Brandon Weeden. Justin Blackmon. Markelle Martin. Justin Gilbert.
To that point in time, there may have never been a more complete Oklahoma State football team. They put up points like they were playing NCAA Football on JV difficulty. The defense was equal to the task; forcing the most turnovers of any team in the entire country.
To most, that team was unstoppable. They were unbeatable.
That is, until they weren't.
Oklahoma State took a mid-November trip to play an Iowa State team that was struggling to become bowl elligble. The Cowboys were favored by several touchdowns and were slated to play a Friday night primetime game on national television. It was supposed to be an easy game. The Cowboys had just escaped what everyone called their annual "trap game" by demolishing Texas Tech 66-6. No one was looking at the ISU game. Everyone was looking ahead to Bedlam and the opportunity to go undefeated.
No one was looking at the ISU game. Everyone was looking ahead to Bedlam and the opportunity to go undefeated.
That's when tragedy struck. News began to spread around campus and the national media that a small plane carrying women's basketball coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Surna, had crashed on the way to visit a recruit. It didn't take much longer for the sports nation to discover that the crash killed both coaches as well as the two pilots aboard the plane.
To add to the tragic accident, the Cowboy football team plane had mechanical issues, resulting in several players not wanting to take the flight. What's more, the bus that was supposed to shuttle the players to Jack Trice Stadium (home of the Cyclones) encountered issues of its own, forcing the team to arrive several hours late. Coach Mike Gundy tried to downplay all of the distractions and keep his team's spirits high.
We all know how that game played out. The Cowboys eventually lost in double-overtime. Upsets happen every week in college football. Some are greater than others. This was one of those situations.
The team. The players. Coaches. This fan base. The entire Stillwater community. They all felt not only the sting of a loss that ended what would have been the school's only undefeated season in program history. But more so felt the heartbreak, once again, of losing members of the Oklahoma State family to tragic accidents.
That 2011 squad rallied to complete the most successful season in Oklahoma State football history. They won 12 games and secured the program's only BCS victory with a thrilling overtime win against Stanford.
The 2015 Cowboys have been different. They aren't the team that flies by you with skill and speed and sheer talent. Instead, they are the team that beats its opponents with a boring-but-precise patience, two quarterbacks, and a defense that will blow your socks off. They are the same as the 2011 squad in that they have had to rally for a school that has once again faced tragedy.
During this year's homecoming parade - a celebration that is meant to bring joy to the community as it is tabbed "America's Greatest Homecoming" - tragedy struck again. Everyone knows the story.
There was momentary talk of canceling the homecoming game. Nobody would have blamed them. Nobody would have been mad. But the game was played. The narrative for a 'team of destiny and inspiration' was cemented with a 58-10 thumping over the Kansas Jayhawks.
This team knows what they mean to the community just as much as the community knows what the team means to them. Every Saturday, 60 thousand fans congregate to the usually quiet farm town in Northern Oklahoma. What takes place is something different than the occurrences on thousands of other college campuses.
For a few hours, those fans forget the stress of jobs, the pain of loss and heartache. They trade all of it in for a chance to wave wheat after a Cowboy score. To scream "we're gonna beat the hell out of you!" or "Orange Power" to opposing teams. Less than sixty young men get to put on the Cowboy uniform each week. But for those few short hours, every fan is a part of the team. Head to Stillwater on Saturday afternoon in the Autumn season. You'll see what I'm talking about.
Every college team has its fans. The college team in Stillwater has a family.
Proud and Immortal. Loyal and True. Stillwater Strong.