playing as many games in as safe and healthy a state as possible?


That, as of this moment, OU is going to get 11 games in seems a stupendous feat, regardless of how many the Sooners end up winning.


Lincoln Riley wants to win them all, of course, but he also knows something about perspective. When I asked him recently about the 2020 season, he offered plenty of perspective.


"It's challenged us all in different ways. It's just continuing to believe what's possible," he said. "Things we've been able to overcome, things we�ve been able to do in a different way than ever before...


"To sit there and tell someone last January that you're not going to be able to have spring ball... Your players aren't going to be here for three months... You are going to recruit your entire recruiting class on a computer screen like we're doing right now... You are going to have to wear a mask everywhere... You are going to try to conduct a sport in a pandemic where our setup with college-community type living and young people in a contact sport with a lot of people in an organization is maybe one of the worst recipes that you could possibly have to contain this thing...


"Yet we would still be able to do it all pretty successfully, it kind of makes you realize what�s possible."


Take that in for a second. All of it.


The Sooners were thrown for their original loop nine months ago when sports stopped all at once. Some of the professionals came back, but the college athletes never did.


OU's spring season simply disappeared.


The players all went home and stayed there, working out the best they could under makeshift remote supervision from coaches and staff. They spent three months wondering when they might return.

Then they returned to campus and spent two months wondering if they might get to play.


You think that's easy on the already-fragile psyche of an 18- or 19-year-old? That isn't easy on the coaches two or three times their age, and at least those guys are getting paid for their troubles.


The players got the green light for a season, but with the understanding they would have to wear masks and sacrifice social lives and family time and gosh knows what else, because how could they hope to stage a season otherwise?


They would have to coat themselves in precautions on a campus and in a college town that still had live students, some of whom threw live parties. Imagine being their age and going against the grain like that.


If you say, 'Ah, I could handle it,' you're either lying or forgetting what it�s like to be young and free for the first time in your hyperactive social life.


The Sooners had to forget over this entire season.


They had to sacrifice so much.


"It's the time that we live in now," offensive tackle Adrian Ealy said recently. "Everyone that's on this team right now, we all committed that if we want to make this run of what we're trying to do, this is something that we've got to be able to handle, and we've been doing a great job.


"You rarely see anything with us and COVID, because we press it every day, you know, 'Wear your mask.' It's not usual, but that's something we've gotta do. That's the life we live now."


No Sooners team has lived like this.


Past OU squads encountered hardships. Playing after a coaching change, maybe, or despite several key injuries. Playing under probation where you can't be on television, or under the weight of a lousy season where you wish you weren't on TV.

Things can go a little crazy even at a program as steadily successful as OU.


Nothing, though, has been 2020 crazy. Nothing comes close.


And so when fans look back on how the Sooners held up, and dissect wins and losses like they are so accustomed to doing, they really ought to read those words from Riley and Ealy.


They ought to consider how everything changed this year for everyone, and how college football players were impacted particularly. What college football players gave up particularly.


They ought to consider wherever and however the Sooners finish, the ultimate story to their season was in their perseverance over every painstaking step of the way.


(Editor's Note: This story appears in Sooner Spectator's 2020 Bowl Preview Issue. To Read more, call 405-364-4515)

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