Please welcome our newest contributor, Cory Landes, to the site. This is Cory’s first article for CRFF, and it’s a great one. Give him a hello, and follow him on Twitter @cory_landes.
Way back when, in 1997, Oklahoma State Football was searching for an identity. Less than a decade earlier, the Cowboys enjoyed back-to-back 10-win seasons and the likes of Barry Sanders, Mike Gundy and Hart Lee Dykes roaming the coarse AstroTurf at Lewis Field. Probation sent the program into a downward spiral for the better part of eight seasons until the stars finally aligned and gave fans reason to believe that better days were ahead.
Head Coach Bob Simmons was beginning his third year at Oklahoma State after going 4-8 and 5-6 respectively in his first two seasons. Also on staff were coordinators Les Miles running the offense, and Rob Ryan who brought along his “46” defensive scheme.
On the field, the Cowboys were led by a soft-spoken, first-year quarterback, Tony Lindsay who had a mammoth target at tight end, 6’6” Alonzo Mayes. Current offensive line coach Josh Henson was helping pave the way for running backs Jamaal Fobbs and Nathan Simmons. RW McQuarters starred as a receiver, cornerback and return specialist, and was joined in the secondary by future-NFL corner Kevin Williams, Jamal Williams and current Oklahoma City homebuilder Taber Leblanc on the defensive line. Local FCA leader Kenyatta Wright in addition to a few other linebackers tabbed by University marketing as “The Best Linebackers from Coast to Coast” which was printed on promotional coasters that graced my coffee table for a few years. An average of 40,000 fans attended home games in the oversized erector set known as Lewis Field and they were either entertained or annoyed by a man with wild hair and a drum, known as Crazy George.
The 1997 season started with a road trip to Ames, Iowa for a rare conference opener. In recent years, Oklahoma State fans have realized the danger of playing in Ames and '97 was no different. The Cowboys defeated the Cyclones (who ended 1-10 on the year), 21-14. Week 2 saw OSU travel to Louisiana where they defeated SW Louisiana 31-7, en route to a non-conference sweep and 4-0 start after victories at home over Fresno State (35-0) and NE Louisiana (38-7). The hot start set up a massive Week 5 matchup with the Texas Longhorns and Ricky Williams who, one year before, defeated Oklahoma State 71-14 in Austin. Not only did the Cowboys shut down Williams and avenge the previous loss, they did so by way of one of the largest point-differential swings ever, dropping the Longhorns 42-16.
A 5-0 start had the Pokes ranked No. 20 in the country with No. 24 Colorado on deck. A four point victory including a late touchdown catch by Alonzo Mayes moved OSU to No. 12 in the polls; Stillwater was an absolute frenzy as the Cowboys were bowl eligible! Unfortunately, things took a downhill turn starting with a double overtime, 51-50 loss at home to Corby Jones and the Missouri Tigers followed by a 28-25 loss on the road at No. 25 Texas A&M. At 6-2, it was time for Bedlam and there haven't been too many years Oklahoma State has gone to Norman expecting a victory, but this was one of them. The Sooners were outmatched at every position and suffered an epic defeat at home, 30-7, at the hands of the Cowboys.
Back home and facing cold, blustery conditions, the Oklahoma State offense was frozen in its tracks against Monte Reagor and the Texas Tech defense, falling 27-3; but OSU finished the regular season strong with a 24-14 win at Baylor. A final record of 8-3 earned the No. 24 Cowboys an invitation to the Alamo Bowl to face the 17th-ranked Purdue Boilermakers. While Purdue prevailed 33-20, Oklahoma State fans swarmed San Antonio and painted the city orange, earning them a reputation that would pay off with future bowl invites.
While we’ve had our share of down seasons within the past 20 years, the 1997 Oklahoma State Cowboys were the shimmering light at the end of a very dark tunnel which took eight years to navigate. Because of the excitement of fans and the unexpected results on the field, I remember this season more vividly than even some recent seasons with similar results. I can still hear "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba blaring after a big win at home, I remember 35,000-40,000 fans who were literally "loyal and true". For this reason, and the 1997 season, I will forever believe in Cowboy football!